Featured Network Partners: Microsoft BizSpark

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Featured Network Partner

Company: startups.ro
Interviewee: Cristina Alexandru, Founder
Web Site: www.startups.ro

Last week we interviewed Cristina Alexandru, the founder of startups.ro, the only independent online publishing platform for entrepreneurs in Romania. A former Business Week Romania senior journalist, she is achieving great success with the Microsoft ® BizSpark ™ program. Since launching the site in January 2008, she has signed up 500+ entrepreneurs, business people, and investors — including 41 BizSpark startups.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your organization?

startups.ro is a publishing and networking project. It's been online since January last year. Our mission is to become a hub for startups in Romania. Actually, at this point, we are the only online publishing platform for entrepreneurs that has been designed and created by a team of journalists with a solid background in economic journalism. We’re also creating a network of entrepreneurs. We offer articles about how you start a business, how you grow a company, what you should do to succeed, and success stories of startup entrepreneurs and of successful companies that have been in business for six to 10 years or more — they talk about their strategy and market focus. In addition, we provide a platform that enables entrepreneurs to promote their business. So when someone joins startups.ro, and creates an account, they can write their own article about their company and publish it on our Web site. This way, they get immediate feedback about a project they're working on or can find a business partner or potential investor for their company. They can also talk to each other, find helpful information on growing and developing their business, and communicate with partners, investors and other startups. All our services are free of charge, and will remain this way. It’s a really great online community.

Q: So how does this community work?

People register, but their account has to be approved. We don't give access to just anybody. We first check to see if they really are entrepreneurs or if they really want to start a business. I’m a journalist, so I’m used to doing background checks — as are our other members of the team. We want to create a quality site, but want to keep it simple for entrepreneurs to sign up. So far, we have 500 who have signed up — a mix of entrepreneurs, startup companies, business people and investors.

Q: Why did you create this site?

I had been working as an economic journalist for the past 10 years, and my last job was a senior journalist for Business Week Romania. And after so many years of writing about entrepreneurship, I decided to start my own project. And I decided to dedicate it to startups because that's what I've been writing about all these years — startups and investments and I knew there was a need for such a platform. I work with a team of journalists on this endeavor.

Q: Tell us how you first heard about the BizSpark Program?

We heard about it very early on, right before it was launched. We found BizSpark to be an interesting project for us because it provided us with an opportunity to give something back to entrepreneurs in our community. So, we decided on the spot that, yes, we want to be a Network Partner in this program. And that's how it all began. In addition, one of the reasons I found BizSpark to be such an extraordinary program is that it gave me a chance to offer additional value to the entrepreneurial startup community and, personally, it gave me a chance to once again discover new stories, new entrepreneurs, and new projects and write about them and to communicate them to other people. And that's really great for me.

Q: What feedback have you received from startups in the BizSpark Program?

We enrolled the first startup the day the BizSpark program was launched on November 6, 2008. People are very enthusiastic about this program, and so far I have around 41 sponsored companies. Those joining the BizSpark program are very happy that replies came SO fast, not only from me, but also from Microsoft when they have a technical problem or they don’t understand how to do something once they have joined. I think that's great — and the startups really like the responsiveness. As an example, the second startup that replied was totally surprised by the fact that he wrote the email about joining the program at 9 a.m. in the morning, three minutes later he got a phone call from Todi Pruteanu in Microsoft Romania, and by noon he was already enrolled. Edvin Ursan was so impressed that he wrote a comment about this on Todi Pruteanu’s blog saying.: ‘ Application Log: 9.00 Applied for BizSpark; 9.03 Got a call from Todi, got connected with the NP; 12.00 Got final approval from NP; 13.30 The MSDN account is active. You tell me if you’ve ever seen something like this in Romania so far.

Q: Tell us a little about what you’ve done to promote your BizSpark relationship?

We wrote about it when it was launched, and then I talked about it at every event in the online and IT industry that I was going to — and when people found out that I was a Network Partner in Microsoft BizSpark, they wanted me to tell them more about the program. I also sent some messages on our Twitter account about BizSpark and was invited to speak to students at the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, the most prestigious academy of economic and business studies in Romania, about entrepreneurship and also about BizSpark. I also really like face-to-face networking because when I meet people, I can talk to them and explain better what BizSpark is all about — what the program can do for them, why they should join, how it could help them. On our web site, we have a link to an article on the program, and the logo, but still find that meeting face-to-face is the best way to start the relationship.

Q: Are there any successful startups that you are working with that you would like to highlight?

Here are two to highlight — Romanian Real Estate Network (RoREN) was launched by Stefan Negritoiu, who worked almost 10 years for Microsoft in the USA and then came back home to start his own company. This company provides business networking and specialized tools for real estate professionals. Another interesting startup in BizSpark is Share Dimension, a state-of-art multimedia company and is the home of Foidos, a revolutionary platform for internet broadcasting of events, tournaments, conferences and sport activities. The program they are most proud of is FoidosChess, a consortium of dynamic companies that love chess and understand the value and power of the game. This was developed in Microsoft Silverlight™ and Windows Communications Foundation (WCF).

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, how would you rate the BizSpark program?

I would rate it a 10. Not only for the program itself, but also for the impact it is having. It makes people who start a company, say ‘Hey, it can be easier for me. If Microsoft is doing that, that’s a good thing. Not only can I get access to software visibility, but I get access to Network Partners and their services.’ Startups are very happy to discover that they can use all Network Partner advantages.