It’s five in the afternoon on the 1st of December, another rainy day in Berlin, yet many people have traveled kilometers and kilometers to assist at Microsoft Venture’s Berlin Demo Night #4, titled The Spark.
The Microsoft office is located in an old, historical building on one of Germany’s most impressive and important streets, Unter den Linden, just a few minutes walking away from the Brandenburger Tor. As I arrive a little before 5 at the venue, people are already standing outside, some with small carry-on suitcases, talking on the phone and others smoking. I walk in, a big sign greets me and shows me the direction to the registration. At the entrance my name is checked on the guestlist and I am handed a lanyard with a name tag. Later I will learn that the participating teams will have a yellow lanyard to be distinguishable among the crowd. Most people walk downstairs to leave their coats and slowly, one after another they stroll into the room, called the Atrium.
It is a big room, on the ground floor of the Microsoft building. A prominent yet elegant Microsoft logo is displayed next to a small stage and a big screen, white lounge chairs are set up facing the screen and an open bar with two servers on the left and a few tables for people to mingle have been installed. The Atrium is opened at 5pm sharp. Blue lights illuminate the room and are reflected from the stark white benches and chairs. A soft electronic beat played by a live DJ filled the background of laughter and chatter of incoming people. The room fills up at about 5.30pm, people with drinks in hand sit down, find a spot in little groups of two or three and I hear a lot of German, English, some French and even scattered Dutch. It looks like a very formal event with people from all ages, from 20 to 50 years old, and most men dressed in suits and women in dresses and formal jackets. Two big video cameras in the back of the room filming the event, microphones set up and five high chairs set up on stage for the speakers.
The evening starts
At twenty to six the first announcement of the start of the Demo Night is made, people are invited to take their seats and slowly the crowd standing around the bar dissolves. At quarter to six, a second announcement, this time more serious, is made. The remaining people start to move and either find a spot to sit down or remain standing quietly near the tables. The crowd is made up of the Microsoft Venture and Management Team, the startups of the current batch as well as alumni, their mentors, investors – past and new – and journalist and other invitees.
Daniel Finger, German IT Journalist who has been writing about startups for 15 years, opens the stage and introduces Chris Capossela, CMO at Microsoft. Chris gives a quick speech about Microsoft, about their change in strategy under new management of Satya Nadella and their goal to ‘empower people’. Microsoft aims to be part of the startup culture in the world. To the German crowd Chris proudly announces that Microsoft will be launching a data center in Germany very soon. Next on stage is Dorothee Baer from the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. As she gives her speech, people are still looking to find seats and many lights of smartphones can be seen to appear throughout the crowd.
Panel discussion with Zack, Chris, Dorothee & Malte
After her speech a panel discussion is opened and two more people, Zack Weisfeld, General Manager of Microsoft Ventures, as well as Malte Klussman, founder of Cringle and participant of Microsoft’s first batch of startups, join them on stage. Daniel Finger asks about the German startup ecosystem, about the most important learnings, about current developments and about what startups can learn from Microsoft and vice-versa. Zack talks about a cultural change at Microsoft and asks the question of how Microsoft can move faster. To him the accelerator also means that Microsoft learns what works and what doesn’t from companies in cutting edge. Startups on the other hand learn how to sell to enterprise customers and various processes and methodologies that have been successfully set up in Microsoft. Chris adds that Microsoft can learn from the startup’s speed and customer focus and their creativity in marketing for example that stems from a scarcity in resources. Startups learn what steps to skip by looking at big corporations like themselves.
For Malte, a Microsoft venture participant, it was – more than anything – a personal acceleration. He says that he needed to grow into the role of an entrepreneur and that the mentors and many workshops organized by Microsoft really helped him to achieve just that. Malte emphasizes that there might be a clash of cultures when corporates and startups meet. When asked “What makes a startup likely to succeed?” Zack jumps in first and almost shouts out “The team”. He later elaborates that it is how the team works together and explains that Microsoft Ventures received 9.000 applications during the this year and that only 2% of all were accepted. It is harder to get into a Microsoft Venture acceleration program than into Harvard. Microsoft looks for a balanced team and the secondly for an idea that is big enough. If there are great people but a bad idea, the company can always pivot. “A great team will know how to change and will change fast enough”. Chris expands on this idea by adding the thought that the team also needs to deliver, that a promise made to a customer needs to be carried through. Both agree that mentorship and leadership are fundamental for growing a company and thus fundamental in the Microsoft Ventures design. Microsoft “looks for people who want to learn”.
The panel discussion ends with Chris giving advice regarding the pitches to the upcoming startups and shows a video of himself screwing up on stage at Microsoft in 1989 to encourage them: “Tonight no one is going to screw up as badly as me in this video”.
