Sunday, June 22, 2014

Microsoft Ventures Global Startup Day 2014 In San Francisco

Microsoft Ventures held its Global Startup Day 2014 showcase for the San Francisco area last week.  I got to attend because I am awesome.  Seriously, only the most awesome people get selected to attend these kinds of events and that's why Microsoft takes care to admit strong startups into its accelerator.  Holding this event at 111 Minna was unconventional for Microsoft but it sent the message that a big company groks the disruption of startups.

I was intrigued to discover that American Family Insurance's venture arm, American Family Ventures, is helping Microsoft underwrite these startups' adventures.  The insurance company's stated interest in home automation solutions makes some sense in mitigating insurance payouts from home accidents and burglaries.  Access to the Big Data in millions of policyholders' accounts is a boon to the startups mining it for validation.  Do you trust an insurance company to mask your personal identifying information?  Insurers have to follow privacy policies too, just like software companies.

The participating startups are all mentioned on the Global Startup Day page.  Most of them had significant non-US roots.  Microsoft must be throwing down the gauntlet to find non-US startups it can incubate.  I don't see many other US-based multinationals reaching outside this country's borders for startup candidates.  I'm probably not looking hard enough.

I really liked a couple of the startup pitches.  Applango implements SaaS metrics, something even the leading cloud service providers have difficulty delivering to customers.  Buddy manages enterprise data from IoT devices.  The market for collecting IoT devices' machine data will be huge and any data management providers need to understand the competing standards that telecom providers use.  I will also say that Miranda Gao, the co-founder of AllMobilize, looked stunning in her little black dress.  I don't think I need to say any more, unless she gives me a call.  Women tend to call me once I notice them and I can hardly blame them.

The expert panelists closing out the showcase were mostly venture investors familiar with the local software scene.  I thought they were generalizing too much by saying top startups come from the obvious major tech cities or hot national markets.  I say hot startups come from countries where the nexus of research labs, a strong rule of law, and favorable regulatory regimes enable entrepreneurs to make things happen.  The cultural ecosystem is paramount.  I am not impressed with supposedly knowledgeable VCs who chase "hot" markets just to attract investors in their funds.  These investors also think going global with a virtual model means startups don't have to be physically located in their largest addressable market.  Maybe they can get away with that if they're in a big global accelerator.  Microsoft can smooth out any regulatory difficulties they'll face in foreign jurisdictions.  Everyone else will have to at least talk to a couple of specialists in international trade.

The audience was packed with startup wanna-bes, venture investors, and people running other accelerators.  Menlo Park's US Market Access Center was on hand.  Corporate accelerators bring in startups who can benefit their ecosystems, and civic-funded accelerators should benefit their communities.  How many jobs have foreign startups brought to Menlo Park and San Jose after launching from the US Market Access Center?  San Francisco city planners should find out if they want to bring accelerator-sponsored startups to The City.  I would like to find out how to bring more attractive women into accelerators.  A few were on hand and one was on the venture investing panel (nice legs, babe).  They'll need more than bare legs in short skirts to make startups work.  They need yours truly, Anthony Alfidi, and I'll be at all kinds of startup launch fests around town.