Three innovative Scottish start-ups using BizSpark and Cloud services
Scotland’s digital start-up scene is thriving with new companies emerging all the time. Thanks to the Cloud, these small companies are often capable of solving everyday problems more quickly than their predecessors, and their solutions can take a shorter time to test and develop than less nimbler operations.
In this article, we look at three Scottish start-ups which have found and grown into their niche with help from Microsoft’s BizSpark. BizSpark helps businesses starting out by providing free access to Microsoft cloud services, software and support. Regardless of where they reside or what platform and tools they use, the goal is simple - to help early stage companies accelerate innovation and get their products and services into the hands of customers as quickly as possible.
Glasgow-based MindMate was founded in March 2015 by Susanne Mitschke, Patrick Renner, Gabriela Matic and Roger Arellano. Arellano’s grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years ago and, together with his family, cared for him at home, using items such as sticky notes, a white board, an alarm clock and a phone app to help. But none of these were effective enough to improve the quality of life for Arellano, as a carer, or his grandfather, as a person living with dementia.
Renner, a professional care-giver back in his home country of Germany with first-hand knowledge of the kind of challenges faced by those living with dementia was immediately able to grasp the problem Arrellano was describing. Together with Mitschke and Matic, the team of graduates from Strathclyde and Glasgow universities started working on a product with the aim of improving the quality of life for people living with dementia, their carers and family members.
They wanted to create an app which would work on the problems of feeling powerless, lonely and having trouble with communication, while engaging the patient at the same time and stimulating his or her cognitive abilities. And this is when the idea of MindMate was born.
“MindMate is an assistance-app specifically designed for elderly people with the aim to improve the self-management abilities of the users, maintain their independence for as long as possible and support carer as well as patient in their everyday life,” explains MindMate chief executive Mitschke. To do this, the app offers brain games, useful everyday tools (such as reminders and a getting-to-know-me tool), physical exercises, nutrition advice, more information around dementia, a music section and connects the patients to their loved ones. “In the end, MindMate aims to improve also the communication between carer and patient, and the relationship between these two groups,” adds Mitschke.
The iPad app has received glowing reviews, with the team currently working on making it available on both Android and Windows devices. This process is just one of many areas where MindMate’s decision to take advantage of Microsoft’s BizSpark scheme has paid off, according to Mitschke. “BizSpark comes in very handy, as they are able to help with native Windows phone apps, too. The programme here is BizSpark One, where selected start-ups are able to get support and development kits from Microsoft to also build apps for the Windows Phone,” she says.
But perhaps most importantly, BizSpark has helped MindMate safely negotiate the legal and
financial minefield of data protection.
“We decided to have a closer look at Microsoft BizSpark in summer 2015, as we were convinced that this is a cost-effective way to get business software, such as PowerPoint, Word and Excel, which every start-up needs,” says Mitschke. “However, we realised that BizSpark is so much more than just that. Even more important, we gather a lot of data and need therefore a reliable database – this is where Azure steps in.
“The opportunity to use Azure is incredibly helpful, especially with the database. We don’t need to worry about data protection, as we know that the data is in good hands.
BizSpark hasn’t just helped MindMate get off the ground, says Mitschke – it is helping the team build for the future too. “As MindMate grows, so does our team, we will be intensifying the use of Sharepoint from a project management perspective. As a result, we have plenty of opportunities to use Bizspark to scale our business in the future.”
Money Dashboard was founded in Edinburgh by Gavin Littlejohn, whose mission was to empower people to take control of their finances and manage their money better.
The free application, first released in 2010, allows users to integrate all of their bank and credit card accounts into one manageable, engaging and secure place. In doing so, it offers users the ability to monitor their spending habits and gain all the information they need to improve their financial decision-making.
Earlier this year, the company saw downloads of the app soar 80 per cent in a single month as it launched updated versions on multiple platforms. The updated app includes a utility allowing users to track spending on particular things such as groceries, while making it easy to compare month-on-month spending.
The company is quick to recognise the importance of the BizSpark scheme in helping it grow. “Microsoft’s BizSpark helped Money Dashboard become the organisation it is today by enabling it to build and deploy its application with the Microsoft stack,” said Money Dashboard.
“As a small and budding start-up company, the opportunity to gain affordable access to great products such as Azure and Windows Server was highly attractive and played an important role in the company’s growth and development at an early stage.”
That affordable leg-up offered by BizSpark has helped Money Dashboard go from strength to strength, and the company is still making the most of Microsoft’s cloud-based services.
“With more than 100,000 users and 100 million transactions aggregated to date, the company now operates in the cloud and makes use of a variety of Microsoft products to perform many of its core business processes,” said the spokesman. “Scalability is the key for Money Dashboard as user numbers increase daily and more people recognise the benefit of planning their way to achieving their financial goals.”
The world of gaming might seem far removed from the battle against humanity’s oldest disease – tuberculosis – but a team of undergraduate students at Abertay University has created a game which aims to do exactly that.
Radication Games’ Project Sanitarium was not only created to help raise awareness of TB and its treatment, but as gamers play it, they are actually also testing out a real mathematical model developed by scientists which predicts how the disease spreads. As gamers play the part of a doctor treating patients during a TB outbreak, the game provides data back to an infection research group at the University of St Andrews.
John Brengman, student producer of Project Sanitarium, explains: “The scale of the global
tuberculosis pandemic is absolutely terrifying, but there’s still very little awareness about this
disease. “You have as much chance of surviving Ebola without treatment as you do of surviving tuberculosis with treatment. We want to use games technology to help tackle this massive problem, through raising awareness and helping test the scientists’ mathematical model.”
Microsoft’s BizSpark programme has been integral to the game’s development, says Brengman. “One of the biggest things that we learned on the company side of things was that there were tools and people out there willing to help start-ups become better. “BizSpark has given us the freedom, through access to all of its software and tools, to solve
problems that we are facing now and those we will face in the future. Without the proper tools you cannot build or solve the problems you face as a start-up and that is what we love about BizSpark.”
For Brengman, the most important of these tools is Azure, which he says has been integral to Project Sanitarium’s playability.
“So far Azure has been the most influential tool we use. We were having some issues during internal testing where mobile devices and their processors were being bogged down by the calculations needed to treat multiple patients in our game.
We moved the mathematical model to Azure to problem-solve as well, and in doing that it meant we never turned a customer away.”
What is BizSpark?
Microsoft BizSpark is a global programme that helps start-ups succeed by giving free access to Microsoft cloud services, software and support.
Can you relate to these stories?
If you are a small business owner, or an entrepreneur looking to expand, and you are interested in taking part in this programme, please reach out to your local accelerator program to see if you qualify by visiting Microsoft.com/start-ups to learn more about the program. You can also check out this video with more details on the offer.
How do I get involved?
Since 2008, over 100,000 start-ups have joined BizSpark. This offer includes up to £500 per month of free Azure cloud services for 3 years; that’s £100 per month each for up to 5 developers and a full suite of development and test software and tools such as Visual Studio, Windows and Office. There is also access to hundreds of free training classes, technical content plus 4 break-fix phone support incidents.
When should I join BizSpark?
We work with start-ups at every stage of maturity to provide the tools, resources and expertise you need to succeed in your start up journey.
Since BizSpark is a three-year program, the best time to join is when you are ready to turn your idea into a business and need access the resources to help you do that. Start-ups qualify for BizSpark if they are privately owned, less than five years old and making less than £666k in annual revenue.
Join BizSpark to learn about events in your local area and the team will take you through the next steps.
- This article was produced in partnership with Microsoft