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The Miami Heat are on a fast break to innovate

The Miami Heat next week open their regular-season schedule – a slate that stretches deep into April and includes 41 home games at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The outcomes of those 41 contests? Unknown. Who will lead the team in scoring on those 41 nights? Check back in April.

How many fans will attend each of those 41 games? How many Jimmy Butler jerseys will they buy each night? How many Mofongo Dogs will they gobble during every game? Miami Heat executive Edson Crevecoeur already has the answers.

Miami Heat executive Edson Crevecoeur sits in an empty AmericanAIrlines Arena, smiling.
Edson Crevecoeur.

Within hours of the NBA schedule’s release in August, Crevecoeur had forecast the attendance for each game at AmericanAirlines Arena plus the food and beverage sales, retail sales, ticket sales and staffing needs for every event, fueling business decisions well before the first tip-off.

In basketball, they call that connecting from distance.

In this case, Crevecoeur and team made the prognostications using Microsoft Power BI, a data-visualization tool, to display the purchasing patterns of tickets, concessions and arena retail from seasons past to offer a clear view of game nights to come.

“We use Power BI to provide the right information to the right audience at the right time,” says Crevecoeur, vice president of strategy and data analytics for the Heat. “We’re able to understand what’s happening a lot quicker than we were in the past and react accordingly.”

Those insights are part of the Heat’s drive to become the NBA’s digital leader. It begins with real-time data that’s generated by fans and their mobile devices while in the arena – or while buying tickets or merchandise away from games. The data gets collected and enriched by Microsoft Azure.

Heat employees make sense of that data with Power BI, becoming better acquainted with the tastes and behaviors of individual customers. On game days, the team can swiftly re-position staff to better accommodate arriving crowds – and to cater more personally to the appetites of fans in the building, whether they’re craving Ropa Vieja or D.Wade commemorative gear.

A Power BI dashboard showing Miami Heat business data.
A Power BI dashboard created by the Miami Heat.

“Our goal at the Miami Heat is not only to be one of the most innovative teams in sports, but to be innovation leaders across all industries,” says Matthew Jafarian, executive vice president of business strategy for the Heat and AmericanAirlines Arena.

Fans can see this digital evolution on their smart phones by downloading the Miami Heat mobile app, which becomes the digital focal point for fans attending Heat games or other live events at the venue, Jafarian says.

“Imagine walking up to AmericanAirlines Arena and your ticket is smart enough to know you’re attending an event that evening, so it pops up right on your home screen. You simply tap the app on the NFC-enabled pedestal and the ticket taker welcomes you into the venue,” Jafarian says.

“You check out real-time wait times at concessions, choose a great spot to eat and tap to pay with your phone. You can be in your seat and share a ticket with a friend that’s running late, all from the device in the palm of your hands,” he adds.

A Miami Heat fan's hand, holding a smart phone that displays a digital ticket, places the screen beneath a scanner.
A Heat fan scans his mobile ticket.

Two seasons ago, AmericanAirlines Arena adopted “mobile-only entry” and phased out paper tickets. That change is unleashing more opportunities for the Heat to better understand and communicate with their customers.

Based on how often a fan attends games, the opposing teams they tend to watch and the kinds of food or gear they buy at the arena, the marketing staff crafts and sends digital messages that are relevant to them, say, ticket packages or the arrival of new apparel.

“We want to know our customer,” says Lisette Toirac Perdomo, manager of data platform services for the Heat. “We want to anticipate what they want, so we can meet their interests.”

To gain that knowledge, the team creates 360-degree customer profiles, using the data generated whenever a fan interacts within the arena or visits online touchpoints, including the Heat app, Heat.com, AAArena.com or MiamiHeatstore.com, the team’s e-commerce presence.

Those digital interactions get captured by Adobe Analytics – a solution that measures and makes sense of web and app data – and is seamlessly integrated with Adobe Campaign, which connects the Heat to the customer throughout their journey via e-mail and push notification, Jafarian says. Adobe is a Microsoft partner.

“We capture some relevant information in Microsoft Dynamics 365,” a cloud-based tool that enables customer relationship management (CRM), Jafarian says. “We then put that fan profile into the hands of a Miami Heat sales or service person who can help provide a better experience.”

A Miami Heat fan entering AmericanAirlines Arena's seating area shows a smart phone screen showing a digital ticket.
With the Miami Heat mobile app, a fan’s phone shows the live score as he enters the arena.

All that extra attention is expanding the team’s fan base, he says.

“Three years ago, we didn’t even know who was walking in the building because paper tickets are largely anonymous. Now we’re getting an understanding of who they are,” Jafarian says. “The fan experience is everything for us.”

About five years ago, the Heat saw the need to commit to a full-scale, back-office modernization – a big shift sparked by an abrupt change to the basketball roster.

About five years ago, the Heat saw the need to commit to a full-scale, back-office modernization – a big shift sparked by an abrupt change to the basketball roster.

