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Microsoft: Intrapreneurship and corporate investing

As we expand our series on corporate innovation and startup investing, we wanted to interview Microsoft and one of its innovation leaders. As many know, Microsoft is an active supporter of startups around the world. It’s initiated a wide range of programs to reinvent its internal culture while growing its brand with the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Jim Brisimitzis is currently General Manager for US Startups at Microsoft, and was formerly the Director of Operations for Microsoft Ventures. In addition to spending more than a decade at Microsoft, Jim successfully founded a startup within the corporation (and raised >$1 million for the project,) while growing a team of specialists to facilitate corporate engagement with startups in key markets across the US.

Startup Angels: How does your team at Microsoft collaborate with startup communities?

Jim Brisimitzis: Supporting entrepreneurs is really about building trust. Making commitments you can live up to and delivering on them. At the end of the day, building a startup is not nearly as glorious as it appears in the news. It’s a tough grind and anyone who shows up, regardless of what badge you wear, and creates value for a startup team, will always have the trust of entrepreneurs and the community at large.

That’s how my team and I operate. We invest an enormous amount of time and resources in developer talent. What really distinguishes a company like Microsoft is the time we spend becoming an integral part of the startup ecosystem. My team’s plan is to be visible and helpful. Where we can offer support and deliver value to entrepreneurs, we will.

It’s no secret that winning the heart and mind of a developer will ensure success…

Startup Angels: How does investing in startups makes sense for corporations, if at all?

Brisimitzis: It’s great to make investments, but it’s equally important to be active in the ecosystem.

Companies are setting up investment funds similar to how venture capitalists would, and investing in startups looking for equity, and return on investment. A good example of this is what’s being developed by Microsoft Ventures, Intel Capital, and Google Ventures.

Microsoft is making investments in a few ways: through people, through programs and through incentives for innovation. We supply Azure credits to entrepreneurs through programs like BizSpark. In fact, we are investing quite heavily in these, and I believe in the long-term they are going to pay strong dividends for the startups working with us.

To truly embrace the entrepreneurial spirit in venture investments, you have to take a humble approach to identifying new innovations and market trends that you may not have spotted, or built into your products, services, and strategies yet.

Investing millions of dollars into a company– but not really embracing the innovation, or using the product– is just voting with dollars. There are great investors that do this on a continuing basis, but I tend to invest in products that I actually use, or that my team uses.

Startup Angels: What spurred your transition into studying and investing in startups?

Brisimitzis: After getting the entrepreneurial bug through the project I spearheaded inside of Microsoft, I personally contemplated pursuing startup opportunities outside of the company… I hadn’t previously realized my passion for building stuff.

A colleague of mine reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in joining the startup evangelist team at Microsoft, as the team needed someone who understood Microsoft’s operations… and I jumped at the opportunity. After two years [in 2014,] the team became Microsoft Ventures, and I was approached to lead Microsoft’s Startup effort in the US subsidiary. I decided that was the next best step for me.

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