The Edge - BizSpark is the real deal

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WHILE most development and incubation programmes for SMEs in the technology space in Malaysia are driven by government agencies, some private sector companies are also playing a role. Among the more prominent and active since 2008 has been Microsoft Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

Thus, it was no surprise that Microsoft was among the recipients at the Malaysia Venture Capital and Private Equity Association's (MVC) awards event held in March. It was honoured with a Contributors of the Venture Capital Industry award for its role in assisting local technology start-ups accelerate growth through its BizSpark programme (see " Why a big BizSpark success is elusive " below).

"For Microsoft, the award affirms our commitment to not only encourage innovation and creativity and nurture entrepreneurialism among today's most promising start-ups but also provide them access to software, tools and resources to become tomorrow's most successful businesses," says Peter Tam, director of local software innovations at Microsoft Malaysia. Tam is a highly regarded figure in the tech ecosystem who is ever willing to share his time and experience with start-ups, even those not using Microsoft platforms.

While BizSpark has attracted a fair bit of scepticism as many see it as no more than a programme to get emerging tech companies to use the company's technologies, the manner in which Microsoft has gone about helping start-ups has helped dispel the doubts.

BizSpark was designed to be a game changer for technology enterpreneurs to succeed in a diverse global business landscape. "We're helping local start-ups realise their potential and experience the opportunities made possible through technology. Through this programme, start-ups and entrepreneurs have access to world-class tools, technologies and market resources to help bring new ideas, new companies and new innovation to life," says Tam.

But don't just hear it from Tam. According to DappleWorks founder Reza Ismail, "BizSpark helped us lay a strong foundation to succeed. But Microsoft's help did not just stop there. It went on to provide the necessary financial grant as well as guidance to participate in DemoAsia 2012, where we pitched our product to peers and potential investors. Since then, we have received enquiries from interested investors and within two weeks of launch, we signed up over 50 customers with about 100 trial users. This has been extremely encouraging and, with support from BizSpark, we will continue to develop more modules and features to help small companies manage their resources efficiently."

DappleWorks provides small businesses with a unified tool and resources to manage their employee data, leave and resource management, as well as timesheet supervision through cloud computing.

Besides getting access to Microsoft's current development tools, platform technologies and licences, participants also receive professional support from Microsoft and BizSpark Network Partners, which include local and international incubators, investors, advisers and government agencies.

"Microsoft has always viewed local technology entrepreneurs and start-ups as a major factor that contributes to the overall transformation of the country into a high-income nation by the year 2020.

"In fact, according to World Economic Forum reports, the government's prioritisation of ICT and the importance of ICT to the government's vision of the future were ranked within the top 10, at 10 and 9 respectively. Thus, in our commitment to transform Malaysia together, Microsoft has dedicated its time, effort and resources into BizSpark," says Tam.

Microsoft's ongoing investment in the BizSpark programme will continue this year, with an incremental RM1 million investment in cash and kind to assist start-ups with technical expertise and go-to-market initiatives.

Asked if there is any downside to BizSpark, the entrepreneurs netv@lue2.0 spoke to could only cite the time taken for the feedback surveys. Says Ooi Boon Sheng, founder of Web Bytes Sdn Bhd, "If you really want to squeeze something out, I would says sometimes there are a lot of ‘surveys' and profile updates that they require."

Apart from that, the feedback is quite glowing (see acompanying story below).

Another recipient, Choong Chong Yew, chief technology officer of Gnowledge Sdn Bhd, says "BizSpark provides us access to free developmental resources such as Microsoft software and Azure services that we otherwise would have to pay for. Building Gnowledge with the help of BizSpark, we were able save on production cost and efficiently manage our time, which was imperative for us to build the best product possible."

Gnowledge provides a public Internet portal for educators, students and parents to create, publish and share academic assignments for consultation, review or approval. The system is built completely on Microsoft technologies provided through BizSpark, such as .net, SQL Server and Azure, allowing the programme to scale "infinitely" through cloud computing.

With the government looking to the private sector to take up more of the responsibility to groom and prepare Malaysian companies to take on global competition, what Microsoft is doing, though it has an obvious element of self-interest, helps lighten the load.

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