As one of the winningest NBA teams of the past 25 years, the Heat had a dynastic run when, from 2010 to 2014, the team dominated the NBA thanks to three superstars – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, dubbed “the Big Three.” During that span, the Heat reached four NBA Finals and won two back-to-back league titles, in 2012 and 2013. Ticket sales were hotter than a Miami summer, and there was no urgency to build a sales infrastructure. Then, the Big Three era ended.

James left the in 2014, while Wade and Bosh were gone by 2016.

“We were fortunate to have some of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Jafarian says. “Then we no longer had the Big Three, yet we still had to sell tickets. We stood up a CRM for the first time. It was a natural progression for us to choose Dynamics 365, enabling our salespeople to better sell.

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Accessibility and employment for all: key resources for job seekers and employers

Yvette White | General Manager, HR Microsoft US

People are unique in many ways, but the presence of a disability may set an individual apart from the larger group in ways that present particular challenges. In fact, 1 in 5 people have disability and need assistive technology[JC(1] . At times, these disabilities can create obstacles to an individual’s ability to gain employment. For example, the joblessness rate for New Yorkers with disabilities between the ages of 16-64 is a staggering 79%.

The New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) is responding to this issue with a comprehensive workforce development program that establishes relationships with both businesses and job seekers with disabilities. This year, as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Microsoft is proud to partner with MOPD and the NYC business community for our inaugural NYC Access and Employment Week, which is taking place October 21-25, 2019.

At this event, we are connecting job seekers with jobs and careers through the city’s largest employment recruitment event for people with disabilities. Educators, Chief Diversity Officers, students, job candidates, and many others will also have a chance learn how assistive technologies are enabling people to successfully navigate daily challenges and achieve new heights.

Microsoft is excited to participate in this event and share these top resources for job seekers and employers alike to help build a workforce that benefits from the diverse talents and skills of all.

For job seekers:

For employers:

  • Insights. At Microsoft, diversity within our workforce is what fuels innovation. Learn more about Microsoft’s inclusive hiring practices.

For everybody:

  • Training. Make your emails, documents, spreadsheets and presentation decks more accessible
  • Templates. Get a fast start on creating more accessible content with these accessible Word, Excel and PowerPoint templates
  • Accessibility Checker. Identify accessibility problems and get tips for making your content more accessible.

To see the full schedule of public events, visit the NYC Access and Employment Week website. For more information on Microsoft’s assistive technologies, visit our Accessibility page.


1 https://www.who.int/disabilities/en/

2 https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8439-expanding-efforts-to-hire-people-with-disabilities

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How rural areas can be connected to the internet with unused TV frequencies

In today’s increasingly tech and digital world, it’s important that everyone is included.

Access to high-speed internet has become a basic necessity of everyday life. Yet currently, Microsoft data suggests more than half of the country is not using the internet at broadband speeds.

The Microsoft Airband Initiative is bridging the digital divide by bringing broadband connectivity to remote communities. One cost-effective method involves using TV White Spaces – the unused frequencies between the signals of existing TV channels. Regulators allow wireless devices to transmit on these unoccupied channels as long as they do not interfere with TV broadcasters and other licensed users.

[Read more: What telephones and television can teach us about the adoption of broadband]

White Space signals can travel long distances, penetrating natural and human-built obstacles, and can leverage existing towers and infrastructure being used to transmit other wireless signals. Network operators can harness this White Space spectrum to deliver fast, reliable and cost-effective broadband internet access to rural communities and hard-to-reach areas.

Closing the rural broadband gap requires a cost-efficient mixed-technology approach and fixed wireless technologies such as TV White Spaces play an integral role. Other technologies include fiber and satellite. A combination of TV white spaces and other fixed wireless solutions are the ideal and most cost-effective solutions for areas where population density is between 2 and 200 inhabitants per square mile, which represents roughly 80% of those impacted by the rural broadband gap.

Access to broadband means rural businesses can take part in the digital economy; students can use online learning resources; and farmers can use precision agriculture to increase productivity. It also enables remote access to basic and specialized healthcare services.

By July 2022, the initiative’s goal is to extend broadband access to 3 million Americans living in rural parts of the country.

Read more about the Microsoft Airband Initiative. And follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter

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How AI is helping children overcome their speech disabilities

The idea immediately appealed to brothers Alex and Cosmin, who founded Ascendia after seeing how their mother, a teacher, struggled to meet all her students’ needs with limited resources. What started as a personal passion project has flourished in the last decade to become a multinational company operated by 33 staff in nine countries. So far, Ascendia has created over 1,100 hours of educational content supporting students, parents and teachers alike. As Cosmin Malureanu puts it, “our goal is to get teachers comfortable with new technologies, so they can prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future, not those of the past.”

With the support of Alex and Cosmin, Daniela and her team set about creating a solution to help children working to overcome their speech disabilities – a solution now known as Timlogo.

Timlogo is an interactive, digital speech development tool that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse children’s pronunciation and diagnose their specific speech issues, and then recommend the most relevant course of exercises to correct these. The tool’s offering also learns and adapts over time, meaning that as children improve, the suggested exercises evolve too.

