Microsoft has plans to expand its network of self-run accelerators, currently operational in Israel, India and China, into Europe. Meanwhile, its Israel branch is expanding its brief for its second intake. In addition to cloud-focused teams, the program will be inviting a number of big data focused companies to take part.

We first took a look at Microsoft’s Israeli accelerator – which takes no equity  in, and asserts no acquisition rights on, the startups involved – back in April this year as it began its first run. The program is part of a drive in Israel to make Microsoft more ‘entrepreneur-friendly’. While participating companies are welcome to use Azure cloud services and take part in the startup-centric BizSpark scheme, there are no obligations on founders to become Microsoft customers.

This approach seems to be working. Microsoft says that all the startups that took part in the first four-month run earlier this year have proactively introduced the organizers to startups that they think should be accepted onto the next one. In addition to appearing more startup-friendly, the accelerator allows Microsoft to see where services like Azure could be improved to better serve a larger number of entrepreneurs.

As the accelerator is based on the same campus as Microsoft’s Israel R&D Center, it allows staff who may not have been exposed to startups for a long time to learn from young, talented people who are developing new technologies. So, there’s an opportunity for two-way learning. The model has been such as success for Microsoft that it has replicated it in India and China, and the Israel R&D Center’s Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development, Zack Weisfeld says that there is a plan to expand into Europe next year, although the exact location hasn’t been decided yet.

Given that Microsoft’s Azure division sponsors the accelerator, the emphasis of the first run was on cloud startups. However, this is being expanded for the next intake, which is due to start in December. Now big data-focused startups will also be accepted.

Microsoft has a large business intelligence and data analysis team on the same campus as the accelerator, so once again there’s plenty of opportunity for startups to learn from one of the world’s biggest technology companies, and vice-versa. Indeed, the importance of machine learning and big data was a key theme in CEO Steve Ballmer’s talk at the Think Next event in Tel Aviv this week.

While 11 startups took part last time, the second run of the accelerator will accept 15 or 16 teams. The deadline for applications is November 15th, and startups from anywhere in the world will be accepted. If you’re interested, you can head over to the website to find out more and apply.

➤ Microsoft Accelerator Israel

Disclosure: Microsoft paid for The Next Web’s trip to its accelerator in Israel but has no influence at all over anything we publish.