How Microsoft is taking Asia startups from idea to unicorn

Microsoft boosts support for startups in Asia with new inclusive platform and benefits of US$300,000, as Asia’s startup space becomes increasingly dynamic

Microsoft has launched a new digital and inclusive platform for founders across Asia, designed to lower the barriers for business creation in the region and drive economic and societal progress for Asia and beyond.

The platform arrives in response to extensive research by Microsoft into Asia’s startup scene and the need for founder access to a digital ecosystem that democratises innovation regardless of background, location, progress, or passions.

This is the latest regional initiative by Microsoft, as part of the tech giant’s commitment to support Asia’s startup ecosystem and founders with ongoing initiatives, including collaborations with She Loves Tech and with Accenture on Project Amplify.  

Microsoft Startup Founders Hub – access to benefits, technology, tools and resources

Designed specifically for early-stage startups, and available to all startups in Asia – including those without third-party backing – the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub aims to contribute to easing the journey from an idea to unicorn.

Through the platform, founders can access more than US$300,000 worth of benefits and credits, and free technology, tools, and resources needed to build and run their business – from the most trusted, secure, open-source friendly and compliant cloud platform, to best-in-class developer and productivity tools including GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio Enterprise and Microsoft 365.

Beyond access to technology, the hub will empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow by connecting them with mentors who will provide them with industry, business, and technical support to guide them through their next business milestones, as well as skilling opportunities with industry experts and Microsoft Learn. Founders will further have access to Microsoft Learn and various startup and unicorn programs to help them build connections with customers and accelerate their growth.

“As a platform company, our cloud services, and solutions are designed to empower founders to concentrate on what they do best - innovate at their own pace,” says Jesus Martin, Chief Strategy, Microsoft Asia. “Our aim is to give startups access to the technology that will power their innovation, connect them with customers, and an ecosystem of developers, partners and investors to help them scale in Asia and beyond.”

And already startups have begun tapping into the benefits of the platform, with many focused on trying to change the world.

1.    Givvable, Sydney

For Givvable, a startup that helps businesses solve challenges around sourcing and tracking supplier sustainability credentials, the Microsoft cloud platform “has enabled us to help more businesses spend with impact,” says co-founder Naomi Vowels. “We are replacing hours of manual work with a fully automated, smart solution that leverages Microsoft's AI and Machine Learning software and Power BI to find, capture and track supplier sustainability."

2.    Phytrac, New Zealand

Cleantech startup Phytrac, which combines science, technology and nature to produce sustainable solutions by optimizing phytoremediation through a dynamic driven platform. “For someone that doesn't have a development background, what I've found most useful with Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub is the Power Platform, Power Automate and Power BI Pro,” says Owen Darby, CEO.

3.    Savour, Singapore

Katrina Lee, CEO of Singapore-based Savour, a B2B platform aimed at securing savings for SMEs, non-profits and social enterprises while also tackling food insecurity and wastage, has found the ability to connect with mentors on the platform particularly helpful. "Most startups spend so much time trying to find the right partner and the right support,” says Katarina. “More than just having the best tools, it's important to be able to connect with experts that can help you unlock the full potential of these tools to increase your productivity, grow your customer base and even improve your marketing.”

Why Asia is a hub for global innovation – and how Microsoft is supporting this

Asia has undoubtedly become a hotbed of innovation over recent years, with one of the most dynamic startup scenes anywhere. CB Insights reports that Asia was the number one region for global venture deals in 2021, and the continent is home to three out of the top 10 countries leading in the number of unicorns created year-on-year – China, South Korea and India, the latter creating a unicorn almost weekly. And a recent report by Bain Consulting reveals that Indian SaaS firms could corner 8-9% of the global market by 2025.

Microsoft has a long history of supporting the growth of startups in Asia with various initiatives, from funding to mentorship to resources, and believes passionately in the potential of the region.

"Microsoft believes startups from Asia have the potential to change the world…. [and] have already played a role in transforming Asia's economy,” says Martin. “Asian-born businesses have changed e-commerce, fintech, social media and gaming… they have given us SuperApps, which are changing the way we live.”

The Microsoft ScaleUp Program has been ranked as ‘Best Accelerator’ in China for six consecutive years by China Venture Info, with numerous startups scaling thanks to the program. Yanchao Li, co-founder of six-month-old startup Shopastro has rapidly scaled the cross-border e-commerce service platform with Microsoft cloud thanks to the program, and in China, over the past 10 years, Microsoft has supported the growth of more than 700 startups.

Microsoft’s Venture Fund, M12, which empowers entrepreneurs with capital, customer connections and unparalleled access to Microsoft, has a strong presence in India with an office in Bengaluru, and has helped many startups in the region scale. Take Salesken, a conversation intelligence platform which assists sales representatives in real-time customer conversations. The startup has been able to expand vision and scale, thanks to funding led by M12, and also relies on Microsoft cloud as well as its rich ecosystem and co-sell opportunities.

But that’s not all. Last year, Microsoft announced a partnership with global startup platform She Loves Tech, which has 8,000 startups under its belt, and has raised US$250m to date, to provide women-led startups with access to Microsoft technologies, dedicated programs and global ecosystem.

Microsoft has also run a joint initiative, Project Amplify, designed to empower purpose-driven startups across Asia-Pacific, with tech consulting giant Accenture since 2020. The program, which supports startups focused on sustainability and social impact with hands-on support and technologies, mentoring and collaboration opportunities, continues to expand with 33 startups already benefiting.

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