So1 & Microsoft - Was it worth joining part of Microsoft’s Scale Up Accelerator?

When we first applied for the Microsoft Accelerator (https://www.microsoftaccelerator.com/) early this year, we didn’t have high expectations at all. Aren’t accelerators for early-stage startups? How can a big corporate help a small fast moving startup? Would it not distract us from our core business?

In general, as a startup you have to be skeptical about the vast amount of "opportunities" you have when moving forward. Everyone wants to help and make you grow, very few truly do though.

Why we joined

During the application process, we got a better understanding of what Microsoft really wants to achieve with this new accelerator program for late stage startups.

It is not what you may think it is:

  • “we are a corporate, let’s do something hip”
  • “let’s get some cheap equity for our big name” (in fact, you don't give away any equity at all!)
  • “let’s copy some ideas for ourselves”

What is it then? There is this big corporate Microsoft, that realized the business of the past (selling MS Windows Licences) is over. Microsoft changed over the past years to be more open. For instance, they support Linux on their Azure cloud platform. In fact, they invest heavily in their cloud platform in general and have it as top priority to get more companies on board. Microsoft is also aware that they are perceived as the leading trusted technology provider for their enterprise clients, so they need to deliver or suggest new innovative services to their clients. They realized that this amount of innovation needed and requested by their clients cannot only be created internally.

So the ScaleUp Accelerator program is very clear on what it wants to do for the Microsoft core business: more Azure cloud business - either with the startups directly or indirectly through clients. Additionally, putting Azure next to innovative ideas will probably create some positive spillover for the entire brand and business.

We liked the fact that it runs rather under a mutual business partnership level that aims long term and not any unrealistic “we make you big” startup boot camp.

The Pros

  • a significant amount of Azure credits for zero shares or obligations
  • Hands-on support with Azure and technology changes you have to make in order to move there
  • World class (really!) Mentoring/Coaching/Workshops
  • MS Partner Network / Sales contacts
  • Knowledge exchange of startups in similar phase
  • Accelerator team is startup experienced themselves (and very engaged!)

The Cons

  • Microsoft expects startups to take this seriously and it is a significant time investment (total maybe 3-4 weeks within 3 month program)
  • You are likely to leave or scale down business with your current cloud provider

The verdict

We did not start this with the greatest expectations and were truly overwhelmed by the actual value this brought to our business. We are already selling our product to retailers with the help of Microsoft and believe there is a lot more to come - especially in the US market.

When you read the above you already should get a sense of when you should apply for the new program. To summarize, it only makes sense for both sides, if:

  • You really are willing to invest some time
  • You could need some help selling your B2B solution to corporates
  • You are still willing to learn and don’t think you know everything already
  • You want to have fun with the accelerator team and other startups in your phase :)

The next and second batch of Microsoft ScaleUp program starts in March 2018 in Berlin, so you can already apply here https://www.microsoftaccelerator.com/apply.


PS: So1 is one of the driving forces of retailer digitalization. We have created a very powerful AI for retail which is capable of personalizing promotions for users in real-time and across devices. The So1 Engine sources the entire portfolio of the retailer and automatically selects the right products for each individual consumer and adjusts discounts such that revenue, profit, or consumer satisfaction are maximized.

Magnus Aufschild

CPO at So1. Entrepreneur. Startups. Solving problems. Disrupting grocery retail with AI.