Startup Insights: Microsoft on early-stage tech startups

In the first of a new series, where Hub71’s global partners give us their take on the evolving startup world, we spoke to Sayed Hashish, General Manager, Microsoft UAE, about what early-stage tech startups need to do to successfully scale.

What advice do you most often give to the founders of new startups?

SH: There are a several aspects that are crucial to launching and growing a business. First, understand your differentiator. Whether your core idea is that differentiator, or whether you’ve taken an idea that’s already been implemented by someone else elsewhere, but have extended and innovated the business model, you need to recognize your essential point of difference. You also have to understand how you can scale that business – and to recognize any limitations on scaling, so you can begin to address them before they become major issues. In general, as someone running any business, you need to learn to always try to look around the corners and anticipate things before they happen so that you can maximize the opportunity of leveraging it. And my final piece of advice is to think how you can leverage partners and resources, most obviously organizations like Microsoft, Mubadala and Hub71, that have such a keen interest in supporting entrepreneurs to be successful and to grow their business.

One benefit that startups from Hub71 mention a lot, is being able to network and get closer to Microsoft and to have you as a tech mentor. Is that something you do consciously?

SH: I’m really pleased you have had this feedback from early-stage tech startups, because that’s exactly what we aspire to be. On a macro level across the country, we try to make sure we’re building this startup ecosystem to help the local software economy, create more jobs in the country and the region. One of the latest IDC reports shows 55,000 new jobs would be created by the cloud and Microsoft’s ecosystem in the UAE by the year 2022. We’re hoping a lot of those jobs will be coming out of the startup ecosystem. There is a gap today in the number of startups from the Middle East region, compared to other areas around the world. We’re aspiring to help bridge this gap.

For the startups we work with in Hub71, we try to do three things. First, we try to provide the computing power they need, which is massive. Again, through the data centers we’ve built in the country, we make this compute power available to them, which is something no startup on their own would be able to build. The second thing is skilling. We help startups build the required skills in cutting-edge technology, whether that’s AI, IoT, blockchain, or machine learning. You name the technology, we work to raise their capabilities, skills and certifications on the latest technologies to help them build their business.

The third area, which we find they care about as much as everything else, is help with business development. A lot of startups need this in the early stage. Both within country and through the Microsoft network of offices across the world, we have what we call “partner co-sell initiatives”. Basically, we give incentives to the Microsoft salespeople across the globe to sell those partner solutions. You can imagine how this can benefit a startup. They have a bright idea and a good solution, now we are opening them up not just to the local market, but to regional and global markets through a top-notch sales force. As a result of these three complimentary support areas, we hope to see a lot of unicorns that come out of the region.

Do you have specific advice for early-stage tech startups in the post COVID-19 world?

SH: COVID-19 took the world by surprise. Apart from all the negative areas, there are certain opportunities that have arisen. There are concepts we had been discussing for years that were very tough to put into execution. For example, we’ve been talking about remote learning for years. We’ve been talking about telehealth and telemedicine for years. We’ve been talking about mobility and work from anywhere for many years. But we never imagined the scale of how those concepts would be adopted in just a few months because of necessity.

Again, that represents an opportunity for startups and other businesses. Now we’re moving from the early stages of helping countries on how to react to the crisis via first responders and quick infrastructure to the next phase, where the need is to help countries restart economies and ensure there is employability and job creation, we need to think what solutions will be needed. That is a good opportunity for early-stage tech startups to capitalise on, because those are new challenges, new problems and new areas that need to be solved. It represents an opportunity for great minds that want to work on an idea, a solution or a product that would address and help in restarting the economy.

The future is here: Register now for Barcelona’s New Economy Week

Barcelona New Economy Week (BNEW) starts this Tuesday with the goal of turning the Catalan city into the "global capital of the new economy".

BNEW runs from 6 to 9 October, with registration remaining open throughout the event, offering insight from 350 speakers on how businesses can bounce back from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It will feature top speakers from the business sectors of real estate, logistics, digital industry, e-commerce and economic zones.

The hybrid, business-to-business event – which is taking place in physical and virtual forms – is organised by Consorci de la Zona Franca (CZFB) and will showcase the way in which Barcelona is preparing for the post-Covid world and the "new economy". It is the city’s first big business event of the year and aims to help revitalise and restart the local economy.

“BNEW will be the first great event for the economy’s global recovery that will allow the redesigning of the productive fabric,” says Pere Navarro, state special delegate at CZFB. “It is an honour to have the participation of renowned professionals and attendees from all around the world.

“As we are not in a position to do a proper ‘in person’ fair, we decided to adapt by creating a disruptive and useful event in this way to relaunch the economy.”

The conference will encompass five interconnected events incorporating real estate, logistics, digital industry, e-commerce and economic zones. More than 8,000 professionals from 91 countries from all over the globe will take part virtually. A further 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the five events in person. Over 200 speakers will take part physically, while the rest will give their talks via a digital platform especially created for the unique event. An advanced digital networking platform – using artificial intelligence – will cross-reference the data of all those registered to offer a large number of contacts and directly connect supply with demand.

The conference will also be simultaneously broadcast in high-quality streaming on six channels, one for each of the five interconnected events and an additional stream showcasing Barcelona’s culture and gastronomy.

BNEW will take place in three venues in the city: Estació de França, Casa Seat and Movistar Centre. All are open, digital spaces committed to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. Estació de França will host the BNEW Logistics, BNEW E-commerce and BNEW Real Estate events, while Casa Seat will be home to the BNEW Economic Zones event, and the Movistar Centre will host the BNEW Digital Industry.

Some 36 companies are sponsoring BNEW, and 52 start-up companies will take part and present their highly innovative products and services. A further 128 firms will participate in BVillage, a kind of virtual stand where they can show their products and schedule meetings with potential clients.

Highlight sessions will include: "the era of humankind toward the fifth industrial revolution," by Marc Vidal, a digital transformation expert; "rational optimism," by Luca Lazzarini, a commercial communications specialist; and "future smart cities’ challenges and opportunities," by Alicia Asín, a leading voice on artificial intelligence. Sandra Pina will also talk about how sustainability is transforming us, Jorge Alonso on the humane future of cities and Pilar Jericó on how to face changes in the post-Covid era.

BNEW is described as a new way of developing your know-how, expanding your networks and promoting innovation and talent.

“Networking is always one of the main attractions of the events, so to carry it out in this innovative way at BNEW – with the high international profile it boasts – is a great opportunity for companies,” says Blanca Sorigué, managing director of CZFB.

Readers can register for BNEW for free via this link using the discount code BNEWFREE.