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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

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

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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

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 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

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

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777,

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at 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

1 PitchBook article, “The VC Female Founders Dashboard,” Feb. 28, 2019.

2 Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Says Global IT Spending to Grow 0.6% in 2019,” July 10, 2019.

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Microsoft kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of the cultures and contributions of the LatinX community

Alvaro Celis - Hola

For over half a century, it has become tradition in the U.S. to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th to October 15th. This is a month of celebration, tribute and pride for those of us that relate to the Hispanic/Latinx culture, either because we are part of it, or because we have grown fond of this community and feel a connectionBut, this is also a time for reflection.

For some time now, our community has been going through challenging times deriving from strong external narratives that fail to represent our beauty, our diversity and the real challenges that we face today and in the past. Stories that attempt to create deep social divisions. Stories that intend to tear down the very fabric of what the Hispanic and Latinx communities truly represent 


As a Latino and Executive Sponsor of HOLA (Hispanic & Latinx Organization of Leaders in Action), Microsoft’s Hispanic/Latinx Employee Resource Group, I have learned so much on my journey to represent and propel the Latino culture in the USA. It’s just amazing to see the positive impact that Latinos have daily.  On one hand, 86% of all new US businesses have been launched by Latinos over the last decade and Latinas create small businesses 6x faster than any other group in the country.[1] Latino GDP was $2.13 Trillion in 2015, and it’s growing 70% faster than the rest of the economy.[2] 

Latinos are contributing to the very fabric of this country and that is why it is extremely important that our individual voices and personal stories of struggles, achievements and contributions to the North American culture continue to collectively rise.  Hispanic Heritage Month is a perfect moment to share the true narrative of who we are, and the great impact and role each one of us plays in society.  


To honor Hispanic Heritage Month, Microsoft is celebrating Latinx culture and inspirational stories through Our Voz.  This will include local events in the community, celebrations, as well as stories from our own Latinx employees who are making an impact in the community.  

Microsoft HOLA, in partnership with our Global Diversity and Inclusion team and our many internal allies across all businesses, have established strong partnerships with key stakeholders in the Latino community.  By joining forces, we have helped accelerate progress across a wide range of topics from our own internal culture and ability to bring our true selves to work, to supporting families through immigration challengesimproving education, and much more. We would like to take the opportunity to recognize and thank these organizations for their partnership and the great work they do every day to make a difference for our community.  You can view the full list of partner organizations below. 

It is my belief that through empathy, mutual understanding and purposeful action we can make a lasting, bigger impact that changes how we experience the world – and how the world experiences us. Please visit for the most current news and opportunities to celebrateengage and be inspired. If you want to learn more about broader initiatives for diversity and inclusion at Microsoft please visit here.  

Let’s continue this conversation and share our stories to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month! Follow me on Twitter, @alvarocelis and on LinkedIn at


