Wow, what a week! Last week was the first ever Microsoft CRM Incubation Week hosted at the Microsoft Technology Center in Reston, VA. Approximately 50 companies submitted applications, with 5 companies (Support4U, Highland Martin, Prime Time Software Solutions, DubMeNow, and Channel Blade) chosen to spend a week learning and using Microsoft CRM as well as honing their business plans. Their hard work during the week culminated with a 20 minute presentation (or pitch) to industry leaders and venture capitalists on Friday. I was fortunate enough to participate as one of the 5 advisors. Microsoft assigned a dedicated advisor to each company to assist them during the week.
While this was the first Incubation Week for Dynamics CRM, Microsoft had conducted a couple of these previously, so there was a solid framework for the event. The first day was spent with a 5 hour overview of Microsoft CRM and generally logistics of the MTC and event. Microsoft also provided speakers Tuesday-Thursday during lunch who covered topics from raising money, to marketing your solutions, to building an S+S company. I thought all of the speakers were very strong. I had planned to sit in only the beginning of each talk, due to the amount of code we had left to develop, but found myself staying for their whole presentation.
Companies had their own lab, 24/7 access to the facility, and were provided plenty of great food and snacks throughout the week. I don't know how the previous Incubation Weeks went, but the energy at ours was noticeable and exciting. Teams then spent anywhere from 15-20 hours a day from Monday-Thursday working on their solutions and presentations. Each team came into the program at different stages in their life cycle...some where just an idea between founders, others were established companies looking to enhance their business on the Dynamics platform. The communal aspect of the event was one of the best parts of the week. Companies and advisors spent the week sharing ideas, stories, and knowledge. Also, I learned about the BizSpark program and the InnovateOn web site last week. The BizSpark program is absolutely amazing for new companies looking to build on the Microsoft platform. InnovateOn provides a fantastic and consolidated resource for ISVs and companies implementing Microsoft products (specifically Dynamics CRM).
I will take away 5 indelible memories from the week:
- The incredible progress made by all of the companies. Literally, three of the companies had little more than an idea when they arrived on Monday. The presentations and demonstrations I saw on Friday were impressive and shown just how far each of them had come during the week.
- The team atmosphere during the week. Everyone working into the late hours and assisting with code and ideas. Even though each team walked out with working prototypes (or in some cases production worthy code), I believe the relationships formed during the week will also be a key output from the event.
- The look on Steve King's face when he saw the first prototype of his idea working. Steve is one of the founders of my assigned company, Support4U, and has been "incubating" his idea for about 5 years now. Within 2 days, Alexey (Support4U's developer) and I were able to bring up a working prototype demonstrating his vision using a Silverlight application pulling data from Dynamics CRM.
- The power of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform and the use of Silverlight. I know of two teams who started with just a slight integration idea into Dynamics CRM, and found themselves building a functioning prototype on the platform. As each team were guided through the CRM platform by their advisors, they quickly saw the power of the solution and how quickly they could get to market with it.
- Actually making it back to Chicago on-time on Friday, despite the horrible weather during the week!
I also have numerous people to thank for this experience, including:
- Sanjay Jain for providing the overall vision for the event and for allowing me to participate. Sanjay was also gracious enough to give me a ride each day to the MTC!
- Dave Drach and Warren Wilbee for their business feedback to the teams. Also, thanks to Dave for dinner Thursday night...it was great to get out of the MTC for a few hours!
- Thanks to all of the panel participants, Paul Greenberg, Asher Epstein, Janet Yang, Lenard Marcus, Joseph Harar, and Jennifer O'Daniel for taking the time to review and provide feedback to the companies.
- My Support4U team...Steve King, Lon Orenstein, and Alexey Korobko. They were great to work with and I look forward to seeing their solution in the marketplace!
- Sima Shahin and her team at the MTC. The food and facilities were fantastic! I also noticed and appreciated the late hours they worked and just how friendly and accommodating everyone from the MTC were to us.
- All of my advisor colleagues (Nikhil Hasija, John O'Donnell, Girish Raja, and Dan Blake) for their help during the week.
- Proteans provided off-shore resources to the companies.
- Barry Givens for providing time to meet with my team remotely and discuss their concept with them.
- My wife, Heidi, who had the kids for the entire week trapped in our house due to the inclement weather in Chicago.
I didn't have a camera with me, so I don't have any pictures to share. :( However, my colleagues did have cameras (and a film crew was also there to capture the teams and presentations), so check with their blogs to see more of the week. Also, Sanjay's blog chronicled each day.
All in all, it was a fantastic event. I highly recommend any new or emerging company consider applying for any future Microsoft Incubation Week event.
I want to wish every company who participated in this one the best of luck and continued success.