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Microsoft cosies up to start-ups in Canary Wharf

Partners with Level39 fintech accelerator and others

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Microsoft announced a string of initiatives and collaborations with the UK start-up community yesterday as the first cohort of companies graduated from its new London accelerator.

One of the most significant announcements involves the US tech giant moving into the Level39 accelerator space at Canary Wharf, where it will be able to get direct access to some of the UK’s most promising fintech, retail and future cities start-ups.

Level39 runs its own accelerator programmes and hosts a number of external ones, including John Lewis' soon-to-launch JLAB and Accenture's fintech innovation lab

Microsoft said the partnership with Level39 will enable start-ups based in the accelerator at One Canada Square to ask some of its most senior directors about technology, enterprise sales, finance and product development.

Anand Krishnan, a general manager for Microsoft UK’s developer and platform group, said: “Microsoft is taking up residence in Level39 which means that their start-ups have access to a Microsoft desk that gives them access to anything we can provide that will help them get to where they want to go.”

Start-ups in Level39 will also be given £60,000 worth of credits to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, after the accelerator was named as one of Microsoft’s BizSpark Plus Network Partners.

Microsoft said it will run a series of workshops on cloud and other services that may be of use to start-ups.

Eric Van der Kleij, head of Level39, said that Microsoft moving in was vaildation that Canary Wharf is now seen as a significant tech start-up hub in London. 

"We focus on three particular verticals in Level39," he said in reference to fintech, retail and future cities. "In each of those sectors, Microsoft has some amazing talent that we want access to.

"Microsoft’s commitment to putting an office, a space, in Level39 to make that connection possible, to mentor our start-ups, give them feedback, help them understand Microsoft’s city strategy and who to connect with...that signposting is incredibly valuable because it accelerates the amount of time it takes for start-ups to solve problems."

The partnership with Level39 was made at Microsoft’s Pitch day in central London, where 12 start-up companies that have just gone through the first official London-based Microsoft Ventures Accelerator presented their businesses to an audience of investors.

The three-month accelerator programme was run out of the Central Working co-working space in East London.  

Companies in the first official cohort included everyone from Vastari, an online platform for connecting museum curators with private collectors for exhibition loans, to Barpassa mobile ordering platform that lets consumers order and pay for their food, drink or merchandise, automatically. 

Applications are now open for the second cohort, which begins in September and will see online fashion retailer ASOS get involved.

ASOS will help Microsoft decide which start-ups are selected for the next cohort, before going on to provide mentoring to those companies that want it.

“They [ASOS] have an interest in how you take the buying experience and make that come alive in ways that technology and innovation can provide,” said Krishnan.

“Retail is a space that is big in London and ripe for disruption,” he added, pointing out that Microsoft has retail as a focus itself.

Anand also revealed that the next cohort of start-ups will have access to a new pool of capital, known as the “JVM Technology Fund”, which has been set up by Jenson Solutions and Ventures in Motion.


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