Meet the Startup/Student/Career Mentor Microsoft MVPs
Published Oct 18 2023 07:00 AM 3,409 Views

Microsoft MVPs from all over the world are engaging with their communities in their own ways. Examples include public speakers who share their technical knowledge at conferences and events, community organizers who lead technical communities and organize events, social media influencers who deliver information on social media, code contributors who share codes and samples and contribute to open source, helpers who support users in online forums and provide feedback to Microsoft, mentors who support the growth of others, and content creators who publish information on blogs, books, videos, and so on.


In this blog, we feature our mentors who are dedicated to supporting a diverse community. Through mentorship, they empower mentees by sharing their technical knowledge and experience as MVPs.



Canada - Stephen Ibaraki, AI MVP

“It’s 360-degree Omni-Learn, Omni-Win for mentor and mentee!"

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Stephen's mentorship initiatives have been pivotal in propelling entrepreneurship and innovations that yield significant societal benefits. His dynamic involvement spans a wide spectrum of communities, including CEOs, UN agencies, scientific/engineering entities, investors, media outlets, social media platforms, and more. He says, “Mentorship, or ‘support’ for innovation, entrepreneurship, and startups occurs at many levels. Initially, building awareness, directing freely available resources and open startup platforms, helping grow the startups presence, providing advice, supporting investment, helping startups to scale”.


Here are some examples of his activities. He often joins the AMAs (Ask Me Anything) sessions sponsored by the CEO Leadership Alliance Orange County. During these sessions, he offers pragmatic advice on preparing for investments, shares freely accessible resources and ethical standards, and introduces open innovation programs tailored for high-school students taking a region-wide AI course. A notable number of these students go on to compete in open AI innovation contests.


Additionally, Stephen founded AI For Good initiative of the United Nation International Telecommunication Union, which introduces an open platform and program known as the #AIForGood Innovation Factory. This platform allows any startup to apply online and leverage support. Regular pitch events are hosted, giving winners the opportunity to obtain feedback from judges. Open to a worldwide audience, this initiative culminates in a Grand Finale where the ultimate winner garners benefits, including invaluable mentorship support. Besides, the UN World Food Programme which has the largest Innovation Accelerator also holds regular pitch events with feedback from the WFP Innovation Accelerator Advisory Council where he is a founder.


Stephen is deeply committed to uplifting startups, frequently conducting interviews with their founders, especially those associated with non-profit organizations, such as the largest non-profit technology engineering organization IEEE TEMS, the largest non-profit computing organization ACM, Canada’s national ICT association CIPS, and more. Many of these non-profit organizations, like IEEE Entrepreneurship, run startup initiatives. He is working with/in leadership with these organizations to support startups and their founders.


Regarding student-focused activity, Stephen is profoundly involved in Microsoft's annual global student initiatives, the Imagine Cup and Imagine Cup Junior. Beyond serving as a judge and offering feedback to the participating teams, he provided his comment to the official blog of announcement of winners at the Imagine Cup Junior 2023. For the Imagine Cup Junior 2022, he published an article for Forbes detailing the winners and providing an overview. Moreover,  Stephen highlighted beneficial resources for skill development and actively urged students to enroll in the Imagine Cup.


According to Stephen, his pro bono works listed as above have significantly contributed to the startup ecosystem both on a global scale and within his home country of Canada. He believes his approach serves as an ideal model for the world, exemplifying and promoting the core values of diversity, inclusion, and equity.


Drawing from his extensive mentorship experiences, Stephen emphasizes the paramount importance of addressing and fulfilling the unique needs of mentees. “Mentees require practical and sound advice, encouragement, knowledge of good resources, and support for growth. Understanding the startup founder’s perspective is key and then encouraging the attributes and qualities that create growth,” he says.


Stephen shares his learnings as an experienced mentor who has been engaging with a diverse array of startups and students. “There are continual exchanges with startups and their founders. Innovation is disruptive and rapidly dynamic. Many startups and founders take novel approaches to problems and then apply novel solutions. In addition, the startup/founder journey is volatile with pivots (changes in their approach) to succeed. All these factors and the constantly changing global ecosystem create ongoing shared learnings. It’s 360 Omni-Learn, Omni-Win for mentor and mentee!”



