‘Start-up’ Microsoft sees Israel as an inspiration

Even a veteran company can learn a thing or two from the country’s entrepreneurs, MS executives say

Microsoft's Think Next event (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Microsoft's Think Next event (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Microsoft is turning to the start-up nation for inspiration in reinventing itself as a start-up, according to the company’s local research and development chief.

“In the past year, Microsoft has changed more than in any single year,” Yoram Yaakovi, head of Microsoft Israel’s research and development lab, told journalists at a press conference Monday. “We have developed a new vision around devices and service, with hardware and software development. We are changing ourselves from an incumbent to a challenger.”

Yaakovi was speaking at Microsoft’s annual Think Next event, a showcase for new technologies from Israel and abroad. The event, held in Israel for the sixth time, is considered very important in the MS universe. The company even sent Dr. Harry Shum, the company’s top technology and research guru, to speak at the conference.

Veteran companies like to emphasize their “reinvention” as a start-up, but Microsoft may have gone farther than expected, said Yaakovi. “For example, we recently came out with our Office suite for iPad, something that a few years ago would have been unthinkable. Our Azure cloud platform is open to all software, and we provide software for many devices.”

That same openness extends to Microsoft’s Ventures Accelerator program, said Tzahi (Zack) Weisfeld, the program’s senior director. “Microsoft’s accelerator program works with many other accelerators in different countries,” he said. “Companies that are part of MS Ventures Accelerator do not have to use Microsoft software or the Windows operating system.”

Companies in the four-month program get to work with top mentors who teach them the tricks of the trade — how to develop a presentation, how to reach and appeal to investors and how to steer a company towards a buy-out. The program has branches in six locations worldwide, and the 40 companies that have taken part in the accelerator in the past two years have raised an average of over a million dollars each.

Microsoft is open to all sorts of new ideas, said Weisfeld, and the roster of companies that displayed their technology at the event reflected that. The companies included BioCatch, which uses biometrics to detect when someone fraudulently tries to log into your account; ZuTA Labs, which is developing a handheld printer for smartphones; and Zula, a communications app that brings users all their email and social network messages in a single interface. BioCatch and ZuTA are based in Israel, and Zula does its R&D here.

Ideas like those — unique “game changers,” as Yaakovi described them — make a multinational like Microsoft seek inspiration from Israel. “There are great ideas all over,” Yaakovi said. “But Israel goes beyond ideas. We in Israel take the ideas, build them, and then sell them. This is a triple play that is unique to Israel.”

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