Most importantly, Timlogo is designed to be fun, integrating games, characters and stories that spark a child’s imagination and hold their attention. Teacher and speech therapist Dragan Georgeta explains: “Many children become anxious when they struggle to pronounce certain sounds. But in Timlogo, they are introduced to cartoon characters who tell a story around each sound and encourage them to join in and attempt to pronounce it.” This gamification creates a feeling of inclusion and boosts children’s confidence, something that is key when it comes to overcoming speech difficulties.

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EVP Peggy Johnson: Empowering women founders through investment

Today, I’m proud to announce the second Female Founders Competition, a global contest to identify and fund top women entrepreneurs who are leading enterprise tech startups. This year, Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, is partnering with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates, to help create a more equitable playing field for innovative female founders.

It’s well-documented that women-led companies deliver higher returns over time than those founded by men, yet female founders—particularly of enterprise tech startups—continue to receive significantly less access to capital. In fact, last year companies founded solely by women received only 2.3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups. While we’re seeing some pockets of progress, we as a VC community can do much more to support and financially back innovation and ideas from women-led companies. But where do we start?

Last year, M12 and our partners set out to expand the path to funding for women entrepreneurs by upending the traditional formula for sourcing potential investments. Through our first Female Founders Competition, we set the standard VC networks aside and made an open call for the talent to come to us. It worked. We received hundreds of applications and awarded a total of $4 million to two innovative women entrepreneurs: Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta; and Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas. In the time since, I’ve been inspired by how the winners leveraged these investments as springboards to expand their companies and grow their industry footprints.

For me, it’s a deeply personal issue – I share more on the subject in this Evoke essay. I’ve worked with startups for much of my career. I’ve seen the obstacles that female founders face just to get a seat at the table. And women like Greta and Julie remind me every day of the incredible opportunity that these underrepresented founders represent – not just for investors, but for all of us who believe in the power of technology. That’s why I’m proud to share our commitment to helping continue this progress by casting an even wider net.

As part of this year’s competition, we’re expanding our geographic reach, adding a new award category and increasing our combined investment with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures from $4M to $6M. This enables us to award funds to four female-founded companies: two $2M awards for B2B enterprise technology and two additional $1M awards for women-led companies in deeptech, which is another critically underfunded area of opportunity. We’re also extending eligibility beyond the United States, Europe, and Israel by accepting applications from India.

I encourage you to watch this video where Pivotal Ventures’ Melinda Gates, Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha and I discuss why we’re so passionate about this issue and this competition. I hope you will be inspired, as we are, to find new ways to help create a more equal seat at the table for women founders.

YouTube Video

Submissions are open now through December 15, 2019. Female-founded teams building enterprise SaaS or deeptech solutions are encouraged to apply at www.FemaleFoundersComp.com.

We can’t wait to see who we find and fund.

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Microsoft and Nuance join forces in quest to help doctors turn their focus back to patients

Imagine a visit to your doctor’s office in which your physician asks you how you’ve been feeling, whether your medication is working or if the shoulder pain from an old fall is still bothering you — and his or her focus is entirely on you and that conversation.

The doctor is looking at you, not at a computer screen. He or she isn’t moving a mouse around hunting for an old record or pecking on the keyboard to enter a diagnosis code.

This sounds like an ideal scenario, but as most people know from their own visits to the doctor, it’s far from the norm today.

But experts say that in an exam room of the future enhanced by artificial intelligence, the doctor would be able to call up a lab result or prescribe a new medicine with a simple voice command. She or he wouldn’t be distracted by entering symptoms into your electronic health record (EHR). And at the end of the visit, the essential elements of the conversation would have been securely captured and distilled into concise documentation that can be shared with nurses, specialists, insurance companies or anyone else you’ve entrusted with your care.

A new strategic partnership between Microsoft and Nuance Communications Inc. announced today will work to accelerate and deliver this level of ambient clinical intelligence to exam rooms, allowing ambient sensing and conversational AI to take care of some of the more burdensome administrative tasks and to provide clinical documentation that writes itself. That, in turn, will allow doctors to turn their attention fully to taking care of patients.

Of course, there are still immense technical challenges to getting to that ideal scenario of the future. But the companies say they believe that they already have a strong foundation in features from Nuance’s ambient clinical intelligence (ACI) technology unveiled earlier this year and Microsoft’s Project EmpowerMD Intelligent Scribe Service. Both are using AI technologies to learn how to convert doctor-patient conversations into useful clinical documentation, potentially reducing errors, saving doctors’ time and improving the overall physician experience.

“Physicians got into medicine because they wanted to help and heal people, but they are spending a lot of their time today outside of the care process,” said Joe Petro, Nuance executive vice president and chief technology officer. “They’re entering in data to make sure the appropriate bill can be generated. They’re capturing insights for population health and quality measures. And although this data is all important, it’s really outside a physician’s core focus on treating that patient.”

