Microsoft's BizSpark helping startups like Resgrid reach their goals

Trustworthy Cloud Logistics For First Responders – Resgrid

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Developer by day, volunteer firefighter by night . . . Shawn Jackson likes making a difference in the world. Now, as founder of BizSpark startup Resgrid, he is helping speed up disaster emergency responses in a bid to keep people safer around the globe.
When a call crackles across a fire emergency response system, first responders rush to their station, grab their gear and get to the scene as quickly as possible. As they drive, though, it’s tough for everyone to know who else is responding or what their own role will be.
“It’s hard to put together the best crew for the situation without knowing who is responding from where and what level each person can operate at,” says Jackson. “Am I going to be the guy kicking in the door or driving the truck?”
The developer side of Jackson’s brain started swirling with ideas to resolve the communications issue. He came up with the concept of Resgrid, a cloud/app combination that first responders can use from their mobile devices to coordinate logistics and resource management. Smartphones and tablets, he reasoned, were owned by nearly every first responder – why not create a universal product for mobile networks that can receive text messages?
He enlisted help from another developer he knew well – Jason Jarret – and, together, they chose to build out the idea using Microsoft technologies – particularly Microsoft Azure – as the foundation. The Microsoft BizSpark program gave them free access to lots of Microsoft software, including Azure.
“Every country has first responder needs and at varying levels of sophistication,” says Jackson. “With Azure we can coordinate all the information we need to help any first responder – anywhere – track operations and even obtain turn-by-turn directions to get to the emergency scene.”
Resgrid uses the cloud platform to deploy its entire product, from the company website to its backend API and everything in between, says Jarret, in large part because it seamlessly connects with any open source software (OSS) package Resgrid uses.
“Our system was designed to work with Azure from the onset,” says Jarrett, co-founder, “because it allows us to leverage all the capabilities of the platform. For example, we use Cloud Services for both Web and Worker roles to help us identify patterns and reoccurrences. Our backend is Azure SQL Database. That gives us SQL as a service that we do not have to manage or failover.”
Azure SQL Database uses a special version of Microsoft SQL Server as its backend. It provides high availability by managing many databases, storing multiple copies of databases, elastic scale and rapid provisioning.
Resgrid’s use of OSS packages in conjunction with Azure is substantial. MongoDB, for example, lets Resgrid integrate real-time analytics into its Azure operational databases. The startup also uses TeamCity CI – a Java-based platform – as a build server and runs it on an Azure virtual machine. AngularJS and Bootstrap, open source web application frameworks, are being used with Azure Websites (a fully-managed Platform as a Service) for the startup’s web site. StackExchange.Redis lets Resgrid connect to the Azure Redis Cache through a .NET API, allowing the startup to create and configure a cache, add or remove objects from it and configure cache clients.
Other, smaller OSS packages include Moment.js, which lets Resgrid display times and dates on its Azure-based dashboard, and jQuery, a cross-browser JavaScript library that simplifies client-side scripting of HTML. For instance, coding with jQuery lets Resgrid quickly add special effects to its web site and pull data from a server-side database.

Paws Poised For Success With Microsoft Azure’s PaaS

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Microsoft's BizSpark helping start-ups, like Pose-a-Pet, reach their goals