[1] Hispanic Sentiment Study, Xeno Group 2018  

[2] Latino Donor Collaborative  


H.O.L.A Partner Organizations  

    ALPFA’s mission: To empower and develop Latino men and women as leaders of character for the nation, in every sector of the global economy. 
  • DigiGirlz
    DigiGirlz is Microsoft’s own global outreach program that gives middle and high school girls opportunities to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops. 
  • HACR
    HACR’s Mission is to advance the inclusion of Hispanics in Corporate America at a level commensurate with our economic contributions. 
  • HITEC Global  
    HITEC is a premier global executive leadership organization of senior business and technology executives who have built outstanding careers in technology. HITEC’s premiere network spans the Americas and is focused on building stronger technology and executive leaders, leadership teams, corporations, and role models in a rapidly changing, flatter, and technology centric world.  
  • IPLI 
    The “HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute” provides opportunities for Latino students interested in intellectual property law. This summer, up to twenty-five Latino law students from law schools across the country will be chosen to participate in an IP immersion program in Washington, DC. Candidates are selected in a highly competitive process, and the selected students are provided substantive instruction, the opportunity to observe first-hand U.S. IP institutions at work, and the chance to meet leading members of the IP legal community who will serve as mentors and potentially provide pathways for future job opportunities. 
  • iUrbanTeen 
    Mission: To expose and inspire underrepresented youth to become tomorrow’s business and technology leaders. iUrban Teen is a nationally recognized program focused on bringing career focused education to underrepresented teens ages 13 to 18. Youth receive hands-on exposure to a variety of careers and civic engagement that step them outside of their current boundaries. Our target demographics are African American, Latino and Native American males, however, the program is inclusive of all youth.
  • KIND (Kids in need of Defense)
    Microsoft, along with Angelina Jolie, founded KIND in 2008 to provide legal services to unaccompanied children entering the U.S.  Brad Smith Microsoft President is also KIND Chairman of the Board.  Many of our Microsoft in house attorneys and other professionals work on KIND cases on a pro bono basis, and Microsoft also supports for a KIND fellow, an attorney who works for KIND and supports Microsoft’s pro bono efforts.  More information about KIND can be found Here  
  • LatinaGeeks  
    Empowering and inspiring adult Latinas by sharing technical knowledge, business skills, and entrepreneurship resources through hands-on workshops and community events. 
  • Nuevo Foundation
    Inspiring kids to be curious, confident, and courageous by discovering the world of STEM. 
    Offers coding workshops that provide hands on opportunities for students to learn real-world problem-solving skills using coding, hardware and their own imagination. 
    Also, offers virtual sessions to share the stories of people who have succeeded in STEM fields with students worldwide. 
    Lastly, offer speaker engagements to motivate students to pursue STEM education. 
  • SHPE
    SHPE changes lives by empowering the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential and to impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support and development. 
  • Tapia conference
    The Tapia conference is the premier venue to acknowledge, promote and celebrate diversity in computing. 
  • TECHNOLOchicas
    Microsoft is a sponsor of TECHNOLOchicas, a campaign of our strategic partner, the National Center for Women and Information Technologies (NCWIT) and the Televisa Foundation to increase the visibility and participation of Latinas in technology.    Each campaign year a Latina Microsoft technologist serves as one of the TECHNOLOchica Ambassadors featured in the campaign video and social media assets and represents our company at TECHNOLOchica events. 
  • We Are All Human Foundation 
    We use the power of dialogue to create understanding and remind us that united, we are stronger. 

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Video: Hackathons show teen girls the potential for AI – and themselves

This summer, young women in San Francisco and Seattle spent a weekend taking their creative problem solving to a whole new level through the power of artificial intelligence. The two events were part of a Microsoft-hosted AI boot-camp program that started last year in Athens, then broadened its reach with events in London last fall and New York City in the spring. Check out the wrap-up video from the three U.S. events:

YouTube Video


“I’ve been so impressed not only with the willingness of these young women to spend an entire weekend learning and embracing this opportunity, but with the quality of the projects,” said Didem Un Ates, one of the program organizers and a senior director for AI within Microsoft. “It’s just two days, but what they come up with always blows our minds.” (Read a LinkedIn post from Un Ates about the events.)

The problems these girls tackled aren’t kid stuff: The girls chose their weekend projects from among the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, considered to be the most difficult and highest priority for the world.

The result? Dozens of innovative products that could help solve issues as diverse as ocean pollution, dietary needs, mental health, acne and climate change. Not to mention all those young women – 129 attended the U.S. events – who now feel empowered to pursue careers to help solve those problems. They now see themselves as “Alice,” a mascot created by the project team to represent the qualities young women possess that lend themselves to changing the world through AI.

Organizers plan to broaden the reach of these events, so that girls everywhere can learn about the possibility of careers in technology.


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Diversity and cybercrime: Solving puzzles and stopping bad guys

After protecting data and thwarting digital wrongdoers for more than two decades, Diana Kelley bristles at suggestions that cybersecurity is a dry or dull career choice.

“I think it is the most interesting part of IT. It can be a fascinating puzzle to solve. It can be like a murder mystery on that show, ‘Law & Order,’ except that when they find a dead body, we find a network breach,” she says.

“As we investigate, we go back through all these twists and turns. And, sometimes we discover that the real culprit isn’t the one we had suspected at the beginning.”

