Microsoft launches fund for startups improving internet access in underserved markets

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Microsoft has launched a fund aimed at supporting startups bringing affordable internet access to underserved markets, with selected companies to receive around US$75,000 in funding and free software as well as mentorship.

Applications are open until January 15 next year for the fund, part of Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative, which invests in new last-mile access technologies, cloud-based services and applications, and business models that can reduce the cost of Internet access and help more people affordably get online.

“Today there are approximately four billion people globally without Internet access,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development at Microsoft.

“The ability to close that gap is more achievable than ever with technology that is readily available and affordable in many parts of the world. Through this fund, we hope to kick-start the entrepreneurial process by identifying promising ideas that we can help nurture, grow and scale.”

Under its Affordable Access Initiative, Microsoft already partners with internet access providers and other entities on connectivity and services solutions aimed at delivering the greatest socio-economic impact to the greatest number of people.

Startups looking to apply for the fund must be commercial organisations with two or more full-time employees, and have a prototype of a working solution and preferably paying customers.

Products and business models might combine new cloud services and applications, low-cost forms of internet connectivity, and new payment mechanisms designed for consumers and smaller businesses in underserved markets.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative has also launched a free downloadable toolkit designed to help entrepreneurs increase their visibility, build a talked-about business and attract investors.

The SME Public Relations and Communications Toolkit has been designed as a one-stop resource for entrepreneurs across Africa and other emerging markets to get started in building an effective, impactful, measurable and repeatable communications strategy. The 52-page interactive document was created in response to a survey conducted with SMEs across Africa to determine their communication needs.

The toolkit is designed to help startups working with smaller budgets to create maximum impact and achieve realistic goals. It equips SMEs with guidelines, tips and tricks, links to extra information, video interviews with local experts and downloadable templates. The toolkit is available after registering on the Microsoft Biz4Afrika platform.

“When putting this toolkit together, our team spent a lot of time with partners and small business owners, learning about their needs for us to custom-build a resource that meets the exact communication,” said Perry Kamel, SMB partner lead at Microsoft.

“Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more, and hence these series of toolkits are doing exactly that – helping not only SMES, but also our partners to build and scale their businesses with greater impact.”

Microsoft will also be launching Marketing and Human Resource Toolkits for SMEs in the upcoming months.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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