YouTube Video

Primary care doctors spend two hours on administrative tasks for every hour they’re involved in direct patient care, studies have shown. If they don’t capture a patient’s complaint or treatment plan during or shortly after an exam, that documentation burden will snowball as the day goes on. In another recent study, physicians reported one to two hours of after-hours work each night, mostly related to administrative tasks.

This shift to digital medical record keeping and so-called ‘meaningful use’ regulations is well-intentioned and has provided some important benefits, said Dr. Ranjani Ramamurthy, senior director at Microsoft Healthcare who leads the company’s EmpowerMD research.

People no longer have to worry about not being able to read a doctor’s handwriting or information that never makes it into the right paper file. But the unintended consequence has been that doctors are sometimes forced to focus on their computers and administrative tasks instead of their patients, she said.

After starting her career in computer science, Ramamurthy went back to school to get a medical degree and pursue cancer research. But as she walked the halls of the hospital every day, she couldn’t help thinking that she was missing an opportunity to use her background to create tech solutions that could reinvigorate the doctor-patient relationship.

Ramamurthy noted that most physicians got into healthcare because they want to use their skills and expertise to treat patients, not to feel tethered to their keyboards.

“We need to work on building frictionless systems that take care of the doctors so they can do what they do best, which is take care of patients,” she said.

Built on Microsoft Azure — and working in tandem with the EHR — this new technology will marry the two companies’ strengths in developing ambient sensing and conversational AI solutions. Those include ambient listening with patient consent, wake-up word, voice biometrics, signal enhancement, document summarization, natural language understanding, clinical intelligence and text-to-speech.

Nuance is a leading provider of AI-powered clinical documentation and decision-making support for physicians. Leveraging deep strategic partnerships with the major providers of EHRs, the company has spent decades developing medically relevant speech recognition and processing solutions such as its Dragon Medical One platform, which allows doctors to easily and naturally enter a patient’s story and relevant information into an EHR using dictation. Nuance conversational AI technologies are already used by more than 500,000 physicians worldwide, as well as in 90 percent of U.S. hospitals.

Microsoft brings deep research investments in AI and partner-driven healthcare technologies, commercial relationships with nearly 170,000 healthcare organizations, and enterprise-focused cloud and AI services that accelerate and enable scalable commercial solutions. Earlier this month, for instance, Microsoft announced a strategic collaboration to combine its AI technology with Novartis’ deep life sciences expertise to address challenges in developing new drugs.

In other areas, Azure Cognitive Services offers easy-to-deploy AI tools for speech recognition, computer vision and language understanding, and trusted Azure cloud services can support the user’s compliance with privacy and regulatory requirements for healthcare organizations.

As part of the agreement, Nuance will migrate the majority of its current on-site internal infrastructure and hosted products to Microsoft Azure. Nuance already is a Microsoft Office 365 customer for its more than 8,500 employees worldwide, empowering them with the latest in collaboration and communications tools, including Microsoft Teams.


“We need to work on building frictionless systems that take care of the doctors so they can do what they do best, which is take care of patients.”

~ Dr. Ranjani Ramamurthy, senior director at Microsoft Healthcare


“Just capturing a conversation between two people has been a thorny technical problem for a long time, and a lot of companies have attempted to crack it,” Petro said. “This partnership brings two trusted healthcare superpowers together to solve some of the most difficult challenges and also to leverage the most innovative advances we’ve made in AI, speech and natural language processing.”

The companies will expand upon Nuance’s early success with ACI and expect the technology to be introduced to an initial set of physician specialties in early 2020, and then it will be expanded to numerous other medical specialties over the next few years, Petro said. Initially, the ACI output may be checked by a remote reviewer with medical expertise to provide an important quality check and produce additional training data for the AI models. Once the system has proven its accuracy for a given physician, the ACI documentation will go directly to that physician, who can review it, make any necessary revisions and sign off on a treatment plan all in real-time, Petro said.

With a patient’s consent, ACI is designed to securely ingest and synthesize patient-doctor conversations, integrate that data with information from an EHR, populate a patient’s chart and also help the EHR deliver intelligent recommendations to the doctor.

With innovations in multi-party speech recognition, language understanding and computer vision, these tools can listen to the encounter between the doctor and a patient who grants consent, sense whether they’re pointing to a left knee or right knee when verbally describing a particular pain, extract medically relevant details and translate what just occurred in the exam room into actionable clinical documentation and care suggestions.

“Moving forward, we recognize that reducing the burden of clinical documentation is just the beginning,” said Dr. Greg Moore, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for health technology and alliances. “As the core AI improves and becomes more capable, it will be able to understand much more deeply what is going on by observing doctors and nurses in their day to day work. Ambient clinical intelligence will be able to work in tandem with the EHR to help convert those observations into supportive, augmenting actions.”

For instance, an AI-enabled system can learn to recognize when a doctor is talking to a patient about a new medication, and it can automatically review past conversations as well as the patient’s history to reduce the risk of a drug interaction or allergic reaction. Or it can mine a patient’s complicated medical history with new reported symptoms and offer suggestions for potential diagnoses for the doctor to consider.