As Microsoft’s global Cybersecurity Field Chief Technology Officer, she wants to erase misconceptions that might be stopping people from more walks of life from entering her profession – which, she argues,  needs new ways of thinking and innovating.

Successful companies know that by building diversity and inclusion within their ranks, they can better understand and serve their many and varied customers. Cybersecurity teams need to read from the same playbook so they can better anticipate and block attacks launched by all kinds of people from all sorts of places.

“Cybercriminals come from different backgrounds and geo-locations and have different mindsets,” Kelley says. “They collaborate and use very diverse attack techniques to come after individuals, companies, and countries. So, it helps us also to have a very diverse set of protection and controls to stop them.”

Knowing how attackers might think and act can be difficult for any cybersecurity team, particularly if it is made up of people from similar backgrounds with similar viewpoints. It is the kind of conformity that can even lead to a sort of “groupthink,” which results in blind spots and unintended bias.

The power of different viewpoints

“If people think in the same ways again and again, they are going to come up with the same answers. This only stops when different viewpoints are raised, and different questions are heard.”

Kelley says attackers come from, and operate in, many different environments, and cybersecurity teams need to match this diversity as much as they can. However, the make-up of today’s international cybersecurity community remains surprisingly homogenous.

“About 90 percent are men and, depending on where you are in the world, they are often white men,” she says. “In Asia, it tends to be a little worse. Only about nine percent are women.”

The need for change comes amid unprecedented demand for cybersecurity and a chronic shortage of skilled specialists across the world. Kelley sees this an opportunity.

“We’ve got this big gap in hiring, so why not create a more diverse and inclusive community of people working on the problem?” she said in an interview on her recent visit to Singapore, one of many global cities vying for talent in the sector.

One major concern is gender imbalance. Even though many well-paying jobs are up for grabs, relatively few women are taking up, and staying in, cybersecurity roles.

Fixing the gender imbalance

“When I got into the field almost 30 years ago, women had very low representation in computer science in general,” Kelley says. “Back then, I just assumed it would change over time. But it hasn’t.”

Studies show that girls often drop out of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects in middle or high school. Some women university graduates do enter the profession. But a lot end up leaving – many for cultural reasons in the workplace.

“There is a high attrition rate. We need to promote the value of studying STEM. And, we also need to work for the people who are in the field now by creating inclusive work environments.”

Kelley joined Microsoft about two years ago. Since then, she has been struck by its strong culture of respecting diverse viewpoints and encouraging inclusion – things she hasn’t seen stressed in some other companies.

“Not every idea is a great idea. But that doesn’t mean it should be mocked or dismissed. It should be respected as an idea. I have spoken to some women elsewhere who say because they didn’t feel heard or respected, they didn’t want to stay in IT.”

Bringing in all sorts of people

Kelley says more can be done to build up diversity and inclusion beyond fixing the gender mix. Again, she is impressed by Microsoft’s efforts. “Yes, we need to engage more women. But we also need to bring in all sorts of people from different social and career backgrounds.

“For instance, our team – the Cybersecurity Solution Group at Microsoft – is looking for people who may not have worked in cybersecurity in the past, but have a great interest (in technology) as well as other talents. So we are creating diversity that way too.”

Kelley recounts her own sideways entry into the field. She fell in love with computers and software during her teens when she discovered for herself how vulnerable networks at the time could be.

Later she graduated from university with a very non-techie qualification: a degree in English. Her first few jobs were editorial roles, but being tech-savvy soon meant she became the “go-to IT guy” in her office.

“Finally someone said to me, ‘Hey, you know what? IT is your calling, and we are hiring.’ So, what had been a hobby for me then became a career.”

She eventually moved into cybersecurity after an intruder broke into a network she had just built. “I pivoted from being a network and software person to someone very much focused on creating secure and resilient architectures and networks to thwart the bad guys.”

We need diverse thinkers

Looking to the future, she wants a broader pool of job seekers to consider careers in cybersecurity, even if they did not like STEM at school.

“We need diverse thinkers … people who understand psychology, for example, who can help understand the mindsets behind these attacks. We need great legal minds to help with ethics and privacy. And, political minds who understand lobbying.”

