The Cloud Makes a Big Difference to Small Businesses

Imagination Yoga owners Jamie Hopkins (left) and Jessica McClintic run a business that teaches children about kindness, breath and concentration.

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 28, 2011 — What do a customized wheelchair, an all-natural bar of soap, a calming yoga class for kids, an engaging community magazine and international relief supplies organization have in common? These products and services are all delivered by small businesses to a growing customer base.

Each business also happens to be among the winners in the Microsoft Office 365: Ready for Work Contest. The business owners have several traits in common, including a passion for their work, a strong desire to help people, and a deep resolve to approach challenges with unique products and services.

The Microsoft Office 365: Ready for Work Contest winners include the following:

  • Imagination Yoga in Portland, Ore.

  • Independence on Wheels in Nashville, Tenn.

  • Naturally Me in Durham, N.C.

  • Showcase Magazine in Danville, Va.

  • Tri-Med in London, U.K. and Peterborough, N.H.

The winners were selected from hundreds of applicants who entered the contest starting on April 18 and shared their stories on the Microsoft Office 365 Facebook page. They described aspirations and challenges for their businesses, efforts to make a difference in the lives of others, and plans for using technology to communicate better with employees, customers and business partners, all while balancing family and work schedules.

Chaundra Smith, owner of Naturally Me, makes hand-crafted, natural and vegan-certified products for hands, face and body.

To help transform the way they work, the winners will receive Microsoft Office 365 free for a year for up to 25 employees. The five businesses also will each receive $25,000 to use toward business advertising, a check for $25,000 and a Microsoft executive for a day — who will work at the winner’s business or charity of choice.

“Office 365 gives people new ways to work together, on virtually any device, and collaborate in a simple and secure way,” said Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president, Microsoft Office Division. “The technology is no longer reserved for larger organizations; small companies like the contest winners can bring their business dreams to life with collaboration tools, social networks and unified communications to improve the way they work.”

Office 365 brings together Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online in an always-up-to-date cloud service, with a predictable monthly subscription. Because Microsoft Office applications are at the heart of Office 365, small business favorites such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook and other Office applications also connect to Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Lync to deliver a comprehensive solution for communication and collaboration.

With Office 365, the contest winners will be able to communicate easily with their employees and customers, using instant messaging and virtual meetings with colleagues who may be just down the hall or across continents. They can work on files and documents at the same time and exchange ideas as easily as they can share calendars.

More About the Winners

Below are summaries of the winners of the Microsoft Office 365: Ready for Work Contest.

Imagination Yoga: Portland, Ore.

Business Owners: Jessica McClintic, Jamie Hopkins, Jon Hopkins

Imagination Yoga is on a mission to inspire kids to move. The company uses yoga concepts, storytelling and creativity to spark children’s imaginations and get them exercising. It also gives kids the tools to help them breathe, relax, build self-confidence and practice kindness. Imagination Yoga is taught in local classrooms, and the company donates a portion of the proceeds earned back to the schools. The Imagination Yoga team wants to reach more schools and families across the country to introduce them to the many benefits of yoga and a healthy lifestyle.

The owners, who are siblings, will use Office 365 to help the company market to its primary audience and create an efficient system that will allow schools and families to enroll in classes online — saving everyone time and money.

Independence on Wheels: Nashville, Tenn.

Business Owner: Albert Baxter

Independence on Wheels changes the lives of people with limited mobility. The company specializes in customized wheelchairs, helping clients achieve independence. Owner Albert Baxter is passionate about his business and says there is no greater feeling than knowing his company has helped change someone’s life.

Because Baxter and his employees travel frequently for business, his company will use Office 365 to bring all of its work tools and applications into one cohesive environment, with the ability to access information anywhere, especially smartphones. Working with Office 365, Independence on Wheels will be able to free up more time to deliver clients their customized wheels, so they can gain their independence and mobility faster.

Naturally Me: Durham, N.C.

Business Owner: Chaundra Smith

Naturally Me manufactures natural, vegan-certified products for body, home and pets. Founder and owner Chaundra Smith started creating all-natural products for her daughter, who needed gentler soaps and lotions than were available in stores. Today, each Naturally Me product follows a strict certification process with quality ingredients, before being certified vegan.

With Office 365, Smith plans to set up a remote office, which will allow the company’s consultants and staff to lower their carbon footprint by telecommuting — creating a virtual team site and all the tools needed to create, share and collaborate together from anywhere. The move to Office 365 will save Naturally Me time and money and will give Smith and her consultants more opportunities to grow the business and spend time with family.

Showcase Magazine: Danville, Va.

Business Owner: Scott Brooks

Showcase Magazine works hard to expose all that is good about its community of Danville, Va. The region is economically depressed — resulting from the loss of its two main industries, tobacco and textiles, over the past few years. Although its residents face challenges, Showcase Magazine highlights all that is positive about the area, with inspirational stories about people and businesses that have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. The magazine is free to the community, and is often the first thing visitors or prospective business owners will read when they travel to Danville.

Scott Brooks and his team will use Office 365 to work more efficiently. The magazine’s contributors often work from home or are mobile. Since team members have many duties, Office 365 will give them the ability to work wherever they are, while juggling responsibilities. Brooks believes collaboration is the key to the magazine’s creative success, and the flexibility of Office 365 will allow its contributors to focus on ideas, not computers.

Tri-Med Group: London, U.K. and Peterborough, N.H.

Business Owner: Peter Smith

Tri-Med supplies goods and services — including blankets, food and emergency shelter — to the international relief and development community, including United Nations and Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations. While technology has made operations easier for Tri-Med, which often opens temporary offices in different countries in response to major disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, famines and tsunamis, there is still room for improvement. When disaster strikes, time is critical, and communication is the lifeline to get people what they need to survive.

Tri-Med plans to use Office 365 to work seamlessly over several time zones, while monitoring the supply process and preparing proposals and reports on a round-the-clock basis, from virtually anywhere in the world. Making a difference to people in profound need is at the heart of business collaboration for Tri-Med.

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