For the past four months, since the moment they hit the ground running in March, the 14 startups in Microsoft Ventures’ Seattle Accelerator have been collaborating with and learning from the best tech, marketing, and product-development minds in the world. Now, as the Seattle class nears the end of its intense, immersive four-month program, it’s time to gauge how their products will help drive productivity and define the future of work.
On July 10 at 4:30 p.m. PST, the startups will unveil their accomplishments and business strategies to a live audience in Seattle – including a panel of Microsoft Ventures executives – and viewers around the world via a live stream [Watch it here: techcrunch.com/microsoftventures]. For the founders and CEOs of these companies, the five minutes allotted to each startup at the Demo Day marks a pivotal opportunity not only to wow investors, but to show the business world at large what they’re made of. Several of the startups have already made an outsize impression, receiving seven-figure investments while in the program–a clear indication that not only Microsoft has its eyes on these young companies.
The investments have, obviously, been appreciated – as has Microsoft’s one-time gift to each company of $25,000, and the residency in its offices—but for the startups, the real payoff has been the daily access to Microsoft’s brain trust and its top-flight tech, product, and marketing teams.
“What’s been amazing in Seattle,” says Brian Bosché, cofounder of the video-collaboration company, Slope, “is the intense focus on operational plans and strategy, and seeing how elements of our product, customer development, fundraising, and company culture all work alongside each other. Who do we have to hire to hit our milestones? How many customers do we need? What are our marketing and our go-to-market strategies? Getting feedback from people with expertise in all of these areas at Microsoft has already taken our company to another level.”
The previous Accelerator class, which wrapped up its four-month program last December, was comprised primarily of startups creating consumer-facing hardware and services. The current class, on the other hand, is innovating in the business-enterprise space–which aligns seamlessly with Microsoft’s own broader vision – and is tightly focused on productivity and digital work.
“We’re giving a great deal of thought to the notion of the future of work,” says Mukund Mohan, director of Microsoft Ventures. “Most industries have always measured productivity, in large part, by the amount of revenue generated per employee. But it’s no longer easy to determine who is an ‘information’ or ‘knowledge’ worker and who’s not,” he adds. “Even people who are not computer professionals–plumbers, gardeners, contractors–now spend so much time with their smart phones, managing payments, billing, invoices. One critical thing that we’ve had confirmed in this Accelerator is that mobility permeates everything.”
For Mark Hirsch, CEO of the cloud-based productivity software platform CreativeWorx TimeTracker, his time under Microsoft’s roof has generated what he calls a “slingshot effect.” Hirsch and his team knew that acceptance into the Accelerator would mean altering the trajectory of the company, as CreativeWorx had what he describes as “really good momentum” coming into 2015. But Hirsch suspected that by taking advantage of every learning experience the Accelerator offered, “it might slow us down at first, but would eventually whip us forward, and that has happened in spades. It’s been really exceptional on multiple levels.” Other participants — from groundbreaking first-responder communication and GPS-tracking software to a mobile platform for medical caregivers to a parking app for harried city drivers — discovered a kind of collegiality in what might have proved, in other circumstances, to be a hyper-competitive, pressure-cooker environment. “It’s amazing to me how similar some of the companies here are, even if they’re operating in completely separate markets, or verticals,” said Cian O’Sullivan, founder of Beagle Inc., a system that reviews and analyzes contracts of virtually any length or complexity. “It’s also hugely helpful to have a chance to talk with other founders and CEOs who are at varying maturation points with their businesses,” he says. “Companies encounter different problems and face different concerns at different intervals as they grow, and this group has shared advice on handling all of those issues.”
From Microsoft’s perspective, this most recent Accelerator has driven home another lesson–perhaps counterintuitive, but invaluable.
“Because this Accelerator happened in Seattle,” Ventures’ Mohan notes, “a lot more of our own people have been involved and engaged. Microsoft used to think of smaller companies as someone we should sell to. Now, we see them as companies we can learn from and partner with.”
You can watch the Demo Day live from Seattle on July 10, at 4:30 p.m. PST, here: techcrunch.com/microsoftventures. Below, the full lineup of leading-edge startups in the most recent Seattle Accelerator class:
Accelerated Pictures develops an SAS product called FilmmakerLive, which enables filmmakers to create stories in animated, customizable 3-D environments.
AdHusky is an automated Facebook ad solution for financial service firms.
Beagle offers an advanced intelligent system for reading contracts, regardless of length or complexity.
ClearContract brings contract negotiations to the cloud with a secure online interface for the creation, negotiation, and execution of non-disclosure agreements.
CloudCoreo allows users to launch complete, reliable application infrastructures using their appstack technology.
CreativeWorx is a cloud-based productivity software platform focused, initially, on the professional services industry.
GeoSafe has developed a communications platform and GPS tracking system for first responders in the field.
LionHeart Innovations is a mobile medical platform for caregiver coordination.
Outleads enables clients to connect online via phone and subsequent offline interactions.
Parknav offers an on-street parking solution, employing data and predictive analytics.
Rallyteam is a collaboration platform for empowering employees to do more and learn more.
Rexter provides real-time contact and relationship management.
Skip is a complete mobile checkout solution.
Slope provides a platform for marketing and creative teams to store, organize, and collaborate on media content.
This article was authored by FastCo Works, Fast Company’s Content Studio.