The cybersecurity world needs individuals who are altruistic and have a little more. “We go into this field because we want to do the right thing and protect people and protect data. That is a critical part. And, it also really helps to have a sort of a ‘tinkering mindset.’”

She explains that when cybersecurity professionals create systems, they also have to produce threat models. To do that, they need to think about, ‘What if I was a bad guy? What if I was trying to take this apart? How could it be taken apart?’ That is the point where they can start to work out how to make their system more attack resistant.

Meanwhile, she is eager to debunk a few myths swirling around the subject of cybercrime.

For starters, the days of the smart lone wolf kid in a hoodie hacking for fun from his bedroom are more or less over. Nowadays, only a tiny minority of perpetrators cause digital mischief and embarrassment just for the bragging rights or are “hacktivists” who want to advance social or environmental causes.

Ominously, there are sophisticated state-sponsored actors targeting the vulnerabilities of rival powers. Governments around the world are rightly worried about their citizens’ data. But they also fear for the security of vital infrastructure, like power grids and transport systems. Accordingly, military strategists now rate cyber as a field of warfare alongside land, sea, and air.

That said, most of the bad guys are simply in it for the money and do not deserve the glory and headlines they sometimes get.

“They are not glamorous. Many are in big criminal syndicates that just want to grab our data – hurting us and hurting our loved ones.”

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Inspiring the girls of today to become the programmers of tomorrow – how 15-year-old Lili Názer became a developer

At just 15-years-old, Lili Názer can already be described as a veteran developer, having created several smartphone applications and games. Originally wanting to be a doctor, she found her calling in programming, and is now mentoring other girls that are interested in IT, during occasions such as Microsoft’s DigiGirlz events.

The purpose of the DigiGirlz initiative is to introduce young girls to the world of programming and software development, while inspiring them to pursue their passion for technology. This is particularly crucial, given that research has shown that young girls in Europe tend to disengage from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects by the age of 15, due to numerous factors such as the lack of role models in these fields.

We were fortunate enough to chat to Lili before the DigiGirlz event kicked off, to see what inspires her, drives her forward, and what her future will hold.   

When did your interest in programming begin?
It happened accidentally. A few years ago, I couldn’t register for any summer camps for numerous reasons. Then, at the beginning of summer, most camps were already full up, so the only one I could still go to was a robotics camp. Before that I hadn’t even heard about such a thing, so that was the first time I came into contact with programming.

It looks like you enjoyed it!
Yes I did. After it was over, I looked for similar opportunities, so in 2016 I attended the first session of the coding training Skool program, where I met my current mentor. At that time I had been preparing for a completely different career, and wanted to be a surgeon or medical researcher. Then I started to get interested in languages, and I thought I wanted to work as an interpreter. Programming opened my eyes. I realised that through it, I could become involved in practically any industry or profession. This opened up a whole range of new fields and opportunities for me.

What were some of your first creations?
I developed my first simple game when I was 11, and then I wrote my first application for the UPC Future Makers competition, about two years ago. That’s the Daily Take Me application, a family organiser that helps you plan your schedule, where family members can see where they have to go and when – who is picking up the children from school and other similar things.

Studies show that girls of your age are generally not in STEM careers, perhaps because they feel, or are told, it’s not the right choice. Have you come across these attitudes at all?
I have, but luckily people didn’t try to talk me out of it. On the other hand, it was precisely in connection with the Daily Take Me app that media articles kept referring to me as some kind of ‘wonder girl’ who develops apps. But I don’t really identify with that, because there’s nothing so special about it. My little sister collects erasers, and I develop apps – that’s all there is to it. There’s nothing about it that would make it unsuitable for girls.

There is a misconception about programming though: many people think that it’s only something for maths geniuses. This just isn’t true. Of course, there are parts where you need maths, but it’s really just another kind of language, so if you are creative with languages and have a sensitivity for them, programming won’t be a problem either. I go to special maths classes at school, but now I am also planning to specialise in languages. It needs a lot of organising, but I like it when I have a lot to do. The only problem is that we don’t have enough IT classes.

