04:12 AM

Thought leaders: Dan'l Lewin - Microsoft Seeks Closer Ties to Silicon Valley and Startups around the world

Dan'l Lewin and his side kick Doug Free are the human face of Microsoft to many people in Silicon Valley. Mr Lewin is corporate vice president of strategic and emerging business development and a 30 year veteran of Silicon Valley.

I spoke with Mr Lewin recently at the large Microsoft campus in Mountain View, just a stone's throw from Google's HQ, and also not far from Infinite Loop, Apple, where he used to work with Steve Jobs. [Bio: Dan'l Lewin]

"My job is to identify strategic business opportunities and work with startups to see where we can partner together using Microsoft platforms and technologies," Mr Lewin said.

He and his team spend a lot of time meeting with VCs and startups in Silicon Valley but increasingly, he has also been spending more time travelling to other innovation centers around the world, India, China and more recently, Latin America.

Microsoft doesn't have a great reputation as being a good partner. In the 1990s Silicon Valley was very upset with Microsoft and its business behviour towards Netscape, resulting in an anti-trust conviction. But that was in the past, he says. "In the 1990s Microsoft didn't realize how large it had become, we now recognize our size and influence and we have a very responsible leadership."

Mr Lewin says that he and his team look at about 100 startups per month and end up working with about 200 per year.

His job also includes meeting with some of Silicon Valley's largest companies. Some are competitors but in today's world that doesn't preclude partnership opportunities.

Mr Lewin is always on the look out for potential acquisition targets. Microsoft makes about 20 acquisitions every year, some are small firms, others are large companies such as the TellMe acquisition in March, conveniently located close to the MSFT campus in Silicon Valley.

With TellMe's 320 staff plus expansion of its research facilities, Microsoft now has about 2,000 employees in Silicon Valley. Its researchers focus on XBox and consumer markets.

As he and Doug Free roam around the valley, he is also able to report back to Redmond on the key conversations happening here. But he says that the Microsoft campus in Redmond is very much like Silicon Valley in terms of the conversations people have about technologies and trends, and that it is not an isolated or insulated place.

Good Citizen

Microsoft also strives to be a good citizen. It's Silicon Valley employees are the second largest contributor to the United Way charity, MSFT matches each contribution. On a per capita basis its employees give more to charity than any other company in the valley. Its staff are also involved in local schools and Microsoft offers its meeting and conference facilities for free to any local non-profit and educational organzations.

It is good that Microsoft shares its wealth and it would be good if many other Silicon Valley companies did the same.