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One Big Family: The Inaugural Founders’ Summit

On the 27th and 28th of January, 40 founders from London, Paris, Bangalore, Berlin, and Seattle, along with several key MA staff led by Senior Director of the Microsoft Alumni Program, Alec Saunders, gathered in the historic 18th century Chicheley Hall, 60 miles north of London. This was the first time an international group of Microsoft Accelerator startups had come together under one roof with the sole purpose of learning from one another.

Some of the best ideas have come out of spontaneous acts: Aaron Sorkin wrote notes for A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins while working as a bartender in NYC; AirBnB was conceived when founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia rented air mattresses in their SF loft in order to make rent; the creators of UK soap drama Eastenders wrote the first script in a wine bar near the BBC studio (ok, maybe that one is a bad example).

Similarly, the inaugural Microsoft Founders’ Summit was the brainchild of the delightful Toni Hasson, Global Alumni Program Manager for Microsoft Accelerator (MA), and Philipp Limburg, Berlin’s local alumni manager, over beer after a meeting-packed day in London back in September.

Being with founders who are going through the same ‘pain’ is invaluable and unquantifiable. It is really is a marathon and building resilience is part of what makes a successful entrepreneur/business.        -Chris Butt, CEO & Founder, Cognisess

Welcome to the Madhouse!

Zipping up from London Euston into Milton Keynes before getting on a bus to the ‘Oh it’s like Downton Abbey!’ setting of Chicheley Hall, there was only time to grab a quick coffee before founders were hustled into their first session.

The packed two-day summit covered a gamut of topics. Understandably, it’s challenging trying to cater to the needs of startups in different life cycles: some startups were pre-product, others had launched but were still trying to find product-market fit, others had a sales pipeline and were looking to grow, and at least one startup had 300+ employees!

Christelle Lemaire, director of co-marketing with startups at Microsoft France coalesced more than 15 years of sale experience into some really powerful tips and techniques. The same presentation was apparently a hit with a recent French accelerator cohort!So, how do you make sure each startup gets value out of attending the event? You start with an intense two-hour session on sales and communication techniques, of course! These are important skills startups at any stage can use.

Other sessions for the day included key tips for hiring the best talent and working on key company values (presented by Jane Reddin of Balderton Capital and Brett Putter of Forsyth Group) and a no-holds-barred chat about foreign startups seeking funding in the US (presented by Nancy Fechnay of Flight Ventures).

Day two followed with an enthralling session on listening and negotiating with Richard Mullender, a former leader trainer at Scotland Yard’s hostage unit. The rest of the sessions were focused specifically on founders. For example, Anish Basu Roy, CEO of India-based Shotang, talked about his company’s experiences and learnings growing to a 300+ sized team. The following breakout round tables allowed startups to share their dilemmas and get actionable suggestions and solutions from fellow founders.

For me the best part was the round-tables on the last day, where we got into the real problems faced by founders … although everyone goes through similar things, it’s always refreshing to hear about it and talk about it. Wish it was something we could do on a monthly basis.  -Axel Katalan, CMO, Pointr

It’s not just about work

Of course, founders know how to have fun as well. Microsoft made sure it wasn’t just all learning and no play. There was plenty of time for drinks and networking

after the sessions and during meals. On the first night, a poker den was set up by professional croupier Jacqui Terry, with more than 20+ founders across three tables throwing down (fake) money for a chance at glory. Cat Duval led a wonderful yoga and meditation session the next morning and the Summit closed out with a bang…laser skeet shooting.

The two days went by all too quickly and before long, startups were back to the grind, taking meetings, answering emails, checking in with their teams on Slack…albeit refreshed, revived and ready to rock. There’s no doubt it was time well spent. Here’s to a successful Founders’ Summit, and keep your eyes peeled for more to come!

Wait, what? You’re not in the alumni network?

If you’ve graduated from the Microsoft Accelerator (or its former incarnation, Microsoft Ventures Accelerator), don’t forget to join the alumni program. Membership does have its benefits: Microsoft has given out tickets to events such as SxSW and Techcrunch Disrupt, plus you’ll have access to events such as the Founders’ Summit as well as the chance to connect with the wider network of 500+ startup alumni around the globe.

And if you’re not an accelerator graduate but are interested in applying to one of Microsoft’s seven global accelerators, I encourage you to learn more about those programs today.

The alumni program has continued to be incredibly rewarding nearly two years after our travel startup, Firef.ly, graduated from the London Accelerator. We look forward to celebrating further success with the rest of the cohorts!

It has been the most refreshing experience – so well thought out, with excellent use of time and just the right people. We are going back to the office energized, excited and full of ideas, which is priceless.      -Mira Emmerling, co-founder of Paris-based Glaze

 

Shawn Low is the co-founder of Firef.ly, a smart travel journal and personalized guide.

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Make sure to check out the mashup video with highlights from Microsoft’s first ever Founders’ Summit below!

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