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.

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