In addition, the two companies will open up the ACI platform to an ecosystem of partners than can bring other highly valuable AI innovations to the exam room or at the bedside where the ambient sensing device will be present.

“We want ambient clinical intelligence to assist the EHR in delivering recommendations at the time when it matters — not three days later on your patient portal or when a nurse follows up, but when the doctor and patient are face to face and when that information can actually inform care,” Ramamurthy said.

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Nuance and Microsoft partner to transform the doctor-patient experience

Strategic partnership accelerates the delivery of ambient technologies to reduce clinician burnout by enabling doctors to focus on patients, while AI focuses on administrative tasks

BURLINGTON, Mass., and REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 17, 2019 Nuance Communications Inc. and Microsoft Corp. on Thursday announced they have joined forces to help transform healthcare delivery for a more sustainable future. Together, the companies will accelerate the delivery of ambient clinical intelligence (ACI) technologies that will power the exam room of the future where clinical documentation writes itself.

The Nuance-Microsoft partnership brings together leading technologies from both companies:

  • Nuance’s healthcare-optimized speech recognition and processing solutions such as its Dragon Medical platform already used by more than 500,000 physicians worldwide; advanced conversational AI for ambient clinical documentation and decision support; voice biometrics; and specialized ambient sensing hardware
  • Microsoft Azure, Azure AI and Project EmpowerMD Intelligent Scribe Service backed with advanced conversational AI and natural language understanding

“The Microsoft partnership will accelerate our ability to solve for healthcare’s most pressing challenges — together,” said Mark Benjamin, Nuance CEO. “The ambient technologies we will jointly deliver can improve productivity and professional satisfaction, while empowering doctors to focus on what they do best: take care of patients.”

Physician burnout is at epidemic levels. A recent study shows that primary care doctors now spend two hours on administrative tasks for every hour they’re involved in direct patient care. Physicians reported one to two hours of after-hours work each night, mostly related to administrative tasks.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, said, “We have an incredible opportunity to use advances in cloud and AI technology to transform healthcare delivery. Together with Nuance, we will apply the power of Azure and Azure AI to this challenge, with the aim of improving the day-to-day life of firstline healthcare workers everywhere — so they can provide better care.”

Working in tandem with long-term electronic health record (EHR) partners to develop the technology, ACI will deliver a seamless and engaging interaction between clinicians and patients. Through patient consent, ACI will synthesize patient-clinician conversations, integrate that data with contextual information from the EHR, and auto-populate the patient’s medical record in the system.

“Physician burnout has become one of the most important concerns facing the healthcare industry today,” said Dr. James Linder, Nebraska Medicine CEO. “We’re excited about the early results of ACI to help clinicians focus more on patients. We look forward to the innovations our two trusted partners, Nuance and Microsoft, will deliver together.”

The companies will expand upon Nuance’s early success with ACI and expect to introduce the technology to an initial set of physician specialties in early 2020. Built on Microsoft Azure, this new technology will marry the two companies’ strengths in developing ambient sensing and conversational AI solutions, including ambient listening, wake-up word, voice biometrics, signal enhancement, document summarization, natural language understanding, clinical intelligence and text-to-speech.

As part of the agreement, Nuance will migrate the majority of its current on-premises internal infrastructure and hosted products to Microsoft Azure. Nuance already is a Microsoft Office 365 customer for its more than 8,500 employees worldwide, empowering them with the latest in collaboration and communications tools, including Microsoft Teams.

About Nuance Healthcare

Nuance provides intelligent systems that support a more natural and insightful approach to clinical documentation, freeing clinicians to spend more time caring for patients. Nuance healthcare solutions capture, improve, and communicate more than 300 million patient stories each year, helping more than 500,000 clinicians in 10,000 global healthcare organizations to drive meaningful clinical and financial outcomes. Nuance’s award-winning clinical speech recognition, medical transcription, CDI, coding, quality, and medical imaging solutions provide a more complete and accurate view of patient care.

About Nuance Communications Inc.

Nuance Communications (NASDAQ: NUAN) is the pioneer and leader in conversational AI innovations that bring intelligence to everyday work and life. The company delivers solutions that understand, analyze, and respond to people – amplifying human intelligence to increase productivity and security. With decades of domain and AI expertise, Nuance works with thousands of organizations globally across healthcare, financial services, telecommunications, government, and retail – to empower a smarter, more connected world. For more information, please visit www.nuance.com.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:
Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

Nuance Media Relations, ReviveHealth for Nuance, (716) 553-3882, nuance@thinkrevivehealth.com

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Microsoft’s venture fund M12 partners with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures to announce $6 million competition for women-led enterprise startups

In its second year, the Female Founders Competition will help accelerate funding for women entrepreneurs globally

Melinda Gates, Peggy Johnson and Navin Chaddha

Editor’s note – Oct. 17, 2019 – The sentence below regarding Boston Consulting Group’s estimates of the global economy was updated following initial publication.

REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 17, 2019 Microsoft’s M12, Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures on Thursday announced the second global Female Founders Competition to accelerate funding for women entrepreneurs developing business-to-business software-as-a-service and deeptech solutions. Eligible women-led startups developing enterprise tech solutions in the United States, Europe, Israel and India are encouraged to submit applications beginning Oct. 17, 2019. Four winning companies will receive a total of $6 million in venture funding, along with access to technology, resources, mentoring and other benefits.

“Last year’s competition helped highlight that there are innovative female entrepreneurs developing enterprise tech solutions, and they just aren’t getting equal access to capital,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president, Business Development, Microsoft Corp. “The tech industry can’t afford to keep leaving women’s good ideas on the table. We need to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs, and together with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures, we aim to do just that with our second Female Founders Competition.”

Venture capital funding, particularly for seed-stage companies, is critical to power ideas from incubation to go-to-market. Venture funding for female-founded companies continues to be nominal in comparison with dollars invested in male-only-led teams. Last year, companies founded solely by women garnered 2.3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups, according to PitchBook.1

Regardless of this disadvantage, female founders continue to deliver outsized returns. In a study conducted by MassChallenge and Boston Consulting Group (BCG), women-founded businesses delivered more than two times as much revenue per dollar invested than their male counterparts. If women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, BCG estimates the global economy could experience up to a $5 trillion boost. According to Gartner, “The enterprise software market will experience the strongest growth in 2019, reaching $457 billion, up 9% from $419 billion in 2018.”2 Investing in women-led enterprise companies is essential to economic growth and to closing the gender funding gap.

“As a firm with a 50-year history of people-first investing, we are always looking for new ways to discover bold entrepreneurs,” said Navin Chaddha, managing director, Mayfield. “We are thrilled to partner with M12 and Pivotal Ventures on this innovative Female Founders Competition, through which we will find and invest in women creating built-to-last enterprise companies. In addition to providing funding, we plan to share our playbook with competition winners on how to accelerate their journey from idea to iconic company.”

Female Founders Competition logo“I am delighted to partner with M12 and Mayfield on this important competition,” said Melinda Gates, philanthropist and founder of Pivotal Ventures. “Enterprise technology is shaping our world in countless ways, but it will never reach its full potential unless women and their ideas are equally represented within the field.”

Submissions will be accepted from Oct. 17, 2019, to Dec. 15, 2019, and are open across Europe, India, Israel, Canada (excluding Quebec) and the United States. Companies will be eligible to apply if they have at least one female founder, have raised no more than $5 million in combined equity funding and/or debt loans upon date of application, and offer or intend to release a product, service or platform addressing a critical business problem for a global market.

A live finals pitch competition will take place March 18-19, 2020, with the announcement of winners to follow shortly thereafter. Two enterprise software startups will earn investment awards of $2 million each, and two deeptech startups innovating through substantial scientific and research advances will earn investment awards of $1 million each. Full guidelines and contest information can be found at www.FemaleFoundersComp.com.

About Mayfield

Mayfield is a global venture capital firm with a people-first philosophy and $1.8 billion under management. Mayfield invests primarily in early-stage consumer, enterprise and healthIT companies. Since its founding 50 years ago, the firm has invested in more than 500 companies, resulting in 117 IPOs and more than 200 mergers or acquisitions. Some notable investments include HashiCorp, Lyft, Marketo, Mammoth Biosciences, Moat, Poshmark, ServiceMax and SolarCity. For more information, go to https://www.mayfield.com or follow @MayfieldFund.

About Pivotal Ventures

Pivotal Ventures is an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates. We partner with organizations and individuals who share our urgency for social progress in the United States. Together, we grow understanding around issues, expand participation, encourage cooperation and fuel new approaches that substantially improve people’s lives. For more information, please visit https://www.pivotalventures.org/.

About M12

As the corporate venture arm for Microsoft, M12 (formerly Microsoft Ventures) invests in enterprise software companies in the Series A through C funding stage with a focus on big data & analytics, business SaaS, cloud infrastructure, machine learning & artificial intelligence, productivity, and security. As part of its value-add to portfolio companies, M12 offers unique access to strategic go-to-market resources and relationships globally. The Company has offices in San Francisco, Seattle, London and Tel Aviv. For more information, visit https://m12.vc.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

1 PitchBook article, “The VC Female Founders Dashboard,” Feb. 28, 2019. https://pitchbook.com/news/articles/the-vc-female-founders-dashboard

2 Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Says Global IT Spending to Grow 0.6% in 2019,” July 10, 2019. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-10-07-gartner-says-global-it-spending-to-grow-06-in-2019

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Top 6 email practices to protect against phishing attacks and business compromise

Most cyberattacks start over email—a user is tricked into opening a malicious attachment, or into clicking a malicious link and divulging credentials, or into responding with confidential data. Attackers dupe victims by using carefully crafted emails to build a false sense of trust and/or urgency. And they use a variety of techniques to do this—spoofing trusted domains or brands, impersonating known users, using previously compromised contacts to launch campaigns and/or using compelling but malicious content in the email. In the context of an organization or business, every user is a target and, if compromised, a conduit for a potential breach that could prove very costly.

