Every spring I attend the Women in Cloud Summit which is hosted on Microsoft’s Redmond campus. The Summit brings together entrepreneurs and other members of the community to connect small business owners to people that can help. Listening to the stories this year inspired my team and I to recommend Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) as an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to reach an enterprise audience. When a solution is integrated with Azure AD, entrepreneurs can promote them in the Azure AD App Gallery. This makes it easy for enterprises to find and adopt Azure AD-enabled solutions.
Women in Cloud is an independent, community-led economic development organization that aims to help women entrepreneurs create $1 billion in economic access and opportunity by 2030. Core to its strategy is a focus on helping women sell their solutions to enterprises. Small businesses that sell solutions to large companies can build momentum faster because enterprises provide a steadier revenue stream and bigger contracts. But selling to enterprises isn’t easy. Microsoft recognized that we could play a role in this mission, which is why we invested in the Women in Cloud Microsoft Cloud Accelerator. Together, Women in Cloud and the accelerator help female-led small business access the right people and knowledge to make inroads in large companies.
Stylyze is a great example of a Women in Cloud member. Before they founded Stylyze, Kristen Miller, Stylyze CEO, ran a home improvement and décor business, while Lisa Perrone, Chief Creative Officer at Stylyze, was an interior design architect. Through first-hand experience, they knew that fashion and home décor retailers have struggled to translate the personal touch of a knowledgeable designer or stylist to digital. This results in lost revenue.
Kristen and Lisa believed they could use cloud technology and machine learning to give retail sales staff the tools to virtually curate fashion and décor styles based on a customer’s aesthetic. They raised money and brought on Sophie Huang, Stylyze Chief Technology Officer to help them build the first merchandising-as-a-service platform for the home and fashion verticals.
Stylyze had a viable enterprise solution, but the problem for many entrepreneurs is that great ideas aren’t enough. The executive team didn’t have a lot of experience selling software-as-a-service apps to large companies. Procurement processes at enterprises are complex. It can take hours of precious time navigating the layers of decision makers.
Kristen joined Women in Cloud and applied for the Women in Cloud Microsoft Cloud Accelerator (WiC: MCA) to get support for her business. The accelerator is a six-month immersion program that helps women entrepreneurs start and build their businesses through Microsoft and its cloud partners and channels. Since its inception, 22 companies have graduated with 25 enterprise-ready solutions. Thanks to a Microsoft sponsorship, the program will soon scale to eight countries: Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, India, Africa, United States, and UAE. In March WiC: MCA welcomed Cohort 3.0. I’m looking forward to seeing how this group benefits from access to the right technology, capital, and people.
As members of Cohort 1.0, Stylyze realized immediate benefit. The founders learned how to package deals for an enterprise audience. They discovered how a paid proof of concept can accelerate the sales process. Most importantly they learned that partnering with a company like Microsoft builds credibility for their brand and expands their reach.
Beyond the connections and access that Women in Cloud provides, entrepreneurs get real value from talking to people with similar experiences. The Stylyze executive team is accustomed to working with a lot of men, but they couldn’t help but notice that when they met with potential clients or investors, they were frequently the only women in a room of 10-20 people. The Women in Cloud network is a great reminder that women belong in technology leadership. As Women in Cloud has moved its programming online in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, entrepreneurs like Kristen can lean on her connections.
Stylyze’s hard work has paid off. Large brands have deployed the Stylyze app to elevate the sales experience for customers. The pandemic has hit retail hard, but at least one customer has used the Stylyze merchandising-as-a-platform solution to maintain over four thousand members of its sales staff. These employees continue to make an income, remotely, by helping customers find complete looks that match their personal style.
If you're interested in building more power for women in technology, I encourage you to get involved in Women in Cloud. The next cohort for the Cloud Accelerator will launch August 26. Applications are open.
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