Sparking startup innovation

Microsoft's BizSpark program is receiving record interest in Australia, according to the software vendor

Microsoft's BizSpark program for startups, which celebrated its half-decade anniversary earlier this month, has been receiving record interest according to the software vendor's Australian director of developer and platform evangelism, Sarah Vaughan.

Microsoft launched its initial BizSpark program in 2008. BizSpark offers free access to a range of applications from the vendor, as well as credit on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud computing platform.

"In August and September we saw over 160 new [Australian] nominations for BizSpark, so it's just getting more and more active, which is pretty exciting," Vaughan says.

In addition to providing the tools to build and host software, the program offers startups opportunities for publicity and mentorship.

"We facilitate introductions to expertise, whether it's in the business world or tech partnerships, that can help a startup quickly come to market," Vaughan says.

"And then, on the other side, once it's complete, once the company's ready to share its product, we also support promotion to potential markets. So it's really holistic; it's not just about the software, it's also about access to expertise and then promotion once the company is ready to go live."

Since its launch in Australia, more than 3000 startups have participated in the program, with more than 900 graduating.

"Graduation from BizSpark is after three years or when the company has exceeded $1 million in net revenue per year," Vaughan explains.

"For us, Australia is a really interesting place," Vaughan says. "It's probably number five or six in regards to the activity around tech entrepreneurialism and so for Microsoft Australia it's a pretty interesting space to be in."

Last year the vendor launched a 'Microsoft Innovation Centre' in Queensland to support the program.

"The way I see it is it's a focus for startups to have regular access to expertise," Vaughan says. "In some ways, MICs are our own shared workspace. So in Queensland, for example some of the startups come and use the meeting rooms for a day or the office space for a day. It's also a fixed environment to showcase those startups."

Since the 2012 opening of the Queensland MIC some 95 apps have been developed at the centre, and 35 startups incubated there, according to Microsoft.

One of BizSpark's Australian alumni is LEAPIN Digital Keys. The team behind LEAPIN sent its first patent off in February 2011 and registered the company around the same time.

The company has built an innovative lock system that can be used via digital keys that can be shared over email or text message. "It's a smartphone-enabled access control system, and it can be a replacement for existing access control systems, such as key cards or metal key systems," the startup's managing director, Stephen Dunn, says.

The system allows a lock to be opened by an authorised smartphone using NFC or Bluetooth. Keys can be shared and revoked at any time, and a keypad on the lock system means it can be used even when your phone's battery is flat.

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