Portadi graduated from the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Berlin in spring 2015. It was intense four months, with trainings, workshops, a crazy amount of customer meetings, interviews, pitches, and of course a lot of fun. Here is what it was for us.
Every Wednesday there is an hour long meeting with the management team of the Accelerator. It’s an opportunity to talk about business, product, challenges, successes. There it is primarily us who talk. The management asks us if we need anything (we mostly wanted help with introductions to some people). On Friday, Juli Decker, operations & event manager, sends out a plan for the following week.
The tech setup at the Accelerator is decidedly low tech and — take note — it works just fine. All of the important bits, primarily schedules, are posted on the wall. Printed. It reminded me of what my former boss Scott Schreiman had taught me about visual controls and how efficient they were at Toyota.
There’s of course an electronic (iCal-compatible) calendar for events. Internal discussions are done in a closed Facebook group, which in fact works really well since everyone already has a Facebook account (yes, even my co-founder Tomas ;-).
I was expecting SharePoint and other traps everywhere. Refreshingly, the team is totally cool with Dropbox for file exchange. So kudos there: #notTheMicrosoftWeKnew
Every week there was at least one workshop, sometimes we got an invitation to an event. One of those was Heureka , a massive conference, now part of the Berlin Web Week. Heureka was a really good intro to the Berlin tech and VC scene. The conference took place in a derelict industrial space in the middle of east Berlin known as Alte Münze, sort of reminiscent of the Berlin’s most legendary techno club Berghain.
Kai Jäger, CTO of the Accelerator, gave us a deep dive into Microsoft Azure which was very good (by the way, Microsoft is getting pretty close to having a viable alternative to AWS for startups). There was also a session on Bing — well, I had to google Bing to find out it's a search engine.
Microsoft Ventures Accelerator also brings in outside experts covering legal, public relations, or design. We got introduced to Michaela Krause from Ballou PR who was absolutely fantastic. We got a pretty good run down on the Germany-based journalists covering our space.
We had a whole series of meetings with three law firms - they obviously focus on German companies and German law, so the application of this knowledge is limited for a company from the US or even another European country.
What’s missing from the program are practical workshops about UX, optimization, growth hacking etc., so startups in our batch partially substituted that by sharing their own experiences.
Social events aka getting to know one another
Roughly every month there’s an event organized by the Accelerator. The first one was in early March. Juli said we were going to U-bahn station Deutsche Oper and I was really excited about that. It turned out I was the only one. Developers, what can I say…
Anyway, we didn’t go to see an opera, our first event was a “cook your own meal” at a place called Cook for Friends. The organizers divided us into teams and each team got a recipe and a bunch of ingredients. That was actually quite hard since all I had was a recipe in German with unnecessarily long words that were impossible to retype into Google Translator without typos. No one from my team ever cooked before so that didn’t help either. By elimination I concluded that our recipe was for the main course. In the end it turned out great.
The second event was an alumni meeting for Batch #1, Batch #2 and our batch. We went to PURO Sky Lounge, a two-story club at the top of the Europa-Centre, right under the iconic Mercedes Benz sign. If you ever watched Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, you’ll recognize the scene.
The third was barbecue at the rooftop garden of the Accelerator, catered by The Digital Eatery, a public coffee shop run by Microsoft. I found no other explanation for this place other than that Microsoft is feeling the pinch and is now trying to get into the business of running coffee shops. Whatever the reason, their food is great and so is coffee!