(wall of text warning... you should suffer like i did!)
Today I attended the first day of a three day Microsoft BizSpark Camp seminar here in Lisbon. BizSpark Camps are worldwide events held in cities across the globe, and organized by the local Microsoft branches, intended for members of the BizSpark community of entrepreneurs and their startups.
The BizSpark program itself is indeed very interesting and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in starting a business -- or has started one already in the last 3 years -- has less than 25 employees, less than 1m USD in annual revenues and the business is dedicated to the development of software-based products or services. In return, for a period of 3 years, you'll be illegible to all of Microsoft software and lifetime licenses that you can extend to a maximum of 10 members, each with 2 licenses. That's, for instance, 20 full Visual Studio Ultimate licenses available for your company, plus 20 full Windows Server licenses, plus... 20 licenses of each and every product which is normally available to you through a MSDN Premium subscription). The value of this offer alone is mind-blowing. But you also get free access to the Azure cloud if you so wish, 3 year support, inclusion in a network of startups and BizSpark partners that includes - and this is the real deal -- company incubators and investors (including business angels). There is simply nothing like this anywhere.
But... if you were to attend BizSpark Camp Portugal 2010, you would think you were somewhere else. You would think Microsoft was a startup itself, still green, making huge mistakes and clearly without any experience in organizing events of any kind. This was the most grueling experience in every Microsoft event that I ever attended, here and abroad. For someone who actually enjoys this company products and services, I was slightly angered and all sad.
The organization was not the worst. Although, for a full day event that started at 9:30, I didn't welcome the fact that at 19:30 we were finally leaving the auditorium, when we were supposed to have done that at 17:30. A 2 hour delay is...
But where the event really went totally wrong was with one particular speaker and a very real sense that either Microsoft-Portugal doesn't care for its BizSpark program, or it really doesn't care about Microsoft image. Lets see:
The morning key speaker would hands-down be a university law teacher who would be talking about startups and their positioning in issues of copyright and IP (within the context of EU laws, naturally). I was very eager to ear about this. But what I got instead was absolutely out of this world. Without any fear of hurting susceptibilities (I was hurt too, I'm just returning the favor) what we got instead was a character out of a cartoon, with no discernible speaker abilities, that was constantly digressing, often mumbling incoherently, or producing incomplete sentences and, worst, with a mind set on speaking about why we shouldn't want to, we can't, and we should be ashamed of, protecting our source code. And to further his point, he wouldn't think twice before throwing bombshells into the audience like this "In the 90s, Microsoft wanted to hide the source code of their OS so that they could produce better software for it, than anyone else". This, I heard from the lips of a speaker in a Microsoft organized event. So it must be true.
A couple other fun (sad) stories:
1. Quite a few of the speakers where showing their browser with Google search page as the default web page. Because these speakers are not affiliated with Microsoft, I shouldn't be too harsh. But I've been at other events where there was a care from the organizers to minimize or event completely deal with this matter. But here, at one time, the Google Home page stayed on the giant display for 1 hour while the speaker was happily talking about things Microsoft. The irony...
2. The first day was mostly devoted to speaking of IP (which was a complete failure), success stories of the BizSpark program and startups means of financing themselves. This last one was quite entertaining.
- The first speaker (best of the whole day, I must add) gave a general overview of venture capitalists, business angels, risk investors, banks and EU funds. I learned more from this man 1 hour presentation than from weeks on Google.
- The second speaker (a business angels representative) said that everyone else sucks and it's them who can really help us startups.
- The third speaker, a risk investors representative, didn't answer the provocation but went on to say they are just the greatest and she (the speaker was a female) didn't appreciate the fact EU funds made positive discrimination of female entrepreneurs.
- The next speaker, a bank representative, said that they aren't currently lending money because of the financial crisis, but he thinks anyways that if we are asking for money than that's because we aren't organizing our finances well, so we should use their cool and new product instead; a financial management webapp... payed, of course.
- The last speaker, a EU funds representative, promised he would only take us 10 minutes and went along to speak for 1 hour. I found this particularly ironic because EU funds promise you money quick, but you are lucky if you see it in the next 2 years.
Tomorrow will be entirely dedicated to the Azure platform and the next day entirely for Silverlight. I won't be attending since these two platforms/technologies aren't in my radar yet. But I trust/hope it will be better than the disastrous day today was. I'm beat.