Microsoft Australia made a show of its newly renovated Sydney premises while also promoting its cloud-based platform to a group of eager startup teams, at a special Windows Azure training camp held the weekend of 24-25 September.
Ten teams participated in the Azure training camp, and a crew of high-profile investors and entrepreneurs oversaw the teams’ development and pitching of their Azure applications, said Microsoft’s Catherine Eibner. Participants also acknowledged learning a series of business lessons that were useful inside or outside the cloud.
The grand prize for the best team went to John Young for uBalancer, a pre-existing life coaching app that Young spent the weekend porting to Azure.
Several other brand new apps also sprung up at the camp and were deployed to the platform. These included an app for crowdsourcing auction prices and one to help personal fitness trainers to monitor their clients’ progress.
The grand prize to the winner, a $6,000 business workshop package, was provided by BlueChilli, the startup investment company founded by Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, who also served on the judges’ panel.
Among the presenters at the camp were Microsoft Research and computing veteran Gordon Bell, Sean Marshall of Deal Fit Trainer, and Azure Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Steven Nagy.
Bracing for the weekend
The camp began Friday night at Cliftons with a crash course on Azure presented by Nagy. Later on at Silicon Beach drinks, the startup teams met up with advisors and local entrepreneurs, with participants already excitedly taking notes and drawing up ideas on coasters, noted Eibner.
Gordon Bell kicked things off Saturday morning with a session on the Bell Mason Diagnostic, his theory on how a business develops from a concept into a marketable entity, using measurements to evaluate the business’ well-being at each stage of life.
After Bell’s session concluded, it was time to get to work. Each team was given a workspace complete with “power, wifi, white boards, flip charts and a continuous food and caffeine supply to keep them coding madly away for the next two days,” says Eibner.
The mission: to create a new application to deploy to Azure or to work on porting an existing app. And then, to pitch to the judges. Fishberner-fixture Sean Marshall took on the task of coaching each team on how to present their ideas on Sunday afternoon.
While the teams ended the weekend with their ventures at various stages of completion, the Microsoft retreat served as a source of inspiration for everyone, said Eibner.
“The attendees loved the event and are all eager to know when the next one is on,” she said.
They also left well nourished, as evidenced by the barbecue that Azure MVP Steven Nagy was also on hand to host. And not without a few sumptuous sales analogies: don’t use just one burner to cook your whole load, spread it out evenly across the plate, he advised participants.
One startup team member praised the camp for the lessons that were applicable outside of Azure.
“We got huge amounts of value from the event, not just Azure training,” he said. “We are writing a pitch to Fairfax at the moment for another unrelated reason but have already added in what we learnt so we are putting even the ‘soft skills’ learning to work!”
And the Winners Are…
The Top 3 place finishers at Microsoft Australia’s Azure training camp:
1. uBalancer by John Young
“John’s software was already built as a desktop app, but he used the weekend to work on porting to Azure to achieve scalability and reduced support costs,” said Eibner. “He has an existing proven business of life coaches for students, sports teams, and execs.”
2. Auction Tracker by Redgum Tech
Auction Tracker makes use of crowdsourcing at auctions for real-time and accurate data on auction prices. As Eibner commented: “Nice use of crowd sourcing. Built iPad/iPhone application using Azure backend across the weekend. Will be deploying to Windows Phone 7 in future.”
3. A Personal Trainer by Aerion Technologya
“The application is designed for the personal trainers at gyms that write up programs for people, but don’t have an ongoing relationship with them,” said Eibner. “This tool allows the trainers to monitor progress, and allows their trainees to easily upload and track their progress.”
Image by LucasSsss.