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Jennifer Whaley, founder and CEO of Pose A Pet™, stumbled onto her startup idea several years after she began volunteering to take pictures of homeless pets at animal rescue operations in an effort find them forever homes more quickly. Great pictures get animals adopted, she says. Even better? A PaaS like Microsoft Azure gives a startup the boost it needs to go worldwide.
Whaley’s idea to help homeless pets become more adoptable through charming, uniquely personable photos for rescue ads was helping to get more animals adopted more quickly, but the number of animals that she could help was limited by the number of hours in the day. She took pictures using a necklace of squeaky, distinctive sounds that captured a pet’s attention.
The noises captured the shots she wanted but, in her heart, she knew there had to be a faster and more efficient way to bring her photo-taking tools to the masses and distribute them out so that more animals would be adopted quickly. As she worked out the details of Pose A Pet™, she networked with other startups.
When another small pet business told her about the benefits of the Microsoft BizSpark program, Whaley was interested in learning more.
As she tells it, “It truly hit us that we were a real startup when we became a part of the BizSpark program. When we found out that everything we needed was available to us (Ed. Note: Visual Studio, Exchange, Azure, SQL, SharePoint, etc.) to develop the kind of apps we envisioned, we knew we had a chance.”
Jeff Everett, co-founder and CTO, manages the technology side of the business. Through BizSpark, Pose a Pet™ now uses Microsoft Azure to house all its images, create animal rescue flyers, add sponsors and helps create marketing campaigns for animal rescues worldwide, among other things.
Even more important, Microsoft Azure is available and scalable to Pose A Pet’s™ needs as it continues to expand worldwide. Azure’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) allow developers to focus on building differentiating scenarios and features rather than rebuilding infrastructure.
PaaS was perfect for Pose A Pet™, says Everett. The Microsoft Azure platform provides a cloud services operating system and a set of services to support easy development and operation of applications for the platform. One OSS platform the company is currently evaluating for use within Azure is Concrete 5. Everett says that will help wrangle in the many contacts the startup has for rescues, TV stations, radio stations, etc.
“We love the flexible nature it provides that our developers need and have been asking us for so they can use it for their contacts.”
Because Pose A Pet™ is dealing with multiple software versions as well as a collaborative workspace, the company uses Git Repository to make sure all the versions are properly cataloged through the Feature Based Workflow.
“That gives us frictionless context switching,” says Everett, “so we can go forward with a revision, commit a few times, head back to where we branched from and apply patching where necessary in order to make our final project stable while developing other ideas in parallel.”
“Azure’s Platform as a Service provides significant cost reduction in the development, deployment and hosting of business applications due to the fact that you pay only for what you use,” adds Everett. “The ever-increasing and limitless computing resources of PaaS also give us a major competitive edge over our competitors because if we need more resources or servers, we can have them up in minutes rather than the time required at traditional in-house data centers.”

pose-a-pet screenshot

Because of all the services Azure has to offer, Pose A Pet™ easily built a back-end engine to create shareable flyers in bulk for automated sends; each animal rescue flyer has a link to a business that sponsors an individual animal, which are then shared all over social media.
“We got excited about Microsoft Azure when we realized that the process was much more automated that we expected,” he says. “The most exciting thing for us is the ability to scale. We know we will be housing thousands of images and moving a large amount of data around in the future. Keeping all that in one place on a single platform like Azure makes things straightforward. And that leaves time for us to plan for growth through development.”
“With Azure, we just save so much time for ourselves and the work we enjoy doing,” he says. “And the ability to scale through cost is beautiful. It’s easy to get all kinds of apps to communicate with the server. For example, we use a lot of Java and will be employing more open source software packages like Ruby on Rails as we grow and customize. That’s a huge benefit of Azure – that we can deploy OSS on it.”
Pose A Pet™ has iPad and Android apps now (Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps coming soon) that use proven attention grabbing sounds from Whaley’s necklace as a picture is being taken. The sounds in the app help the pet focus directly on the camera, which improves each picture taken. For those involved in animal rescue you can create a virtual flyer that can be instantly shared on their social media networks. The app will be available through the Windows Store soon stay tuned.
For anyone considering adopting a pet, Whaley has some valuable advice.
“Be sure you have the space, time and energy for a pet. Then find a local breed rescue or animal shelter and take things from there. Many people don’t realize that you don’t even have to open your home or even your pocketbook to help animal rescue. Visit your local animal shelter’s site today to find out how you can help homeless animals in your community!”
Microsoft is helping these startups succeed through its BizSpark program.
About BizSpark: Microsoft BizSpark is a global program that helps startups succeed by giving free access to Microsoft Azure cloud services, software and support. BizSpark members receive up to $750 per month of free Microsoft Azure cloud services for 3 years: that’s $150 per month each for up to 5 developers. Azure works with Linux and open-source technologies such as Linux, Ruby, Python, Java and PHP. BizSpark is available to startups that are privately held, less than 5-years-old and earn less than $1M in annual revenue.

