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BizSpark gives start-ups helping hand – times four



Many entrepreneurs have great ideas, but getting their business up and running to set the idea in motion is sometimes difficult. However, the Microsoft BizSpark programme has helped many businesses get stared by focusing on four areas – sales, technology, marketing and finance.

Many an entrepreneur would say that having a light bulb idea is easy, but building the business to set that idea in motion is harder. With the right helping hand it becomes easier, says Cliff de Wit, Microsoft South Africa’s Developer Experience Director.

Through the BizSpark programme, our own tech start-up incubation vehicle, we have found that members have an overwhelming need for that helping hand in four areas in order to expand exponentially – sales, technology, marketing and finance.

“As it stands, the programme with its 1 500 members, has shattered all records,” says de Wit. “The enhanced BizSpark programme, which enjoys the favour of government’s JobsFund, currently stands at 721 members, nearly double the target we set out to achieve. During the first 21 months, we have trained 557 members, and the programme has created 299 jobs to date. The BizSpark success story tells the story of a very clear need for that helping hand, especially when it comes to technology, as well as sales and marketing visibility.

Apart from these successes, adoption of Microsoft’s dynamic Azure cloud platform among members has demonstrated the disruptive nature of the cloud and its advantages to small businesses. De Wit says that 421 BizSpark members have adopted Microsoft’s technology that incorporates a number of integrated services, including computing, storage, data, networking and applications.

ViGO go at expansion

There are many success stories among BizSpark members,” says de Wit. “An example is ViGO, a South African website building and management tool that aims to make the web design and development experience far simpler and more intuitive for the average small business owner.

Founded in 2013, ViGO experienced exponential growth with the help of Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to experience exponential growth in our first year as a business,” says ViGO CEO Carl Wallace. “From just a handful of users in the first few months, we experienced growth rates of over 500%. Although we’ve welcomed this expansion, it has introduced new challenges – particularly in relation to hosting capacity.

“To resolve this challenge we partnered with Microsoft South Africa as a key contributor to the BizSpark $60k offer. Access to Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform has been central to this agreement – it has equipped us with the capacity to continue offering its services to local businesses at a competitive rate.

Aimed at businesses and business owners alike, ViGO is an instinctive platform that responds to the need of the user. The unnecessary clutter and complexity typically associated with creating a web presence has been stripped out and replaced with an interface that allows the user to create beautiful designs simply and swiftly.

ViGO also aims to make web development accessible to the everyday user. High price tags and long-term development cycles are not a feature. Users have the option of subscribing to three monthly subscription models (Personal, Business and Enterprise) ranging from R99 to R299.

Each user is granted access to a custom domain, storage, site hosting and basic web functionality such as blogs and galleries. Customers willing to pay a higher monthly rate are also given access to unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth and cutting edge plugins such as ecommerce and analytics.

Providing a better service, for less

Founding and sustaining an ambitious start-up business is challenging. The cost and time associated with developing an inspiring and attractive new web development platform is considerable.

Although ViGO had the capabilities to create and improve its own internal platform, accessing hosting and bandwidth facilities to support this proved challenging. As the company attracted more users so it had become increasingly difficult to provide a competitive service at a low cost.

In expectation of increased user volumes in the future, ViGO’s executive team began the search for a hosting and bandwidth partner to assist the company in its early stage growth.

After some investigation ViGO identified Microsoft’s BizSpark programme as an ideal opportunity to access valuable business advice and to become part of an African network of technology start-ups. ViGO was able to directly address its challenge when it was able to access the Microsoft Azure platform.

Websites and web hosting is a popular feature incorporated into its structure, enabling users to deploy new websites or domains in seconds, along with offering computing, storage, data, networking and application solutions.

Smashing records

Following Microsoft’s acceptance of the company into the BizSpark programme, the development team swiftly set about migrating the platform to this new architecture.

The benefits associated with this move have been considerable,” adds Wallace. “Microsoft Azure has allowed ViGO to organically expand without the concern of costly hosting or storage. A humble start-up has swiftly evolved into a competitive and a tremendously exciting player within the global technology market. Without access to a dynamic cloud platform this would not have been possible,” he says.

As a fast moving web technology start-up. ViGO is a keen user of Open Source technologies. Azure’s support for open source has been really amazing. Presently we are using several open source technologies on Azure such as Apache, PHP, Chango and JQuery.

ViGO has since reaped many industry awards. The company emerged as winners at the Global Entrepreneurship Roundtable event in Cape Town in September 2014. In the same year, they have also walked away with the MTN Cloud App of the Year award in August and was selected to present at DemoAfrica in Lagos during September. ViGO also reigned as the winner in the NSBC Small Business Champion Awards at the end of 2014.

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