Meet Joe Wilson, a veteran of five start-ups and the new face of Microsoft in Europe. He wears his hair long and revels in being unconventional. His mission? Help developers and start-ups in Europe create technology breakthroughs. “Let’s find things that surprise the world and let’s have it come from Europe,” says Wilson.
Microsoft announced Nov. 4 that it has attracted some 10,000 European start-ups into its Bizspark program, which was launched two years ago and is aimed at convincing start-ups the world over to run their businesses on Microsoft’s Windows platform. It’s an aggressive move by Microsoft to give away free software and support in order to ensure that start-ups consider using its tools when they build their infrastructure rather than open source alternatives.
The Redmond-based software bohemoth has also been whipping up enthusiasm in the developer community in recent weeks around Windows Phone 7. Some 250 French developers competed in an October 7 “American Idol” style competition near Paris for the best new application. Among the judges were Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who made a personal appearance and even went as far as trying to join in a rendition of the French national anthem at the end of the contest. Microsoft also enlisted the judging help of some of France’s most successful serial entrepreneurs and angel investors, including Pierre Olivier Carles, CEO de Kipost et co-fondateur de Labotec and an active business angel, Jacques Antoine Granjon, founder of vente-privee.com , Marc Simoncini, founder and president of Meetic and Jaina Capital, Bruno Vanryb, founder of Avanquest Software, Xavier Niel, founder of Free and vice-president of Illiad and Jean-Marie Culpin, director of marketing of Orange, the mobile phone company. The winner was Graphic Stream, the French maker of a game called Arcane Tower Defense.
Of course, the end goal is to get more start-ups and developers to use Windows technology. Ballmer waxed enthusiastically about finalists who managed to work in multiple Windows platforms on the Windows Phone 7. “These guys hit the big three,” says Ballmer of one start-up. “Windows Phone 7, Windows Azure, Windows PC, Windows! Windows! Windows!” (watch a video with highlights from the start-up competition).
But Wilson insists that convincing developers and start-ups to use Microsoft technology is not the only goal. He is looking to significantly up the ante.
“I think the European market for start-ups has this incredible opportunity,” says Wilson, who recently took on the job as Microsoft’s Western Europe lead on working with the developer and start-ups communities. “There is a great education system, money to be found, there are great ideas and government programs that can support when the situation is correct yet Europe always seem to play second, third or fourth fiddle to the U.S. and Silicon Valley.”
Wilson says he is intent on changing that. “Ask me what I want to accomplish as a former start-up guy working in a big company I want to come in and make a big difference,” he says . ” I want to push the industry, let’s get it moving, let’s generate opportunities bigger than we ever had before.” (Wilson was a keynote speaker at the Innovation Exchange, a pan-European conference organized Oct. 14 in Copenhagen by Informilo, in partnership with the European Private Equity & Venture Capital Association and the European Tech Tour Association. His appearance at the Innovation Exchange was his first opportunity to engage with the European venture capital community on a large scale.click on the video below to see the full interview with Informilo at the Innovation Exchange conference in Copenhagen)
In addition to free software tools, Microsoft is connecting start-ups to venture capital and bank loans. It is also giving free assistance to small and medium-sized businesses seeking local, national and EU level grants through The European Union Grants Advisor program, EUGA for short, is a collaborative effort led by Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Intel to make it easier for startups to see where they can avail themselves of national and EU grants when they need it most, in the first three years of their life.
For example, Eeple which runs a French social networking site called Melty.fr was able to get € 80,000 e in funding thanks to a EUGA consultant who helped the company respond to the French government’s €35 million WEB In EUGa.
The EU is making more than €200 billion available to small businesses for technology and related investments between 2007 and 2013, but approximately 60% of funding has yet to be spent. Microsoft says the success rate for grants applied for with EUGA’s help since 2005 is 80% and the service has secured nearly $510 million.
Big companies like Microsoft must be there for start-ups during these critical stages,” says Wilson. “We have to stand up and be counted to bring young companies into the industry.”
Prior to Microsoft, Wilson worked as vice president of Anark Corporation where he lead the international efforts of an innovative real time 3D technology platform focusing on designers and developers in the entertainment, gaming, and advertising industries. Previously, Wilson served as senior director of Tactical Marketing Ventures, a boutique-marketing firm that focused on launching technology products for Fortune 500 and venture backed companies into competitive markets. His prior experience spans three other startup companies in technology and services sectors.