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Case Study: Plum

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Case Study: Plum

As written on news.microsoft.com
Based in Austin, Texas, Plum makes a Wi-Fi-enabled light switch and dimmer that “completely reinvented the light switch,” says CEO Utz Baldwin of the company’s Lightpad product. Users can control and customize their home lighting from their phone and Lightpad’s touch-based switch plate. They can also see their energy use in real time.
A graduate of Techstars and Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Seattle, Plum has raised nearly $5 million in three years. Customers have pre-ordered more than 10,000 Lightpads, which Plum began shipping in November.
Baldwin says Microsoft Ventures Accelerator helped him meet investors, test hardware and give brand legitimacy to Plum. That helped Plum raise money on crowdfunding platforms like Fundable and CircleUp, positioning the startup for a Series A round.
“When investors see that Microsoft supported you, and still supports you through BizSpark, it provides them with another checkbox that has been satisfied,” Baldwin says. He encourages other entrepreneurs to explore Microsoft for support.
“Programs like what Microsoft has built through BizSpark and Microsoft Ventures Accelerators around the globe are a surefire way to get the help you need,” he says.

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Microsoft's BizSpark helping startups, like Wormhole, reach their goals

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Pass Through Wormhole To Online Learning

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Education is a social interaction, whether online or in person, says Sally Buberman, CEO and co-founder of Wormhole. That basic concept led to the creation of the first ‘Live Learning’ platform, a new concept in online education that disrupts the foundations of traditional e-learning and builds a new experience by leveraging mobility, gamification and people interaction to create the most engaging online training programs. It’s been a journey of epic proportions, from a small startup in Argentina to a customer base of more than 2000 companies, government organizations and educational institutions in 10 countries that continues to expand.
To scientists, a wormhole is a theoretical passage through space and time that could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe. To Sally Buberman, Max Menasches and Ignacio (Nacho) Lopez, the word translates into providing enterprises and institutions a simple way to produce content, offer online training and still retain the best of live education.
The live piece, says Buberman, engages students more effectively by giving them the ability to talk openly with instructors as if they were together in the same room instead of waiting for occasional office hours. An online but live environment tends to be less intimidating than a person-to-person environment; it allows a student to take a live class while still allowing each to have a voice by share ideas and questions in real-time.
“I was giving online lectures over the Internet,” Buberman says. “I thought, ‘Why not create a reliable online university that offers real-time interaction between teachers and students?’”
Teachers, they theorized, needed a platform where they could create and retain their own content. And students from all walks of life needed a way to interact in real-time with their teams and instructors without having to travel to a specific location. This is also true in corporate and government training programs, where the company is focused now.
Pulling Max and Nacho into her plan, the Wormhole team ultimately decided to enter the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition (in 2007) as a way to obtain feedback and validation. The nature of Microsoft’s developer competition forced them to create milestones, build their first prototype and present the idea to others. Making it to the finals inspired the trio to quit their jobs and officially form their startup.
“At the time, we had almost no money to invest,” says Buberman. “We bootstrapped from scratch, worked on the side to generate revenue and reinvested all our earnings back into our little company. That was how we managed to hire the first employees who helped us develop the first version of our product – Wormhole Campus.”
From the beginning they chose to build their foundation on a mix of .NET and other open source software (OSS) packages. Linux, for instance, is Wormhole’s core operating system; C# and Java are the core languages used by the company. To scale-out easily, the startup uses a combination of Windows Server and Ubuntu Server. Wormhole also utilizes Joomla, a PHP CMS, for marketing websites and other internal developments, as well has having native mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Other OSS packages in use at Wormhole include Redis, MySQL, Nginx, Tomcat, Jenkins, a build automation tool, Apache Ant, a Java-based build tool and NAnt, a scripting tool for .NET that helps improve build functions.
Because Wormhole’s virtual classrooms offerings are 100 percent web-based, they don't require the installation of any software. They must, however, be able to work well under very low bandwidth and poor Internet connectivity in order to reach the most people. As the startup continued to grow at a very fast pace (their platform now has over 3 million users a month), it began to rethink its infrastructure architecture.
Before moving to Azure, says Lopez, Wormhole was managing every bit of its infrastructure by itself while hosting on private virtual servers and AWS. As it began researching Microsoft Azure, it discovered that Azure’s PaaS offering and managed services like Redis Cache and SQL Azure offered a simpler infrastructure and a new generation of computing that AWS didn’t have. The development team was quite surprised at Microsoft’s support for OSS technologies – it was expecting Azure to be 100 percent Microsoft-centered.
Joining the Microsoft BizSpark program, Lopez says, was a critical turning point for the startup because of the free licensing and tools it offered. It removed cost and technology barriers Wormhole was experiencing as it expanded.
“Being supported by Microsoft makes you feel comfortable,” Lopez explains. “When you are a startup with no funding, being able to have all the Microsoft software for free together with Azure Credits is an invaluable support.”
“We read a lot before making the move to Azure and also consulted with other startups that were using OSS on Azure to get their opinion,” says Lopez. “We learned that Azure OSS support was not something Microsoft created because it had to – it really wanted to help developers. And Azure overall has better integration (than AWS) with our development tools, so we realized it would help us streamline our development and deployment processes.”
As they continued to research Azure, they saw Microsoft starting to increase the speed of Azure feature releases, a lowering of costs to meet or beat AWS and a mix of PaaS and IaaS offerings with support for Linux, PHP and Java.
“We decided we need to try it out,” he says, “especially when we saw how easy it was to use the management portal and discovered it had automation capabilities, VMs with support for Windows and Linux and worldwide data centers that could help us as we grew.”
“We are making even more use of Linux and other OSS on Azure, because it's so simple to manage and maintain!” he says.
After entering – and winning – more competitions and receiving numerous awards after the Imagine Cup journey, Wormhole developed a board of advisors comprised of well-known industry leaders. It now feels ready to pitch investors in a bid to raise capital for further international expansion.
“As an entrepreneur,” reflects Buberman, “you face many challenges every day and you fail a lot as well. The only way to survive the entrepreneurial life is if you can transform every failure into knowledge and positive experience. Use all the materials you can get hold of – you never know which one will be the turning point for your company.”
Microsoft is helping these startups succeed through its BizSpark program.
About BizSpark: Microsoft BizSpark is a global program that helps startups succeed by giving free access to Microsoft Azure cloud services, software and support. BizSpark members receive up to $750 per month of free Microsoft Azure cloud services for 3 years: that’s $150 per month each for up to 5 developers. Azure works with Linux and open-source technologies such as Ruby, Python, Java and PHP. BizSpark is available to startups that are privately held, less than 5-years-old and earn less than $1M in annual revenue.