Presentation of the startup pitches
A video clip introduces the logos of all the startups about to present and Zack takes the stage once again presenting the Story of Microsoft Ventures globally. After 3 and a half years of Microsoft Ventures the company has been able to make themselves a name in the startup ecosystem and has delivered 410 alumni of which 28 have successfully exited. Zack states that Microsoft’s goal is to “Empower startups to do more” and invites Marius Sewing, Berlin’s Program Manager, on stage. Marius as well gives a brief introduces, a round of thanks to startup participants, mentors and investors and calls it a “family celebration”. Before Alastair Bruce, Managing Director of Microsoft Germany, introduces the first startup to pitch, a short clip of the past three months together in the accelerator is played.
The presenting startups in their order:
http://predictiv.io/ – Predictive Industries introduced by Alistair Bruce
Tools to transform factories to become software industry companies. Predict helps measure metrics and build predictive systems so that factories become more intelligent and efficient. They integrate their data collection tool to get data, store it then on their cloud platform and the let the user define metrics (eg energy usage, loss of production), view their performance on a real time dashboard and build predictive machine learning models.
http://neuro-flash.com – Data based market research introduced by Jochen Bella Ada, mentor
Jonathan Mall, Dr and other university Phds combine knowledge from neuropsychology with market research. A way for brands to do market research online, making use of neuroscience directly in the browser. They are already working with some companies, have launched a campaign with Dove deodorant and gained first results. Compared to regular market research they are more reliable – real science and not just what a person says he/she will do – and 3 times quicker. They deliver actionable data on for example the best choice of naming for a product.
https://www.preparo.de/ – Mobile recruiting (DE) introduced by Patrick Alberts of Xing
Thomas Paucker presents for the whole team, introduces the problem that service industry faces. He starts with a regular CV that he had hidden under our chairs and starts to animate it. Already have 31 clients including McDonald’s, DM and Mister Spex and since their launch in mid November have helped 200 applicants who have uploaded a short video of 30 seconds of themselves.
https://www.flockpit.com/ – Social Media Analytics introduced by Kai Jager, CTO in residence
Larissa, first female on stage. Starts off with a video without sounds of a flock of birds who change direction when a bird has new information. She then shows a flock of traders on Wall Street and the example of a tweet about Nasdaq Netflix stock in June that made the stock loose as everyone followed one tweeter who had sold the share. Flockpit is analytics based on social media so that traders can react upon market data in milliseconds – not just humans but also machines trading. She has a background as a trader for ING and Societe Generale and her co-founder Gaspard is from the banking industry as well.
http://www.synergist.io/ – Legal contract visualization introduced by Jack Nasha, Professor of Leadership at a Business School
Edward Taylor presents the product in all its detail and advantages, a virtual mediator for contracts.
https://www.hipventory.com/ – Product images (DE) introduced by Philip from Senic, a German Startup (CTO)
Jan presents hipventory, a cloud storage system for images so that a brand has full control of the usage of its product images and a retailer can have access to high quality images and analytics about the performance of these images. Jan looks like someone who comes from the fashion industry as do his two co-founders, Nina and another woman, who walk around in the same dress shirt. The team is young but seems to combine a lot of knowledge from the fashion industry.
http://buddyguard.io/ – Home security introduced by Fabian Westerheide von Asgard Capital
Last on stage is Herbert who presents buddyguard and the first product flare, a small device designed to protect the house. He starts of with a personal story of being robbed and the financial loss, material damage but most of all emotional strain this means. He guides the audience through a day with Flare to explain how the product works and finishes his presentation with the achievements of 170.000 Euro in pre-orders, redistributor contracts with Mobilecom and MediaMarkt Netherlands and Sweden and the halfway reached goal of 1.5 M in fundraising for next year.
All presentations were very professional and well rehearsed. Not only were all founders extremely well prepared and well practiced on stage but also did their slide deck look impressive and their English was very well.
Closing of the evening
The round of pitches ends at 7.30pm and Marius Sewing takes the stage to thank all participants, as well as mentors and investors. He calls this “a home for entrepreneurs”. Upon his words, all founders and teams come on stage, a group picture is taken and a glitter bomb is released for the last, more cheerful and relaxed picture.
People get up, stroll to the bar and form little groups of chatter. Founders and teams are easily distinguishable due to their yellow lanyards and the small space makes for comfortable chatter. Champagne flutes are passed through by the waiters and little hors d’oeuvres appear to make for a comfortable atmosphere.
The tweets of the evenings can be found here under the hashtag #msvdn4