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Microsoft BizSpark aids start-ups

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With unemployment breaking past 26% in South Africa, the need for job creation to stem the tide of poverty has become a stark reality. The reality being that out of 36-million employable South Africans, only 15,5-million have a job. According to statistics for 2014 compiled by Good Governance Africa (GGA), South Africa has the highest levels of youth unemployment on the continent. The problem is, 40% of young South Africans fear starting a business.

Considering almost half the country now has access to the continent’s most advanced digital economy, in 2011, Microsoft recognised the need to develop entrepreneurial pioneers in the tech space. Microsoft, through its BizSpark programme, has now opened up a world of untapped opportunities for over 1600 South African start-ups, who have in turn created over 300 jobs.

MD at Microsoft SA, Zoaib Hoosen says, “Our hope is that by providing the crucial technology and business support tools needed at this early stage, we will help prepare the next generation of start-ups in South Africa to become leaders in exporting technology IP, and also, in turn, help drive South Africa’s growth.”

Microsoft’s BizSpark programme provides early-stage tech start-ups with the opportunity to join a vast local and global network of entrepreneurs, partners and advisors. It does this by providing start-ups with access to Microsoft software development tools and training, connecting them with key industry players (customers and investors), and giving them the marketing visibility they need to grow, especially in early-stage development. Microsoft’s BizSpark programme provides early-stage tech start-ups with the opportunity to join a vast local and global network of entrepreneurs, partners and advisors. It does this by providing start-ups with complimentary access to Microsoft software development tools and training, connecting them with key industry players (customers and investors), and giving them the marketing visibility they need to grow, especially in early-stage development.

The BizSpark programme can be found all over the world but Hoosen says that the South African wing differs from its global counterparts. The difference being that the South African programme has ties with government, namely, the government’s Jobs Fund – an initiative that aims to co-finance projects by public, private and non-governmental organisations to significantly increase job creation.
“We all know the state of the country when it comes to unemployment. It’s very real, and we need to deal with it,” says Hoosen. “This is why it is more important than ever for private and public organisations to come together for a common goal – a stronger, healthier and more robust nation capable of competing on the international stage.”

The only criteria that start-ups need to join the BizSpark programme are:
* Their businesses need to be less than five years old;
* They must be developing a software product or app;
* Their business must be privately held; and
* They must be generating less than R5-million in annual turnover.

“That’s it,” says Hoosen, “If the start-up fulfils those criteria, they only need to sign up for the programme, join our network, and enjoy the benefits of our development tools and support – all for mahala.”

All a start-up needs is a big idea and Microsoft will help them understand that idea and how technology can enable a solution. Next, the idea needs to take form, integrating it into a business model that provides a unique technical solution. Once the idea is solid, the programme moves onto development – developing the product with enough core features to be deployed for early adopters. Next comes acceleration, where Microsoft BizSpark helps the start-up optimise all its resources to reach its full potential. Once maximum acceleration has been achieved, the idea is to grow the business, giving it time to scale on the back of its already proven business model.

“The best part about BizSpark is that start-ups can enter at any point in the cycle,” says Hoosen. “We believe that the greatest ideas, the ones that can change the world, can be found anywhere, from anyone. You just need to know where to look.”