Microsoft Accelerator – Week One

Central WorkingThree weeks ago the company that I am CTO for, SpeakInConfidence, was given the opportunity to join the pilot for Microsoft Ventures’s twelve week UK accelerator programme.

There was much discussion internally about the merits of accepting the offer as the business has reached a stage where we are beginning to see real fruits of our labours and there were question marks over whether this would be a distraction we could do without. On the other hand this was an exceptional opportunity with a chance to tap into resources and learning that we just wouldn’t get anywhere else. We decided that the benefits outweighed any possible negatives and so we decided to jump on in. The fun kicked off this week and I thought that I would blog about the experience.

The programme is based in the stunning example of 60’s architecture shown above and is close to London’s silicon roundabout and next door to Google’s campus. Fortunately the interior is far more interesting than the exterior, as you can see from the pictures below.

This being the first week it is more about orientation and getting to know the others on the programme. In this wave there are five businesses – two with a games focus and the others mobile and cloud based. The businesses were at various stages of development too, one was so new that the team members had only met face-to-face for the very first time this week, so kudos to them.

I have never been a gamer myself but the process that goes to produce something as complex as gaming software has always fascinated me and so it was great to be able to talk to the other teams about what they were doing, a real eye opener.

Wednesday was taken up with preparations for the mentor matching held in the evening at which each company had five minutes to pitch themselves to an audience of people that had generously offered to act as mentors. These included a number of people from across Microsoft and new purchase Yammer along with some heavy hitters from across the technology and gaming industries. I have to say that usually networking is not my thing at all but I did throughly enjoy this event perhaps because it was very focused in its aims – to match companies to mentors.

We were all looking for three to four mentors and while there was a reasonable number of potential mentors there was inevitably going to be an overlap and some healthy competition between the teams to secure the mentors they wanted to work with. It also represented an interesting challenge for us too as Tim, our CEO, and myself were looking for subtly different things in a mentor and so we each came away with slightly different wish lists that we had to find a way of consolidating and whittling down to the allowed number.

What was really great was not only were there plenty of people that I would really love to work with but there was also a healthy number of potential mentors that came up to us to say how much they wanted to work with us which was not only good for the ego but also meant a lot as they really believed in what we were doing.

We now have to wait until later this week to see what falls out of the sorting hat and who we have secured as our mentors.

The back end of the week was dedicated to technology with a thorough overview of Windows Azure and then a 1:1 session for the company CTOs with representatives from Microsoft to see how they could help us.

I think that this has been the biggest take-away from the first week. We went into this a three person business and by the end of the week I felt that we had been supplemented, in a good way, by 97,000 others. Previously any issue had either to be worked out internally or we had to find a suitably qualified friend or acquaintance that we could lean on. Now we have a gateway into a pool of hugely talented people and providing that we aren’t taking the piss, are able to find expertise that would have been difficult to source previously. It feels hugely liberating.

Here’s to the second week.

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