Canadian companies win spots in prestigious Microsoft program

Another Canadian company-Lymbix Inc. -has made it into the ranks of BizSpark One, Microsoft’s invitation-only mentorship program for new start-ups that provides resources and access to investors for select young tech companies.

Previous Canadian participants in the program include Kobo Inc. (an offshoot of Chapters-Indigo that makes an e-reader), employee management software company Dayforce Inc., and virtualization vendor VM6 Software Inc..

Moncton, N.B.-based Lymbix was originally a member of Microsoft’s BizSpark program, which new start-ups can apply to for free subscriptions to development licences and support group membership. Companies are handpicked from BizSpark for BizSpark One, according to Microsoft Canada senior development evangelist Christian Beauclair.

“We choose accelerated companies that have set themselves apart from the pack and showcase the Microsoft platform,” he says.  As to what Microsoft gets out of the deal, says Beauclair, “we get a lot of information back on how to improve our products.”

The BizSpark One program pairs companies with a development manager and gives them an engagement plan, which involves help in different areas, including marketing, business development, and technical assistance, along with connections to venture capitalists. The program currently has around 50 companies, who can be a part of BizSpark One for a year (with the chance to re-new for another year at the end of their term).

The hook for Microsoft in choosing Lymbix, according to co-founder Josh Merchant, was a natural one. The Moncton, New Brunswick-based Lymbix makes ToneCheck, a program that works with Microsoft Outlook to monitor the tone of e-mail communication. It runs off of the ToneAPI, which analyses text based on eight primary emotions to determine how a person might respond to a sender’s e-mail.

“Everyone can relate [to worrying about the tone of an e-mail],” he says, citing the case of an Australian woman who was fired for sending an e-mail written all in caps.

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So far, the partnership has netted Lymbix networking opportunities in San Francisco, along with feedback that will aid the company in the next steps-developing the beta version of ToneCheck (which is currently free for individual users) into a corporate tool that could enable enterprises to implement the functionality company-wide, as well as developing the API so that users could benefit from the functionality across different text formats on the Internet, whether it be social media, customer service forums, or product reviews.

“We’re working on building a corporate structure-this would make for a solution that companies could even implement that would block or prevent e-mails [with an inappropriate tone] from being sent,” Merchant says. According to Beauclair, this technical assistance could include anything from a close working relationship with the Microsoft Office team, to developing ToneCheck for the server side, the cloud, or as a software-as-a-service model.

Another Canadian company and BizSpark One member has also benefited from the program thus far-Montreal-based virtualization company VM6 joined in March 2010, and has found the experience invaluable.

“We’re really happy. It’s opened a lot of doors into Microsoft-there’s a lot of points of entry, so you can get lost easily, especially if you don’t have that single point of contact,” says Claude Goudreault, president and CEO of VM6. The company is also working with Microsoft’s development team to achieve more integration between its virtualization offering and Microsoft’s products.

This is one of the biggest perks for Microsoft, according to senior vice-president James Alexander of Info-Tech Research Group. As more applications become uncoupled from the infrastructure, Alexander says, it’s to Microsoft’s advantage to reward and work with companies that are building on top of the Microsoft stack.

One of the best parts of being in BizSpark One, according to Lymbix and VM6, are the networking opportunities afforded by the program. “They’ve helped us gain market traction in San Francisco already,” says Merchant.

VM6 also loved the yearly event held in Silicon Valley, Goudreault says.

“It’s an opportunity to share with other start-ups, and meet with the venture capitalist community in the Valley,” he says. VM6 has also been taken to several different tradeshows by Microsoft where they met “key players.”

BizSpark One has also provided lead generation that has paid off for VM6, he says.

Beauclair hopes that this wider exposure-and potential success-of the BizSpark One alumni might inspire others to make great products.

“Their innovation powers other people’s ideas,” he says.

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