South Africa might have the highest levels of youth unemployment on the continent – but it also has 360-million employable citizens looking for their next opportunity. This is where Microsoft believes that technology can be used to invest in a more sustainable future.

Developer Experience lead at Microsoft SA, Cliff de Wit outlines the motivation behind programmes such as BizSpark, “At Microsoft we are acutely aware of the struggle tech startups experience and never turn a blind-eye to our own humble beginnings in the start-up space. This is why we have invested time and money into programmes such as BizSpark which enable tech startups with the software and business support to create sustainable businesses.”

Investing in small-to-medium enterprise is a top priority for Microsoft which has aligned their own National Development Plan to that of the South African Government’s Vision 2030. Partnering with the Jobs Fund locally has resulted in an enhanced BizSpark programme that tackles the local initiative with on-the-ground support and incubation partnerships. With over 1600 startups on the local programme, the partnership has presented some tangible results and is continually making waves in the local start-up ecosystem.

Cliff de Wit adds: “Our South African tech startups are solving real problems and creating job opportunities for members within local communities. It only makes sense for Microsoft to facilitate growth through supplying free software and matching it with government support to provide better incubation services to business owners.”

Beyond the BizSpark programme, Microsoft invests in a number of initiatives such YouthSpark, Student2Business and AppFactory in an effort to use technology to enable and improve the lives of the youth of South Africa through a carefully cultivated ecosystem. This ecosystem supports the youth from secondary/high school to university, all the way through to the development of their own businesses.

The adoption of big data and cloud technology has opened the doors to a more accessible and international market which facilitates accelerated growth opportunities for startups and young entrepreneurs. Providing BizSpark members with free cloud hosting on Azure is just one of the many ways Microsoft is providing tech services to help grow and support developing businesses.

According to the government’s National Development Plan, 90% of new jobs will be created through entrepreneurship and the expansion of companies by 2030. Microsoft believes that this can be reached through the distribution of technology and fostering of skills needed to innovate and create opportunities which nurture sustainable job creation.

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. All of this is funded by Microsoft at no cost to the start-up.

The BizSpark programme can be found all over the world but 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.

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.