Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, which launched in March 2022, gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to unlock more Azure credits as they are used – up to $150,000 worth – and access to free technology benefits such as Microsoft 365 and GitHub, along with offers from external partners, to help as their ideas progress from prototype to reality. In addition, four new LinkedIn benefits have been added to help founders with recruiting, leads and advertising.
The program is meant to level the entrepreneurial playing field so that the startup ecosystem reflects “what the world looks like,” says Arunchalam of Microsoft for Startups.
“We need to help people who didn’t go to Berkeley or don’t have an existing network of people they can turn to,” says Arunachalam, who joined Microsoft in 2018 after a successful career as a product leader at several startups. “You need to help self-educated, self-funded, those who are just learning to code and want to build a startup that they find incredibly interesting to solve problems they’ve experienced in their lives.”
“Having diverse founders means you solve diverse problems.”
It’s a mission that resonates with startup founder Janvier Wete.
Born in France to parents who emigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Wete spent most of his teenage years in London. His cousin in Paris thought he lived a lavish lifestyle, like the characters in the popular British reality TV show ‘Made in Chelsea’ which was shot in much of London. But Wete’s experience in the working-class, diverse neighborhood of Brixton was very different.
This dichotomy between perception and reality inspired Wete to shoot a ‘Made in Brixton’ caricature trailer – and it went viral.
“I couldn’t relate to these characters, living this posh life,” says Wete. “I felt it was my duty to create something that reflected the real world.” That’s what inspired me.”
The promotion gave him first-hand experience of the limitations of the short film world. When the film festivals were over, Wete found, there was no better place for a short film to live or discover. Major video platforms are flooded with uploads, so content gets lost. And the industry also didn’t have a good way for short film directors to make a living from their work.
Armed with a creative background but no business or technical skills, Wete used social media to find web developers and business partners and founded a free platform called Minute Shorts, designed to highlight short films and reward their creators with ad revenue and premium subscriptions. The Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub program helped him navigate this newfound world, providing the technical tools he needed to build an app and find connections with mentors and investors.
Minute Shorts, which launched in London in 2019, just a few months before the pandemic lockdowns became popular at home, went from about a thousand viewers a month to a million. The service receives around 400 film submissions per month and hosts more than 3,000 short films, selected by Wete and his team with the aim of building a global platform to discover and promote diverse talent.
“On the business side, we needed a connection to investors and to be part of a hub of like-minded people and mentors to give us feedback on our strategy,” says Wete.
He also says he attended “numerous” Microsoft-sponsored networking events that helped his startup get the funding and development it needed.
O’Day, Blakeman and Wete are among more than 17,000 entrepreneurs — 75% of whom joined with an idea — helped by the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub in its first six months.
“The faster we grow, the more services we offer, and that means the more people we can help,” says Honest Jobs’ Doyle.
Building technical solutions to solve real-world problems is the most rewarding part of his job, he says, and having access to capital and expertise has greatly accelerated his ability to do that for both the company and its customers.
“It’s a fun challenge,” he says. “The fact that we can do this every day just makes my day.”
Haniyah Philogene wrote this story in her fellowship with the National Association of Black Journalists and Microsoft, a program aimed at develop new narrators.
Main picture: Liz O’DayPh.D., founder and CEO Olaris, wint Chandra HonPh.D.metabolic chemist, we Olaris headquarters in the growing life sciences center west of Boston (Photo: Jodi Hilton)