Mentors are a vital component of the InnovX BCR business accelerator, having a significant impact on the program and on the participants. During the organized sessions, we constantly find new ideas, tips and useful experiences in the field of business, we ask the right questions, thus we arrive at answers that we might not have reached alone.
Recently, we had the pleasure to ask a series of questions to three of our mentors, namely Aimen Aldahash (left), Sergiu Pop (center) and Mircea Moraru (right). The first two hold the Microsoft for Startups Workshop and the last the Merging & Acquisitions (M&A) Workshop.
1. How did you become a mentor?
Aimen Aldahash: During my first interaction with InnovX BCR, I was involved in the development of companies that are at the beginning of their journey with Microsoft, so the role of mentor in this program came as a natural extension of my daily work at Microsoft.
Sergiu Pop: The first teams I mentored were the marketing teams I led, being in a completely new area with few specialists (at least in the early 2000s). Subsequently, we continued the mentoring part at the level of partner ecosystem through workshops and events built specifically for them, and in the last year we had the opportunity to interact with more than 200 startups in Romania.
Mircea Moraru: I met the InnovX BCR team and from the first moments I understood that it is an opportunity to help entrepreneurs gain a new perspective on some aspects that they can sometimes neglect. I was glad that the team considered the same thing and that we decided together that my participation as a mentor in the program is opportune, I never looked back since.
2. In short, tell me about the topic, structure and content of the workshop you hold in the InnovX BCR program.
Aimen Aldahash: The purpose of my workshop is to help companies understand the partnership programs available to them, and how they can scale with the help of Microsoft.
Depending on the specific needs of each startup, discussions can focus on ways to be recognize as a partner, develop a global presence, or involve Microsoft teams in the sales process, anywhere in the world.
Sergiu Pop: Romanian startups have the opportunity to grow and access new customers with the help of the Microsoft for Startups program, which takes place in our country. The Microsoft for Startups program is dedicated to B2B companies and helps them grow in Romania and in global markets – we basically help startups develop a customized plan for entering different markets, common sales opportunities in the network of Microsoft partners.
In the bootcamp, we help startups understand what the Microsoft for Startups program is, to get acquainted with how to work in a corporate program, but also what are the latest technologies in the cloud area, Artificial Intelligence .
Mircea Moraru: My mission is to help entrepreneurs anticipate some of the challenges they actually want me to have. I say this because my workshop is focused on preparing their business for a successful round of financing, in which any entrepreneur might want to participate, as well as a brief description of the issues that potential financiers will look at in the analysis and negotiation process. Last but not least, I try to highlight some common mistakes in business development, given my transactional experience, especially assisting buyers in such operations.
3. Why is this topic relevant for entrepreneurs?
Aimen Aldahash: A company at the beginning of the road needs all the support it can get and I believe that Microsoft, with a strategy that revolves around the concept of partnership, can bring a lot of value to a startup.
Sergiu Pop: The main advantage of the Microsoft for Startups program is the sales process together with the partners (co-selling), access to Fortune 500 companies with which Microsoft has commercial relations and to which Romanian startups can sell their products.
Together with our teams of technical engineers, we help Romanian startups to streamline their solutions, use the latest Azure services and access a wide range of customers. The most common request from the founders of B2B startups was to connect them with new customers. Microsoft has over 40,000 sellers and hundreds of thousands of partners. By introducing startups into our sales engine, we can connect them directly with customers.
Mircea Moraru: An entrepreneur who prepares himself also from the perspective of M&A can avoid a behavior that, in the end, will probably affect the value of the business. In addition, anticipating key issues for the potential funding round will help entrepreneurs stay focused on product development and reduce the stress they and their business will face in conducting such a funding process.
4. What is the strategy with which you approach a group in general?
Aimen Aldahash: Given the very specific needs of a technology startup, my goal is to understand each of the participating companies so that I can provide relevant guidance to them.
Sergiu Pop: Beyond the presentation of the programs that Microsoft offers to startups, there are some things that we have tried to do: first of all, we try to see things from the perspective of the startup and not the corporation and to highlight not only the benefits of the programs, but also what it means from the point of view of the resources that a startup must have in order to benefit to the maximum from this program (resources, people, structure).