Girls looking at laptop screen

What programming languages do you work with?
At first I used a system called Scratch, which lets you put command blocks next to each other in a fun way. Now, however, I write code, and develop in Python, but I would also like to learn Javascript and C++.

You said you are competitive. Have entered competitions?
Yes, I won the Future Makers competition in my age group in Hungary, and qualified to the international finals in Dublin. After that I developed an app called Granny’s Pills, a virtual medicine box which I submitted to the Technovation competition for girls. I got to the semifinals, but I wasn’t able to reach the finals in America unfortunately, but that didn’t discourage me. I’m in a team that’s competing this year too, and we are now putting the finishing touches to SmilingTooth, the app we’re submitting there. Two years later I was actually asked to be a jury member in the Future Makers contest, and it was very interesting to see things from the other side.

Tell us a little about these two apps.
Granny’s Pill helps if grandma or grandpa forgets to take their medicine. You can set the types and number of medicines you have to take, and the app sends a reminder, which also includes a photo of the medicine, so you can avoid accidentally taking the wrong tablet. You can also set the contact information of a family member who receives a message too, even if they have taken their medicine and forgotten about it. SmilingTooth is an application that helps small children brush their teeth in a playful way.

Girl standing, talking to an audience

There’s a pattern in the functionality of these apps. Was this a conscious thing?
Yes, absolutely. I usually look for solutions to community or social problems. I have a soft spot for aiding the elderly and solving the problems that affect them, but I also feel that it’s important to take action against food waste. We even deal with subjects like selective waste collection and climate change, because these will be my generation’s problems entirely. We will be living in it.

SmilingTooth is still under development, but Granny’s Pills is already available. What happened to this app in the end?
Thanks to a Microsoft project last summer, I took part in a week-long event in Athens where everything was about artificial intelligence. There were 100 girls there, from 10 countries. During the day we went to lectures and workshops, but we also had time to network and make friends. It was a great experience. There was a challenge on the last day – we had to program things such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition software and a chat robot. We all then became Microsoft Artificial Intelligence Ambassadors.

What does that entail?
For starters, I talked about my experiences at DigiGirlz in April, and also helped the participants. I have also mentored Technical University students at Prezi.

You’re mentoring technical university students?
Yes, they were a bit surprised, but they were open too, they asked lots of questions, even about things that I hadn’t done yet, but we solved problems together. I have even been shadowing at Prezi, which lets me observe the specialists there at work.

Artificial intelligence is a very active field. Would you like to work with it in future?
Yes, it is really interesting. I’ve read a lot about it, and I’ve even listened to several podcasts. I think we are only scratching the surface of the possibilities that lie within artificial intelligence, but this is what makes so exciting. It is a constantly developing field, so I may be doing something that does not even exist yet today. I also want to keep on developing apps, and I think mixed reality is also very interesting. However, I find AI extremely exciting, mainly because a few years ago we didn’t even know that it would exist, and it is now opening doors to things that are completely astounding. For example, I heard about an AI in a podcast that collects information from brain cells.

Girls standing in front of classroom

Have you received offers from IT companies?
I’ve had a couple of offers. For example, people from Oracle Young Talent contacted as a result of an article in NLCafé, saying they would support me, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. I was also once able to meet the Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, when he was visiting Hungary.

What was that like?
An event was organised for the Skool participants at the Technical University. We were developing a small game, and he simply walked in and sat down next to me. I was able to talk to him, but I was still shy! I told him about the Daily Take Me app, which really caught his attention. He is an amazingly charismatic person.

Would you like to work for Microsoft?
Of course, if things go that way, but I am not there yet! I would like to try myself out in companies here in Hungary, and I hope I’ll be able to gain experience abroad too. It would be really good to attend more workshops and events so that I can develop more.

How much time do you spend in front of the computer?
It depends on what time I get home. I am an official competitor in the UTE fencing division where I compete with the foil. This means several hours of practice a day. I owe my coach Gábor Kreiss a lot for his supportive attitude, and he accepts that programming is also a part of my life. It is difficult for people in competitive sports to get balance their lives. After training, I usually spend one or two hours coding every day, and all of my other activities take about four hours. This includes studying, and we have to write and submit a lot of things online.

