Asian startups need connections, clear vision

Aspiring entrepreneurs in region lack links to right resources and partners which Microsoft's BizSpark aims to bridge and build up local software economies, says company exec.

SINGAPORE--Asian tech startups do not lack confidence but the "connections" to partners and resources that will help make their business commercially successful, according to a Microsoft executive.

Having a clear vision and high level of business sophistication are, hence, all the more pertinent for aspiring entrepreneurs to both network and articulate their ideas to the market in order to survive the competition, Kirk Drage, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific software industry development manager for, told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

There is a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in the region and a lot of "fantastic talent" coming out of the local universities. After graduating, these young workers typically ask themselves, "Do I take a job that's safe or do I start my own business", Drage said, noting that this does not reflect a lack of confidence in their skills or talent but rather, an uncertainty over which route they should take.

This underscores the importance of being able to get "connections to the right people", he added.

It is for this reason that besides driving software development, Microsoft's BizSpark program also focuses "heavily" on partnering various entities in the startup ecosystem as well as community to provide resources such as incubation space, funding, coaching, training or mentoring, to help startups reach "that level of sophistication to survive the competition" and be successful.

Drage said: "We're not trying to play the role of the venture capitalist but the role of providing the software, support and visibility to enable startups to succeed." A global program launched in November 2008, BizSpark aims to provide software startups free access to Microsoft software development tools, connect them with key industry players such as investors, governments and economic development agencies, and provide them market visibility.

Membership with BizSpark lasts three years and according to Drage, there are currently 75,000 startups worldwide, 6,000 of which are from Asia, excluding Japan, India and China.

Lower entry barrier, greater competition
And Drage expects the number of Asian members to grow. He noted that compared to a decade ago, the barrier to entry to setting up a tech company is "so much lower" today.

The advent of cloud computing, particularly over the last year or two, "radically" changed what is required to run a startup and the required capital. For instance, a startup can now do away with investing in server infrastructure or rack space, he said.

But, with more startups being established in the market today, each faces the challenge of having "business sophistication", he pointed out. "You may have a brilliant technical idea, but you can't bring that to market if you don't have the business skills."

It goes back to "the bread-and-butter stuff" of running a successful startup, Drage explained.

Networking is important, he said, pointing to the need to connect with people--whether they are employees, customers or partners.

It also relates to another quality that is essential for any startup success which is, entrepreneurs must have "very clear vision about what you're doing and why you're doing it", he added.

This "sense of clarity [is] powerful" because once startups can articulate what they are looking to achieve, they will be able to identify people with similar interests and passions, which is important to attract customers and retain staff, he noted.

This then becomes a "rallying point" to bring in the capital, the community and the resources startups need for the business, he added.

While Drage said it was "difficult" to ascertain whether the current tech IPO (Initial Public Offering) hype would lead to a spike in startups, he argued that the opportunity in the software market space is expanding.

"If you go back about 40 years ago, software was just used for accounting," he said. "Over time, software is suddenly doing documents, multimedia, genetics…It's just getting more and more embedded into the culture and growing in relevance to the overall economy."

Drage added that most mature and highly developed economies have very strong software industries which are monetizing through intellectual property (IP) ownership. By helping software startups to become successful, through collaboration with partners and governments, BizSpark also aims to help these companies build local IP which they can monetize and export, he said.

For instance, BizSpark works with Thailand government agency, Software Park, to provide an incubation center and support to help Thai developers testbed their ideas, he revealed.

Building "healthy" local software economies for countries in Asia-Pacific also helps retain the best talent in the home country and help create more job opportunities, he added.


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