Switzerland - Annie Talvasto, Microsoft Azure MVP

”It's always fascinating to step into the shoes of a new founder and gain insights into their industry and the problems they're solving”

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Annie has played an important role as a mentor in the Tech Nordic Advocates mentoring program, assisting early-stage founders. This program has been aligning with their commitment to gender equality in the tech industry, offering women a supportive platform to advance their careers. Annie says, “I currently reside in Zurich, I am originally from Finland, and supporting tech founders has always been a significant part of my journey, even before joining the mentorship program”.


Her involvement with startups dates back over a decade. To be specific, she was managing startup programs, assisting early-stage founders in securing funding, and accelerating their growth through events resembling "shark tank" pitch events, global startup conferences, and startup accelerator programs. In addition, she has been contributing to community members as an MVP who focuses mainly on cloud-native, Kubernetes, containers, DevOps, and platform engineering technologies. “Mentoring tech startup founders bridges both sides of my career—technology and startups. When the program commences with a new batch, available mentors are paired with founders to collaborate on addressing the challenges they face,” said Annie.


A strong bond between mentors and mentees is fundamental to effective mentorship. Annie tells us simple advice - everything starts with a smile. “Establishing a friendly and open atmosphere for candid discussions is crucial to nurturing a strong mentor-mentee relationship. So, initiating the initial meetings with a warm and approachable demeanor (with smiles! :smile:), while consistently delivering valuable advice, fresh ideas, and acting as a reliable sounding board, forms the foundation of effective mentorship. Individuals usually possess a good sense of what makes the most sense for them, but they may need that final nudge to get started, especially early-stage founders”.


Engaging in mentorship activities with her mentees has provided Annie with invaluable insights into diverse industries. She looks back on her mentoring experience, “While I can contribute my skill set to assist, they often have deep expertise in their field, and witnessing their passion for the work they do is truly inspiring. For instance, I've collaborated with people dedicated to tackling societal challenges and effecting positive, impactful changes in the world through their companies. Their work is incredibly inspiring”.


To learn more about her mentorship program, visit the Nordic Female Tech Founder Frontrunner Growth Programme.



Bangladesh - Sabah Shariq, Developer Technologies MVP

“Every mentorship activity has its own ways to influence the mentees”

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Sabah has been diligently mentoring students, offering individualized guidance for Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors (“MLSA”) and facilitating group mentorship for the team participating in the Microsoft Imagine Cup. “Mentoring is an important aspect of learning and development. Mentors can provide knowledge, skills, and support to help their mentees succeed,” he says.


In his 1:1 mentorship sessions with MLSAs, Sabah dedicated each week to a different MLSA, coaching them on enhancing their presentation skills and utilizing those skills to share Microsoft technologies. In his group mentorship sessions, Sabah coordinated weekly meetings with Team Nana Shilpa from Sri Lanka. He expertly guided them on perfecting their pitch for the Imagine Cup World Championship judges. Additionally, he advised them on enhancing their product's technical execution using Microsoft's solutions and refining their business models.


Sabah upheld four core principles in his mentorship endeavors with students. He maintained a schedule so that they can commit to the mentorship session, provided actionable, constructive, and encouraging advice, having the right understanding of mentee needs and goals, and sharing his personal experiences with mentees to make them feel at ease. These commitments fostered an environment where student mentees and the mentor could grow and evolve together.


As a result of Sabah’s mentorship efforts, he derived immense joy from the progress and achievements of his students.

Firstly, the student team he mentored, team Nana Shilpa, was among the top three selected to compete at the Imagine Cup World Championship event in Seattle. Remarkably, they achieved the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2022 World Runner-up title! He expressed how deeply meaningful and significant the team's achievement was to him, “It was really a proud moment when I get to know that the team qualified to take part in the Imagine Cup World Championship event in Seattle.” Check this YouTube video out to get to know about their achievements: Team Nana Shilpa Emerge Top 3 at Microsoft Imagine Cup World Championship

Secondly, he emphasized the connections with students he engaged, “Apart from social media, for me mentorship is a great way to connect with new people from different places around the world. You get to know their culture etc. and stay connected even when the mentorship session is over”.