What advice would you give to girls who are interested in the STEM subjects, but have possibly come up against negative stereotypes and rejections?
I know many girls who, if they are told something is “not for them”, would make it theirs just to prove people wrong. The point is that you should believe in yourself, believe that you are capable, irrespective of gender, and you shouldn’t let other people’s opinion have a negative effect on it. But it is important to hear the positive messages, which the incubator programs can help a lot with, just like Skool, company events, and DigiGirlz too. I also think that balance is very important. I don’t stay in my room all the time – I try to make sure that my everyday life is balanced.


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Microsoft backs women tech entrepreneurs with global expansion of IdeaGen and Women in Cloud

Since its formation two years ago, Women in Cloud, a community-led initiative built to empower women-led technology businesses to drive growth through cloud solutions and services, has become a leading community and resource for women innovators all over the world. A key initiative within the Women in Cloud community is the Microsoft Cloud Accelerator Program, an immersive 6-month program designed to help women-led companies start and build their businesses through Microsoft and its cloud distribution channels.

Today, as we kick-off the second accelerator cohort of women entrepreneurs in the greater Seattle area, I’m proud to announce that Microsoft, in partnership with IdeaGen and Women in Cloud, will extend the reach of its Accelerators to eight additional countries, with programs planned for: Canada, France, Germany, India, Kenya, South Africa, the UAE and the UK. The program will also expand within the United States with a cohort in New York City launching September 2019 with another to launch in Chicago later in Fall 2019.

This scale will provide women-owned technology companies all around the world with access to the cloud, mentorship, networking communities and resources to bring women-led innovations to market. Through a multi-million-dollar, multi-year investment from Microsoft, it is our goal that with this expansion and continued scaling, this program can help generate $1B in cloud opportunity by providing accessible cloud technology to more than 1,000 women-led tech companies over the investment period, enabling them to scale their businesses for sustainable economic growth in all corners of the world.

We’re excited to build on the program’s previous success. To date, the Women in Cloud Accelerator has provided opportunities to 30 women-owned companies (12 Seattle area participants in the first cohort), accelerating businesses such as Stylyze, Meylah, Genneve Health, and Automaton, while developing more than $30M of Cloud pipeline at its start.

Since launching Microsoft for Startups, Microsoft’s vision has been to deliver access to transformational technologies like cloud and AI and go-to-market and community benefits that help startups grow their customer and revenue base. As a part of that commitment, we support the acceleration of opportunities for diverse and underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs in a myriad of ways such as partnerships with groups like Backstage Capital, Black and Brown Founders, The Riveter, and WTIA’s Founder Cohort Program, as well as launched programs like M12’s Female Founders Competition.

As a woman and a leader at Microsoft, I’m proud of these initiatives, many of which have been established and are supported by women leaders within our organization. I am encouraged by our continued commitment to providing inspiration and mentorship for both women in tech and those just starting to develop interest in the industry. While there remains much to do, we at Microsoft believe that we will only be able to address our toughest technology challenges when we embrace diverse perspectives. To build this diversity, it’s critical to have a varied partner ecosystem and one that actively supports women entrepreneurs.

We can’t wait to see what innovation this partnership will foster – members of women-led companies are encouraged to apply here. We are currently accepting applications for our Chicago cohort, and will be opening applications for our global cohorts soon.

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Registration now open for Girls Make Games summer camp

Launched in 2014, Girls Make Games provides a service that’s near and dear to our hearts here at Xbox: inspiring the next generation of designers, creators, and engineers to change the world. As an organization, Girls Make Games aims to increase gender diversity in the both the video game industry and in STEM fields. To that end, the team offers a series of summer camps, workshops and game jams that have reached over 6,000 girls in 52 cities worldwide, and they’re growing every year.

We are very proud to have been supporting them from the start, and we’re even more excited to share that we’ll be hosting another camp on the Xbox campus this summer.  The camp will run from July 8 to July 26 and will allow girls 8-17 to learn about designing, programming, and pitching their own video games. The Girls Make Games team says the camp’s attendees “will work in teams to create fully functional games while meeting and interacting with video game industry professionals in the region.”