Whether it’s sophisticated nation-state attacks, targeted phishing schemes, business email compromise or a ransomware attacks, such attacks are on the rise at an alarming rate and are also increasing in their sophistication. It is therefore imperative that every organization’s security strategy include a robust email security solution.

So, what should IT and security teams be looking for in a solution to protect all their users, from frontline workers to the C-suite? Here are 6 tips to ensure your organization has a strong email security posture:

You need a rich, adaptive protection solution.

As security solutions evolve, bad actors quickly adapt their methodologies to go undetected. Polymorphic attacks designed to evade common protection solutions are becoming increasingly common. Organizations therefore need solutions that focus on zero-day and targeted attacks in addition to known vectors. Purely standards based or known signature and reputation-based checks will not cut it.

Solutions that include rich detonation capabilities for files and URLs are necessary to catch payload-based attacks. Advanced machine learning models that look at the content and headers of emails as well as sending patterns and communication graphs are important to thwart a wide range of attack vectors including payload-less vectors such as business email compromise. Machine learning capabilities are greatly enhanced when the signal source feeding it is broad and rich; so, solutions that boast of a massive security signal base should be preferred. This also allows the solution to learn and adapt to changing attack strategies quickly which is especially important for a rapidly changing threat landscape.

Complexity breeds challenges. An easy-to-configure-and-maintain system reduces the chances of a breach.

Complicated email flows can introduce moving parts that are difficult to sustain. As an example, complex mail-routing flows to enable protections for internal email configurations can cause compliance and security challenges. Products that require unnecessary configuration bypasses to work can also cause security gaps. As an example, configurations that are put in place to guarantee delivery of certain type of emails (eg: simulation emails), are often poorly crafted and exploited by attackers.

Solutions that protect emails (external and internal emails) and offer value without needing complicated configurations or emails flows are a great benefit to organizations. In addition, look for solutions that offer easy ways to bridge the gap between the security teams and the messaging teams. Messaging teams, motivated by the desire to guarantee mail delivery, might create overly permissive bypass rules that impact security. The sooner these issues are caught the better for overall security. Solutions that offer insights to the security teams when this happens can greatly reduce the time taken to rectify such flaws thereby reducing the chances of a costly breach

A breach isn’t an “If”, it’s a “When.” Make sure you have post-delivery detection and remediation.

No solution is 100% effective on the prevention vector because attackers are always changing their techniques. Be skeptical of any claims that suggest otherwise. Taking an ‘assume breach’ mentality will ensure that the focus is not only on prevention, but on efficient detection and response as well. When an attack does go through the defenses it is important for security teams to quickly detect the breach, comprehensively identify any potential impact and effectively remediate the threat.

Solutions that offer playbooks to automatically investigate alerts, analyze the threat, assess the impact, and take (or recommend) actions for remediations are critical for effective and efficient response. In addition, security teams need a rich investigation and hunting experience to easily search the email corpus for specific indicators of compromise or other entities. Ensure that the solution allows security teams to hunt for threats and remove them easily.
Another critical component of effective response is ensuring that security teams have a good strong signal source into what end users are seeing coming through to their inbox. Having an effortless way for end users to report issues that automatically trigger security playbooks is key.

Your users are the target. You need a continuous model for improving user awareness and readiness.

An informed and aware workforce can dramatically reduce the number of occurrences of compromise from email-based attacks. Any protection strategy is incomplete without a focus on improving the level of awareness of end users.

A core component of this strategy is raising user awareness through Phish simulations, training them on things to look out for in suspicious emails to ensure they don’t fall prey to actual attacks. Another, often overlooked, but equally critical, component of this strategy, is ensuring that the everyday applications that end-users use are helping raise their awareness. Capabilities that offer users relevant cues, effortless ways to verify the validity of URLs and making it easy to report suspicious emails within the application — all without compromising productivity — are very important.

Solutions that offer Phish simulation capabilities are key. Look for deep email-client-application integrations that allow users to view the original URL behind any link regardless of any protection being applied. This helps users make informed decisions. In addition, having the ability to offer hints or tips to raise specific user awareness on a given email or site is also important. And, effortless ways to report suspicious emails that in turn trigger automated response workflows are critical as well.

Attackers meet users where they are. So must your security.

While email is the dominant attack vector, attackers and phishing attacks will go where users collaborate and communicate and keep their sensitive information. As forms of sharing, collaboration and communication other than email, have become popular, attacks that target these vectors are increasing as well. For this reason, it is important to ensure that an organization’s anti-Phish strategy not just focus on email.