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Reinventing the world from keys to light switches, startups grow their businesses on Microsoft technology

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Reinventing the world from keys to light switches, startups grow their businesses on Microsoft technology

By Vanessa Ho as written on news.microsoft.com
In the span of five years, UniKey has grown from a tiny startup to a pioneer in the smart lock industry. Its founder and president, Phil Dumas, has gone from a budding Florida entrepreneur who appeared on “Shark Tank” to the head of a company that’s raised $14.3 million.
UniKey now powers a leading smart lock on the market with partner Kwikset, the largest residential lock manufacturer in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.
“We basically set out to replace your entire keychain with your phone,” says Dumas. “As long as you have your phone on you or in your pocket or purse, all you have to do is walk up and touch the door and it magically unlocks.” In other words, no fumbling for your keys — or your phone to open an app.
UniKey is one of many successful startups around the world to grow and raise funding with the help of Microsoft programs and tools. Microsoft BizSpark gives thousands of dollars in free Azure cloud services to startups, and Microsoft Ventures operates accelerators in seven cities worldwide that give startups guidance and mentoring to pitch investors.

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Microsoft helps startups grow in all stages of funding, whether they’re bootstrapping, crowdfunding, talking to angels or going through their first Series A. With free access to Azure, startups have a secure, reliable, open-source-friendly platform to deploy apps, store data and create virtual machines as they develop their solutions.
And go-to-market support and networking with Microsoft customers help startups grow around the world and navigate a funding landscape that’s changed over the years. Gone are the days when startups went directly from friends and family to venture capitalists. These days, startups have access to many more funding types, with accelerators, crowdfunding platforms, angel investors and angel groups.
“There’s no better external validation than seeing our startups raise significant funding,” says Scott Coleman, general manager of Microsoft Ventures. “It tells us we are finding and mentoring great startups and that our support is having a positive impact. Their success is our success.”

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