Girls Make Games Summer Camp

Girls Make Games Summer Camp

We’re also happy to announce that there will be scholarship and financial aid opportunities for summer camp participants. During the camp, attendees will learn about the many different roles that bring a video game to life, including Game Design, Game Art, Level Design, Narrative Design, Audio Engineering, and Game Music. We’ll also be partnering with our neighbors at Nintendo with shared activities for girls attending either the Xbox and Nintendo camps.

So, if your daughter, niece, neighbor, or friend is interested in attending the Girls Make Games summer camp here in Redmond or at any of the other camps nationwide, check out the Girls Make Games website to register or learn more information.

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Microsoft celebrates Pride, takes action for equity and visibility

Fifty years ago, on June 28, LGBTQI+ patrons and allies at New York City’s Stonewall Inn stood up for justice demanding an equal life free of persecution. This year, as more than 4,000 Microsoft employees march in Pride parades in more than 60 cities and 30 countries around the world, we invite you to join us in pushing inclusion forward.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, we’re taking action for equity by donating to LGBTQI+ nonprofits. Plus, we’re releasing limited-edition products designed with and by the LGBTQI+ community.

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Microsoft has a history of LGBTQI+ inclusion

For us, Pride is an opportunity to reflect on our past and galvanize for action. We started our inclusion journey early in the company’s history, introducing sexual orientation in our non-discrimination policies in 1989. In 1993, we were one of the first companies in the world to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners. In 2004, we added gender identity to our Equal Employment Opportunity statement and started providing gender affirming healthcare services. Since 2005, Microsoft has attained a top  score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, which indicates that Microsoft is establishing and applying policies to protect the LGBTQI+ community.

Our journey is just beginning

Today, Microsoft operates in over 120 countries, most of which still don’t provide legal protections for LGBTQI+ individuals. This year, Microsoft’s Pride campaign is all about the actions that our employees and customers are taking to advance inclusion. GLEAM (Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft), our LGBTQI+ resource group, worked with many of our teams to develop products to create visibility into the LGBTQI+ community.

In designing this year’s Pride campaign, LGBTQI+ designers and allies at Microsoft reflected on the LGBTQI+ rights movement of the 1970s. Dozens of LGBTQI+ community members and their allies submitted designs for campaign buttons displaying everything from personal statements to political slogans. These buttons reflect actions that people at Microsoft are taking and are encouraging others to take.

Microsoft is releasing all the button designs as a downloadable archive so everyone can use them, add to them and share their Pride with everyone, wherever they are.

Several Pride-related buttons

For the first time, we’ve also created limited-edition products and curated content to show our continued support for the LGBTQI+ community.

  • Surface – Inspired by the rich and varied tapestry of the LGBTQI+ community, make a more colorful impact with the limited-edition Surface Pro Pride Type Cover and Pride Skin available in the US, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. (only Type Cover).

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  • Windows PrideWindows – This Windows 10 special-edition theme was inspired by the many LGBTQI+ flags. Download the Windows Pride theme pack from the Microsoft Store.
  • Mixer – Discover Pride on Mixer with dedicated streams from select partners, unique stickers, and exclusive programs. Tune in on June 30th to live stream the Seattle Pride Parade!
  • Bing – Learn more about Stonewall on Bing with uniquely curated content featuring LGBTQI+ Bing Prideactivism dating back to 1969 with this quiz. And see Pride take over the Bing homepage in select countries around the world.
  • Office – Show your Pride colors with the exclusive Office theme and unique Pride templates for PowerPoint.
  • Skype – Celebrate Pride with Skype’s new LGBTQI+ flag emoticons, stickers, and more.
  • Xbox – Show your colors and celebrate your love of gaming with the Xbox Pride Sphere Pin available at Pride
  • Microsoft Rewards – Support LGBTQI+ youth in crisis by donating to The Trevor Project in June, and we’ll match it. Not a Microsoft Rewards member? Join today and we’ll give you $1 free to donate.
  • Microsoft Store – Visit your local Microsoft Store to take part in a Pride celebration, march with us, or learn more at educational workshops, events, and other activities.

