Microsoft Azure Accelerator: 10 Startup Names to Watch

Microsoft’s partnership with the TechStars accelerator is taking another big step forward today: It’s announcing the first class of 10 startups admitted to the Azure cloud computing program.

The software giant says it screened more than 600 applicants for the program, which houses startup founders in Microsoft’s office in the South Lake Union neighborhood—right near the ever-expanding Amazon campus and the local branch of TechStars, along with Founder’s Co-op, Startup Weekend world headquarters, and notable startup residents like Glympse.

The 10 finalist companies span consumer applications, backend services for developers, and business to business offerings. (More on the chosen few below). Half of the startups are from the Seattle area, some with strong Microsoft connections. Three others are from California (San Diego, San Francisco, and L.A.), and the final two are overseas transplants—for at least three months, anyway.

The broad outlines for the program are the same as the last Microsoft/TechStars acclerator, which focused on startups using the Kinect motion sensor and wrapped up this summer. Microsoft supplies the office space, some top-shelf mentors, and free software and other resources, but it doesn’t take an equity stake in the companies or lay claims to any of their intellectual property.

TechStars essentially leases its startup accelerator program to Microsoft for this arrangement, making its standard $20,000 investment in each startup in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake. There’s a demo day at the end where investors and some press can attend to see the results—this program wraps up in mid-January.

As we’ve said before, there isn’t anything particularly new about big tech companies wanting to keep their fingers in the startup world, both to cultivate users of their products and to keep an eye on any innovations that the company might want to bring on board later. Microsoft has had its BizSpark startup program for some time, and has run cloud-computing focused accelerators on its own in other countries.

But we have seen a marked increase in the past couple of years in big companies aligning with outside programs, such as the Microsoft/TechStars partnership, or Google and Microsoft partnering with Startup Weekend.

Here’s the basics on the new South Lake Union residents, and what they’re working on. As always with these things, its much harder to figure out what some companies are up to at this early stage, and some details can change. I’ve pieced together as much as I can from their online profiles and the descriptions Microsoft provides on its blog post.

Advertory sells a website creator service to businesses, particularly small local businesses or larger companies with several retail locations. Advertory says the sites are optimized for local search and mobile devices, and are very easy for customers to set up.

The startup was founded in 2010 in Berlin, and lists a team of five on its website. The co-founders are CEO Anne-Aymone Ferreira and CTO Vincent Naigeon, who both worked at European price-comparison site Kelkoo (which was acquired by Yahoo). The startup’s earliest investors were also co-founders of Kelkoo.

Appetas another local-business website creator, this one focused totally on restaurants.

The Seattle-based startup is going after a problem that many consumers have run into: You’ve got a powerful smartphone that can find a good restaurant nearby, and even social-networking apps that throw off great recommendations. But the restaurant sites themselves might be outdated, scraped from directory listings by third parties, or just impossible to read on a mobile device.

Appetas’ pitch is making beautiful-looking mobile sites easy to build and maintain, that look good on all mobile devices. CEO Keller Smith was previously a program manager for Microsoft SharePoint, and CTO Curtis Fonger was a user interface software developer for Microsoft’s Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive.

BagsUp is a travel-reviews startup that pulls together user reviews of places and activities from a user’s Facebook network.

The site doesn’t give much indication of what the service looks like right now, but the Sydney-based team sounds like a trio of seasoned travelers in their own right.

Embarke is a communications tool for developers, giving digital services an easier way to build e-mail, text messaging, and social media into their products.

The San Diego-based startup was a graduate of the Founders Institute program. The co-founders are CEO Al Bsharah (who blogged about making the cut here) and CTO Bryan Hall, and Embarke also employs two software developers.

Fanzo is a social network for sports fans, focused on making a corner of the web for rabid followers to share information and connect with real-life meetups and events.

As a diehard Seahawks fan who has been trying to find a way to watch games on the East Coast, I definitely liked the idea of a place to find other displaced Seattleites. But there is, of course, the question about whether the world needs another separate socialization platform. But Microsoft and TechStars saw enough promise to select this Seattle-based startup for the Azure program.

The team has ties to Smilebox, the Redmond, WA-based photo sharing service that was acquired for up to $40 million by IncrediMail last year. Fanzo CEO Paul Ingalls was Smilebox’s co-founder and CTO, and also worked on the early versions of the video games business at RealNetworks. Interestingly, Ingalls was a mentor on the Kinect Accelerator program.

MetricsHub has the least information kicking around online. Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie describes it thusly: “A service providing cloud monitoring with incident detection and prebuilt workflows for remedying common problems.” The startup is based in Bellevue.

Mobilligy promises to help consumers collect all of their annoying monthly bills into one application that will allow quick and easy payments from mobile devices or PCs.

The app is free and the startup promises no fees of any kind, so I’m really curious to see how they plan to make money. As a consumer, this definitely is one of those situations that could use a good software solution to tie together several separate online services.

Three quarters of the Bellevue-based team are Microsoft veterans, including co-founder Steve Gordon, who was a principal development lead at the company before striking out with Mobilligy. Co-founder Tyler Griffin previously worked in investment banking and private equity.

Realty Mogul is another obscure one, billing its service as a place where private investors can pool their cash for real estate deals. It’s based in L.A.

Guthrie’s blog is once again helpful: “Realty Mogul is a crowdfunding platform for real estate where accredited investors pool capital and invest in properties that are acquired, managed and eventually resold by professional private real estate companies and their management teams.”

Staq is another developer tools startup. Staq’s backend service promises to help application developers add features more easily, including things like background processing, big data analysis, and web crawling.

A big part of the promise appears to be turning developer tasks into application programming interfaces that Staq manages for its customers, “taking care of execution, scaling and reliability so you don’t have to.” The San Francisco-based startup has a three-person team.

Socedo is a social media management service, specifically tailored to businesses using Twitter. This one also doesn’t offer a ton of insight on its website, but it appears to be focused on making it easier for businesses to engage with specific people over Twitter, and potentially helping to generate better leads and more sales.

Founder and CEO Aseem Badshah is a recent graduate of the University of Washington’s business school, and has worked as a marketing consultant for Microsoft.

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  • Hi Curt, thanks for the mention, it was a busy first day but we’re really looking forward to the next 13 weeks.

  • Hey Curt, thanks so much for taking the time to dig a little deeper into each of our companies! Very much appreciate the effort and exposure… Cheers!