According to Sabah, mentorship is a two-way street. Students make tremendous efforts to achieve something, and mentors are taking a role as a supporter. The case of team Nana Shilpa is one of the best practices, and the best part is these will be some of the most unforgettable moments. To achieve more, he also emphasizes that primary communication between mentors and mentees is very important. Then, he closes his mentorship story with a  quote from a popular movie, Start Trek, "Live Long and Prosper".


The upcoming Imagine Cup 2024 is just around the corner. It is time for mentors to help enthusiastic students participating in the Imagine Cup to make their wonderful ideas reality.



Brazil - Antonio Carlos Silva Junior, Microsoft Azure

”My passion for this mentorship program lies in helping individuals develop their careers, fostering a sense of community, and contributing to the growth of our industry”

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Antonio has been mentoring in the Career Mentoring Program to a diverse range of mentees from beginners and job seekers to professionals including those promoting diversity and inclusion. He has been involved in both the Career Mentoring Program 2.0 and 3.0, serving not only as a mentor in the DevOps field but also as a coordinator and supporting mentees’ career enhancement. "I became involved in the Career Mentoring Program because I was drawn to its mission of providing free, non-profit mentorship opportunities that bring together tech professionals to share knowledge and experiences and foster the professional development of our technical community. This mission aligns perfectly with my belief in the power of knowledge sharing,” he shares the motivation behind his deep commitment to this mentorship endeavor.


As a dedicated mentor, he shares valuable advice on how best to collaborate and nurture mentees. The most important attitude for mentors is listening to mentees. “Understanding their aspirations, challenges, and individual learning styles has allowed me to tailor my guidance to their specific needs. This not only demonstrates my genuine interest in their growth but also ensures that our interactions are meaningful and relevant,” he says. It empowers mentors to establish well-defined expectations by outlining goals, setting milestones, and delineating the scope of their mentorship, ensuring that they can achieve concrete results.


To achieve goals, maintaining consistent communication is crucial. Regular check-ins, whether through scheduled meetings, messages, or informal updates, have created a reliable channel for support and feedback. “This consistency establishes a sense of reliability and fosters an environment where open dialogue is encouraged”.


Furthermore, he has been taking good care of mentees’ emotional support. Empathy is the key to his interaction with mentees, “Recognizing that every mentee's journey is unique, I've been mindful of their perspectives and emotions. This has allowed me to provide guidance that is not only technically sound but also sensitive to their individual circumstances.” Furthermore, in his mentorship approach, he emphasizes the importance of celebrating mentees' achievements and recognizing their hard work. “Recognizing their achievements, no matter how small fosters a sense of accomplishment and reinforces their confidence in their abilities”.


Mentorship activity brought Antonio incredible lessons learned. He found the boundless potential that exists within everyone. “Witnessing the dedication, resilience, and unwavering enthusiasm of my mentees in their pursuit of growth has been nothing short of inspiring. Their eagerness to absorb knowledge, overcome challenges, and continuously improve has reminded me of the limitless capacity we all possess to evolve and adapt. Moreover, I've gained a deeper appreciation for the diverse perspectives that each mentee brings to the table. In our mentoring sessions, I've been exposed to unique viewpoints, innovative solutions, and fresh approaches to problems. This has reinforced my belief in the power of diversity and the strength that arises from collaborative, inclusive environments”.


Witnessing mentees’ growth, both professionally and personally, has been a heartwarming experience that fuels Antonio’s passion for mentoring. “I've been touched by the trust and vulnerability my mentees have shown when sharing their career aspirations and challenges. This has reaffirmed the importance of empathetic listening, understanding, and providing unwavering support during moments of uncertainty”.


Looking back on past and ongoing mentorship activities, Antonio summarizes his experiences that it's about fostering a genuine connection, nurturing potential, and building a community where everyone can thrive. He says, “I've learned that the mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street of learning, empathy, and empowerment, and I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a part of their incredible journeys. It's an honor to witness their success and be a small part of their stories”.


Learn more about his mentorship activities, go to the social media posts about Career Mentoring Program 2.0 (LinkedIn) and Career Mentoring Program 3.0 (Instagram).

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