Microsoft Spotlight: The London Microsoft Ventures Accelerator

Microsoft Spotlight: The London Microsoft Ventures Accelerator
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

February 3rd 2014 at 11:30AM

A look at how the programme is turning studios, developers and young start-ups into real games businesses

Last month, Develop’s Microsoft Spotlight looked at how Whispering Gibbon was using the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator to evolve as a games maker.

Back then the team was settling into the mid-stretch of the 12-week intensive programme, which serves to develop the skills and business acumen of promising early stage start-ups with a great game idea and an open mind to learning about what it is to be a sustainable studio.

This issue we return to the London-based element of the global Microsoft Ventures Accelerator programme, the first cycle of which concluded as this very magazine arrived with Develop’s army of subscribers, to look at how the studios involved have changed, and what those behind the programme have learned, as they prepare to welcome a new wave of eager start-ups.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

So what does the Ventures Accelerator hope to achieve? According to Anand Krishnan, UK developer lead for Microsoft, it’s about sharing the knowledge that is vital to making a creative team a sustainable business without dampening their indie spirit.

“Some of these teams that joined London’s first Ventures Accelerator like GallantCloud were really just a group of people – really just gamers with a passion to make games if I’m honest – so we've had to work with the teams to help them learn the basics of business, and how to create a company and a share structure,” confirms Krishnan.

“Then, working with mentors from studios like Lionhead and Lift London, we helped them with their ideas and with turning those ideas to a prototype. While we are teaching the teams how to become sustainable businesses, that' doesn't mean we have to kill passion or ideas. That’s not the case at all. You can be both a creative studio and a business. The Ventures Accelerator is about giving the teams enough so that, after 12 weeks, they are a bona fide studio with enough confidence in their knowledge to operate as a true company.”

As well as technical advice from Microsoft’s own array of experts and its partners, the teams on the Accelerator also get mentoring from start-ups that have risen to success, legal professionals, and specialists like tax and audit operation KPMG.

“The whole point is that, at the end of the 12 weeks, they emerge as their own true studio that can stand on their own two feet, and take their own passion and enthusiasm and run with them as a full company,” explains Krishnan.

FUTURE READY

And for the teams that took part in the Ventures Accelerator’s debut London programme, that concluded with them pitching to real VCs and enterprise outfits in the opening days of December, learning the value of being a business has been vital.

“The main thing is that we’re more of a business now, whereas before we were really an indie with ideas,” states Joe Stevens, founder and director of Ventures Accelerator studio Whispering Gibbon.

“Now we’re both. We’re an indie business. It’s helped us get that confidence that the business side of our studio makes sense, and that we work as a studio that way. We feel more credible now, and we know what we’re doing on the business side.”

Ben Cooper, artist at fellow Ventures Accelerator graduate GallantCloud, echoes Stevens’ sentiments: “We’ve learned about how to be a business, and that’s been really important for us, because it means we’ll be able to make our game something that more people will get to play; something that will get out there.

“It has helped us feel more confident as a team, but we still feel we’re the same team we were when we started.”

And for Microsoft, the Ventures Accelerator itself is growing and improving, much like a start-up, to help the teams it serves better meet the needs of a changing industry.

“We treat the Ventures Accelerator as a start-up itself,” reveals Krishnan. “It’s a young brand, but it is run by very knowledgeable people that have come from the start-up world. We’ve always been honest about this, and that we don’t want it to monopolise or disrupt the space; we want to compliment it, so we’re learning – like a start-up – and changing a little of the syllabus and the structure. We want to work very closely with the start-up space and partners to make this really work for the teams involved, and it’s here to stay.”

So far, it seems like it is certainly working, and it isn’t going anywhere. To find out how to take part in a future Ventures Accelerator, visit the official website (above).

To read all of Develop's Microsoft Spotlights, visit our archive.