Founders of startups located outside the famous Silicon Valley may find this sentiment achingly familiar: stepping out of their offices in hopes to be instantly connected with a think-tank of fellow entrepreneurs, only to be met with disappointment. While budding entrepreneurs may envy the networking opportunities available there—Silicon Valley is widely known as the centre of innovation in the tech world, after all—the good news is that Microsoft has been cultivating innovation hubs worldwide, opening doors to valuable connections and resources.
These innovations hubs are known as Microsoft Innovation Centers (MIC), created to support youth and students, entrepreneurs and startups around the world pursue their business and innovation goals. In collaboration with local governments, universities and industry partners, these centres provide them access to Microsoft software and devices, training, networking events, and professional help in various fields, such as IT specialists.
Currently, there are 120 MICs in 33 countries, including Tunisia, Australia, Nepal, and the United States. Each MIC has a slate of programmes tailored according to local resources and needs. In developed ecosystems like Belgium, the MIC focuses on technology bootcamps while MIC Nepal has provisions for basic computer literacy programmes. Across these countries, MICs also provide support for innovations in a range of fields, including agriculture, healthcare, disaster relief, and education.
Australian university friends Harry Luca, 20, Liam Ellul, 23, and Petros Bakopoulos, 21, developed an intelligent system for wine grape yield projections, to help solve what they think could be an AU$200 million-problem.
According to them, wineries in the country employ a pen-and-paper process to estimate grape yield, with predictions that are notoriously inaccurate, and can be out by as much as 30 percent. With that in mind, the two friends developed GrapeBrain, an app that uses the predictive analytics process by Microsoft Azure Machine Learning to translate growers’ data into a much more accurate yield prediction, and help them better manage their resources.
Harry, Liam, and Petros on site with GrapeBrain in hand
On top of giving technical and business advice, MIC Adelaide also offered them BizSpark funding—an initiative that helps startups by providing them software, services, and technology support.
“The Innovation Center’s been really great in engaging us on a practical level that the more academic university stuff doesn’t really do, and it’s accelerated our learning a lot when it comes to business and the sorts of things we need to be doing,” said Ellul. “And just having the support is great; that you can talk to some really talented people and get feedback.”
Founded by Davit Kocharyan, a young Armenian entrepreneur, SoloLearn sought to share free online coding courses for budding developers. Today, more than 4.5 million people worldwide have joined its community to master programming languages like C++, PHP and SQL, as well as courses in other subjects such as web design and even table etiquette. As its lessons are delivered alongside a dedicated set of apps for each language course, the bite-sized lessons have received rave reviews for content quality and offline availability.
According to Kocharyan, the aid from MIC Armenia was instrumental in its growth, as it had given the startup the equipment and software it needed, as well as connected the SoloLearn team to a network of industry veterans, including e-learning professionals and experts in other fields, from whom they could get sound advice and support from.
Find out more about MICs and the help they offer to students, entrepreneurs and startups.