In the global State of Venture 2021 report published by CB Insights earlier this year, Asia emerged as the top region for global deals in 2021 with a 36 per cent deal share.
The region saw 12,485 deals in 2021 out of the global total of 34,647, surpassing the US’ 12,138 for the first time in seven years of tracking by CB Insights. China accounted for over half of Asia’s total. Asia also saw a record year for funding dollars at USD 176 billion, an 89 per cent year-on-year increase.
In India, based on a PwC report, there is a unicorn created almost every week. As many as 43 Indian startups attained unicorn status last year, taking the total private startup unicorn count to 68 by the end of 2021. It expects this number to cross over the 100 mark by this year. Asia contributed to three out of the top ten countries leading in the number of unicorns created year on year. Besides India, the other two countries brimming with unicorns are China and South Korea.
This is not surprising as Asia has among the most dynamic startup scenes in the world and has quickly become a breeding ground for innovation over recent years.
About a week ago, to hitch on the business opportunity offered by the proliferation of startups, Microsoft launched its Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub in Asia which it said will “empower startups’ ambitions and fuel innovation to drive economic and societal progress for Asia and beyond”.
Microsoft says that the Startups Founders Hub is a new digital and truly inclusive platform for Founders in Asia. It offers over USD300,000 worth of benefits and credits, giving startups free access to the technology, tools, and resources they need to build and run their business.
It further promises to 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. In addition, founders will have access to Microsoft Learn and a variety of startup and unicorn programs to help them build connections with customers and accelerate their growth.
Those interested in signing up for this Microsoft scheme will first have to go to the Microsoft startups website where they will be prompted to use their LinkedIn details to provide further information about their idea or project. Information about the startup’s website, a description of the project and the founder’s background are required. The online form also asks for the firm’s current stage of development, and funding stage as well as the names of current investors and accelerators.
For successful applicants, Microsoft is offering USD 1,000 Azure clouding computing credits for startups at the ideation stage, USD 5,000 for those at the development stage, USD 25,000 at the growth phase, and USD 120,000 for companies that are ready to scale their operations. The credits can grow up to USD 150,000 as the firm expands.
As part of the support to qualified startups, Microsoft is also offering productivity tools such as GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio Enterprise and Microsoft 365.
Microsoft is not new to the venture capital scene. It has a venture fund named M12 that started in March 2016 and typically invests in startups in funding stages Series A to D.
Bengaluru-based SalesKen, the creator of an AI-driven analytical sales tool, is a beneficiary of Microsoft’s M12 venture fund. SalesKen helps sales representatives in real-time customer conversations and relies on the Microsoft cloud as well as its rich ecosystem and co-sell opportunities.
Surga Thilakan, co-founder and CEO of SalesKen said, “Starting my business has not been without its challenges, including my family’s concern in leaving my stable job. Thanks to my connections in the industry, I have been able to expand SalesKen’s vision and scale, and attract investment from Sequoia India, and a Series B round of funding led by M12, Microsoft’s Venture Fund.”
Microsoft’s launch of the Startups Founders Hubin Asia comes at a time when venture capital deals and dollars in India reached record highs in 2021. According to CB Insights, last year saw a total of USD 30.5 billion worth of deals in India with the number of deals numbering 1,736.
The Microsoft Startups Founders Hub looks like a smart way for Microsoft to not only tap into the startup scene and perhaps spot the next unicorn but also capture a larger market share for its products and services.
Singapore-based Jesus Martin, Chief Strategy, Microsoft Asia, explained that their cloud services and solutions are designed to empower founders to concentrate on what they do best and allow them to innovate at their own pace.
“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,” said Martin.
He added, “Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub was created following extensive research and conversations with hundreds of founders who explicitly shared their need for access to a digital ecosystem that promotes opportunities and democratises innovation regardless of background, location, progress, or passions. We look forward to how our new offering will support more founders in Asia and provide access to the technology, tools, and resources they need to build and run their business.”