In addition, we tried to bring specialists from each field (both technical and business) in order to offer a diversified experience and more perspectives. In the Ask Me Anything sessions, we tried to bring a personalized view for each startup in the bootcamp on the next steps that we find useful.
Mircea Moraru: The topic I deal with is quite specialized and in itself may seem difficult, so I try to briefly present the essential concepts and arouse curiosity for a more in-depth discussion or analysis. Given the space allocated to this workshop, my choice was for the approach to be rather classic, but the theme is certainly unique for most participants.
5. How have you managed to help the participants so far?
Aimen Aldahash: First of all, I hope that I managed to synthesize in a simple and concise form the Microsoft partnership message, for all the startups in the program. Equipped with this information, the participants were able to express their intention to work closely with Microsoft on various technological or commercial topics. In addition, each of them receives the necessary support from me and my colleagues.
Sergiu Pop: The unique mix of experience both in the technical area and in the business area helps me talk very easily with both the technical people (CTO) and the CEO and I manage to align the development plans they have.
Mircea Moraru: I hope I managed to make them realize that starting a business on the right foundations and with maximum clarity is essential to ensure its development. For example, there was a situation in which I think we have successfully shown that the lack of agreement between several founders increases the risk of a conflict between them. This is very likely to eventually lead to great difficulties in achieving the proposed goal, if not failure.
6. Have you ever partnered with any of the participants?
Aimen Aldahash: Yes, depending on the needs and the stage of the current and past participants, they can be part of Microsoft programs focused on startups, or they can consider a Silver or Gold level. In parallel, they can certify their solution for the global Microsoft Co-sell program, through which our partners can receive support for the sale of the solution, from Microsoft.
Sergiu Pop: Yes, a lot, just to give a few examples:
Emailtree is a Romanian-based startup based in Luxembourg, recently winner of the Demo Day at the InnovX accelerator, which automates the response to emails using artificial intelligence.
Wisevoice builds virtual assistants companies in relation to customers, but also local administrations in relation to citizens, including in conducting epidemiological surveys.
Modex, a company founded by Romanians that revolutionizes blockchain technology, addresses mainly the enterprise sector and has obtained the status of “Co-Sell Ready” from Microsoft, a step that will allow it access new markets and a large community of potential customers in the network Microsoft.
Mircea Moraru: Yes, and they have already successfully gone through a round of financing.
7. What do you like most about what you do as mentors?
Aimen Aldahash: The interaction itself with each company in the program. It is a very satisfying feeling to be able to witness the growth of these companies, many of which have real potential to become a unicorn.
Sergiu Pop: I think that as we share our experience we manage to see new perspectives of the people we talk to and to learn at the same time from their experience. Mentoring for me has always been two-way: I’ve learned to use new homes, technologies I had never encountered before, I’ve met dynamic and innovative people with positive energy, and I hope I’ve managed to give them as exciting a perspective as the one they gave me.
Mircea Moraru: The energy of the other mentors and participants is extraordinary. In addition, I get in touch with people and industries with whom I generally do not interact as often or as intensely as I would like.
8. What makes the InnovX BCR team unique?
Aimen Aldahash: Being in the third year of interaction with InnovX BCR and its community, I came to really appreciate the program and the way it manages to instill business discipline in the participants, without cutting their enthusiasm from the beginning. This balance is rare in the current landscape of startups.
Sergiu Pop: The speed of adaptation, flexibility and especially the openness to make things work. Also the desire to train a generation of professionals and future successful companies.
Mircea Moraru: The team manages to bring together people from extremely diverse fields and with various concerns. Taken together, it’s a real “melting pot.”
9. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the startup area?
Aimen Aldahash: While focusing on developing a unique product, an entrepreneur should not overlook the fact that it is vital for a startup to maintain its ability to deliver and execute.
Sergiu Pop: To share their energy and enthusiasm and be open to transformation. The most important thing that I think a startup should start from and is often omitted: what are its mission, values and vision.
Mircea Moraru: It is important not to give up your own ideas, but at the same time, please do not stop listening to those around you.