Resource Spotlight: Microsoft for startupsJuly 10, 2016
This week we speak with Joshua Drew, Senior Technical Evangelist for the Microsoft Startup Team. When Microsoft put forth a big effort to focus on startups last year, Joshua started partnering with some of the resources available in the area. His favorite aspect of Boston’s ecosystem? The fact that those resources actively help each other and at the same time help the entire ecosystem.
GH: What is your name and role?
Joshua: I am Joshua Drew and I am a Senior Technical Evangelist for the Microsoft Startup Team. My role is to lead the engagement between Microsoft and Boston area startups. I do this in a number of ways, first by partnering with accelerators and incubators within the area by providing their startups access to programs to offset infrastructure costs. I also provide guidance and technical support to their technology product and development teams. More importantly, I help them grow by aligning their customer acquisition strategy to either our internal teams or our current customers.
GH: How can Boston startups best benefit from what you do?
Joshua: We have a great program for startups called BizSpark. There are a few different levels of the program but in its basic sense it provides development software, the MSDN Library, and cloud hosting services, our Azure cloud platform, to startups for FREE. Once you are part of the program the benefits come in many forms, from 1:1 relationships with local Microsoft technologists to access to events geared for startups. The program also provides feedback into our engineering teams as well as potential partnerships on technology development opportunities.
GH: What have you learned from Boston area startups?
Joshua: Aside from being awesome, they are great to work with. I have had the pleasure to work with some high tech startups that are making really cool sensor based products to startups that make interacting with day to day objects extremely fun. The variety of the startups in the area provides a great base to start your business here. Traditionally Boston is digital health, B2B type companies but with entrepreneur programs at BU, Northeastern, Harvard, Babson and other universities the B2C and consumer oriented startups are emerging.
GH: What are some of the best resources the Boston ecosystem has to offer in your opinion?
Joshua: Do I have enough time to list them all? First off The Capital Network is a great resource for all types and stages of startups. From venture informational sessions to networking events, there is no shortage of resources that come out of The Capital Network. And then you have other resources like District Hall, Venture Café, Mass Innovation Nights, Tech in Boston Podcast, Boston New Tech and not to mention the tons of development and technical meetups that happen on a nightly basis. I think the hardest part sometimes is to choose what event to go to on a given night.
For startups that want to really accelerate there are a bunch of programs that help with this, from Smarter in the City to MassChallenge, startups are provided with a great foundation and curriculum to grow here in Boston. I am partial to MassChallenge. Microsoft has been a sponsor for some time now and what they are trying to do not only in Boston but over the world aligns with our mission. Empowering startups to lead the next revolution is what it is all about. And if I can help these startups become that, then it is really fulfilling.
The one thing I do want to point out is how collaborative each of the resources are with each other. Promotion and cross pollination of events for startups is key. Each resource has the ability to help each other and at the same time help the entire ecosystem.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
Joshua: I hear this question a lot. For all of the good each of the resources and accelerators do, the one common denominator is retaining and growing the talent pool. With the number of universities in the area and the great lifestyle that Boston brings, it is still sometimes hard to keep the talented people here in town. Organizations like TechGen and Startup Institute are providing great resources for students and the returning workforce, which is a big help, and universities are creating their own incubators like Harvard’s i-Lab and Wenworth Accelerate to provide local resources to newly formed companies to become engrained into the town.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
Joshua: One of the better pieces of advice I was given was just last year. It was about how you can scale as an individual but still keep your head from exploding. It was “work smarter, not harder”. I have taken that to heart over the past year. I see a lot of startups and even friends in larger companies that work really hard. I was one of those prior to joining Microsoft. We would work really hard and when you look back on what was accomplished it did not equate to the amount of hard work you put in. Working smarter relies on a bit of thinking and strategy. Who are the people or organizations that can help spread your message or leverage your services? Who or what will help you but in return how can you help them? I feel that has been one of the better pieces I have received.
Joshua: Focusing on startups. When I started at Microsoft, I was in the Audience group where our reach was community developers, students and startups. Last year Microsoft put forth a big effort to focus on startups, specifically in Boston. We did not have a startup focused role here so I took the lead in Boston. The startup team saw the results and created a position to focus solely on startups, which I am now in. We have startup team members in NYC, Chicago, Silicon Valley, LA, Seattle, Austin and now Boston. Working on the startup team provides the best of both worlds, I have a large corporation that I can leverage and use as support as well as work with startups to see them grow.
GH: What does the future hold for the Boston innovation economy?
Joshua: It is promising to say the least. We have great momentum here. I work quite a bit with consulates from other countries and they all have a base here in Boston and are promoting the ecosystem abroad. We have universities that are building a solid base of talent to funnel into the economy. We have great organizations and companies that are giving back to the community in all sorts of ways. It is very promising but I think there are still a few logistics such as transportation and housing that need to innovate as well. The technology and ideas are here. We just need the infrastructure to come along for the ride as well.