Actions speak louder than words!

We’re donating $100,000 to the following nonprofits in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States to celebrate and support their work on LGBTQI+ equity:

  • Established in 1985, ACON is Australia’s largest health promotion organization specializing in HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTQ health.
  • Egale works to improve the lives of LGBTQI2S people in Canada and to enhance the global response to LGBTQI2S issues. They do this by informing public policy, inspiring cultural change, and promoting human rights and inclusion.
  • Mermaids is the only U.K.-wide charity working to support transgender or gender non-conforming children, young people, and their families. Their goal is to create a world where gender-diverse children and young people can be themselves and thrive. Mermaids promotes education and awareness, and offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences to those in need.
  •  The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people under 25.

We’re also happy to announce that LGBTQI+ nonprofit, Destination Tomorrow, was awarded a grant from the Microsoft Store to support their inclusion efforts for people of color. See what happened when we took action to help them thrive.

YouTube Video

We invite everyone to join us in taking action for equality. Microsoft Pride 2019 products launch today! Follow along with our stories all month and learn more about actions you can take for equality by joining the social conversation using #MicrosoftPride.

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AI boot camp aims to draw more teen girls into computer science

As an engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s, Didem Un Ates was one of only five women in a graduating class of 180. Today, she’s on a mission is to drastically change those numbers.

Un Ates is part of a Microsoft team that launched “Alice envisions the future,” a boot camp for girls focused on artificial intelligence. The first event in Athens – packed with keynote speeches, panel discussions and hands-on workshops – helped spark the passion for AI in 160 girls from 16 countries.

After witnessing the success of the inaugural event, the team took the show on the road, first to London last October, and then to New York in March.

Registration is now open for two more “Girls in AI” hackathons for girls 14 to 18, which are scheduled for next month:

Registration is free and attendees do not need a laptop or any experience with coding – just a curiosity about AI and a creative mind. The first 80 students to register will be accepted.

About 50 girls between attended the “Girls in AI” hackathon in New York, tackling subjects ranging from human-centered design and AI ethics to machine learning.

Un Ates said the transformation over the course of the weekend can be astounding. Girls who may come into the program shy, timid and hesitant of delving into advanced technology such as AI can leave the program with an entirely different mindset.

“They may have heard of AI, but they don’t exactly know what it means or what a hackathon means. But by the end of Sunday, there are all these super-excited, confident individuals who cannot stop talking about how they are going to  build a business out of their project,” said Un Ates, senior director of customer care intelligence for the Microsoft Business Applications Group, Cloud & AI.

YouTube Video

Winning teams from the hackathons are eligible to enter Microsoft’s AI for Good Idea Challenge, an international contest for developers, students and data scientists who use AI to tackle some of society’s greatest obstacles. The deadline for entries is June 26.

Un Ates says she is devoted to evangelizing STEM education – and artificial intelligence specifically – because of the dire underrepresentation of women in the field.

“Only 12% of artificial intelligence and machine learning experts are female,” Un Ates noted. “And we have the opportunity to change that.”

According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, in 1985 women accounted for roughly 37% of all computer science undergraduate students. Today, that number is 12%. According to a recent WIRED & Element AI study, only 12% of machine learning researchers are women.

Un Ates said it’s important that women are well-represented in computer science both because of the perspective they bring to the field and because of the job opportunities the field can offer.

And that is exactly what Microsoft’s “Girls in AI” hackathons are designed to accomplish. According to the team’s event website, the curriculum gives teenage girls “the chance to utilize AI and machine learning techniques to tackle global challenges in a holistic manner.” The two-day event will give attendees an understanding of design thinking, strategy and business model development, ethics, social responsibility and pitching skills.

The “Alice Envisions the Future” hackathon program is just one of the ways Microsoft working to get more girls and young women involved in computer science. Microsoft also offers DigiGirlz Days, one-day events designed to provide girls with a better understanding of what a career in technology is like, and DigiGirlz High Tech Camp, a program developed 19 years ago to help dispel stereotypes in the high-tech industry.