Ensure that the solution offers targeted protection capabilities for collaboration services that your organization uses. Capabilities like detonation that scan suspicious documents and links when shared are critical to protect users from targeted attacks. The ability in client applications to verify links at time-of-click offers additional protection regardless of how the content is shared with them. Look for solutions that support this capability.

Attackers don’t think in silos. Neither can the defenses.

Attackers target the weakest link in an organization’s defenses. They look for an initial compromise to get in, and once inside will look for a variety of ways increase the scope and impact of the breach. They typically achieve this by trying to compromise other users, moving laterally within the organization, elevating privileges when possible, and the finally reaching a system or data repository of critical value. As they proliferate through the organization, they will touch different endpoints, identities, mailboxes and services.

Reducing the impact of such attacks requires quick detection and response. And that can only be achieved when the defenses across these systems do not act in silos. This is why it is critical to have an integrated view into security solutions. Look for an email security solution that integrates well across other security solutions such as endpoint protection, CASB, identity protection, etc. Look for richness in integration that goes beyond signal integration, but also in terms of detection and response flows.

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Announcing OAM, an open standard for developing and operating applications on Kubernetes and other platforms

Kubernetes has become the leading container orchestration environment. Its success has driven the remarkable growth of Kubernetes services on every public cloud. However, the core resources in Kubernetes like Services and Deployments represent disparate pieces of an overall application. They do not represent the application itself. Likewise, objects like Helm charts represent a potentially deployable application, but once deployed there’s no application-centric model of the running application. This need to have a well-defined and coherent model that represents the complete application, not just its template and/or its constituent pieces, is why Microsoft and Alibaba Cloud have created the Open Application Model (OAM) project under the Open Web Foundation.

OAM is a specification for describing applications so that the application description is separated from the details of how the application is deployed onto and managed by the infrastructure. This separation of concerns is helpful for multiple reasons. In the real world, every Kubernetes cluster is different, from ingress to CNI to service mesh. Separating the application definition from the operational details of the cluster enables application developers to focus on the key elements of their application rather than the operational details of where it deploys. Furthermore, the separation of concerns also allows for platform architects to develop re-usable components and for application developers to focus on integrating those components with their code to quickly and easily build reliable applications. In all of this, the goal of the Open Application Model is to make simple applications easy and complex applications manageable.

In OAM, an Application is made from several concepts. The first is the Components that make up an application. These components might be services like a MySQL database or a replicated PHP server with a corresponding load balancer. Developers can author code that they package as a component and then author manifests that describe the relationships between that component and other microservices. Components enable platform architects and others to build re-usable modules which are known to encapsulate best practices around security and scalable deployment. They also enable the separation of the implementation of the component from the description of how those components come together in a complete distributed application architecture.

To transform these components into a concrete application, application operators use a configuration of these components to form a specific instance of an application that should be deployed. The configuration resource is what enables an application operator to run a real application out of the components provided by developers and platforms.

The final concept is a collection of Traits which describe the characteristics of the application environment including capabilities like auto-scaling and ingress which are important to the operation of applications but may be implemented in different ways in different environments. An easy example of such differences might be a hyperscale cloud-provided load balancer versus an on-premises hardware load-balancer. From an application developer’s perspective they are entirely identical, while from the operator’s perspective they are completely different. Traits enable this separation of concerns whereby the application can run anywhere its necessary traits are deployed. Those traits can then be configured by infrastructure operators to satisfy the unique operating requirements of their environment (e.g. compliance and security).

In contrast to a more traditional PaaS application model, OAM has some unique characteristics. Most importantly, it is platform agnostic. While our initial open implementation of OAM, named Rudr, is built on top of Kubernetes, the Open Application Model itself is not tightly bound to Kubernetes. It is possible to develop implementations for numerous other environments including small-device form factors, like edge deployments and elsewhere, where Kubernetes may not be the right choice. Or serverless environments where users don’t want or need the complexity of Kubernetes.

Equally important, the specification is extensible by design – rather than the walled garden of a PaaS, or an application environment that hides the unique characteristics of where it is running. Likewise, OAM enables platform providers to expose the unique characteristics of their platform through the trait system in a way that enables application developers to build cross-platform apps wherever the necessary traits are supported. Hardware providers can similarly expose the unique characteristics of their hardware platforms via traits. The entirety of OAM was designed to prevent the “lowest common denominator” problem that can occur in portable platforms. Instead OAM is designed to make portability possible while ensuring that each platform can still surface the capabilities that make them unique and useful. OAM provides developers the freedom to balance between portability and capability among platforms in a standard way.

We’re excited about the initial work we have done to develop this application-oriented open model and the implementation for Kubernetes. The specification is currently being developed under the Open Web Foundation agreement, and our goal is to bring the Open Application Model to a vendor-neutral foundation to enable open governance and collaboration. If you want to learn more, please have a look at the OAM specification, and Rudr – the open implementation for Kubernetes – over on Github. This is really just a start. We look forward to hearing your feedback and partnering closely to bring an easy, portable, and re-usable application model to Kubernetes and the cloud.

Questions or feedback? Please let us know in the comments.