By Rieva Lesonsky

This year National Entrepreneurship Week (NEW) arrives February 20-24. Microsoft is playing a key role—taking the lead to create community awareness in this celebration of entrepreneurs across America.

I talked to Cindy Bates, Vice President US SMB and Distribution, at Microsoft to learn more about the program.

Rieva Lesonsky: Why does Microsoft think it’s important to “celebrate” entrepreneurs?

Cindy Bates: As a company that believes in driving change, innovation and growth, we support and celebrate the people who also believe in these things. Entrepreneurs are on the forefront of innovation. They’re risk-takers, explorers, dreamers and daredevils. Microsoft is passionate about empowering entrepreneurs with technology and resources to help spark innovation and fuel growth—and ultimately to empower every person on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft is committed to driving business transformation for entrepreneurs and business owners today and into the future.

Lesonsky: What events will be taking place during the week?

Bates: Along with the broad range of contributions coming from the community of supporters, we’ve organized a series of activities throughout the week mapping to daily themes like Innovation, Youthpreneur, Boomerpreneur, and Women in Business. Activities include a kickoff event for entrepreneurs, partners and customers in New York City. There will be a virtual webcast from the Yelp headquarters, and in Seattle, Chase Jarvis will hold a panel session at Creative Live studios. Additionally, there will be events at Microsoft Stores throughout the week. I will be onsite at the kickoff event for an interactive panel featuring entrepreneurial success stories and business leaders from Yelp, Wix and others who have turned their startups into successful enterprises. I’ll also be hosting a Facebook Live session on the 21st with Wix. Check out Microsoft’s new website for more info.

Lesonsky: How can entrepreneurs and small business owners participate?

Bates: There are plenty of ways to get involved! Entrepreneurs from across the country can actively participate in our scheduled program of events and panels in-person, in stores or on the web. You can also follow along and engage in the conversation on Twitter with @MSFT_Business and on theMicrosoft in Business Facebook page. Don’t forget to follow and use the #WININBIZ hashtag!

Lesonsky: What can entrepreneurs learn from these events?

Bates: Day to day National Entrepreneurship Week will follow a variety of topics; there’s something for everyone whether you decide to watch one of the webcasts or attend an event in-person. In addition to a healthy dose of inspiration, participants and attendees can expect to learn about new business technology and strategies, and the wealth of resources that are available to entrepreneurs. For instance, the webcast we have planned with Yelp will focus on how businesses can more effectively build and make the most of their web presence, with tools like Office 365, Bookings and Yelp. We are also running a special edition of Small Business Academy hosted by Microsoft Office that will share the best tools and practices Office has to offer small businesses and startups.

Lesonsky: This is the first of what will be an annual event. Are there plans to take this global?

Bates: Microsoft products and services are helping entrepreneurs all over the world, but for the time being we are focusing on fine-tuning this as a national event.

Lesonsky: You’ve been working in the entrepreneurial space for quite a while now. What’s one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in that time in how entrepreneurs operate their businesses?

Bates: The business world is becoming increasingly mobile and nimble, which presents both challenges and opportunities. Whether it’s employees using their own devices, working remotely, or regularly working with teams in other locations, it has become more important than ever that entrepreneurs can provide flexible work options without compromising security or efficiency. Customer expectations have evolved, and will continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace—businesses need to be empowered to adapt to meet their changing demands. We recently conducted a survey to small business consumers, and the results showed that customers are expecting more than ever to interact digitally with businesses. For instance, 70% of customers we surveyed say it’s important they have access to information about their interactions, including purchase history, shipment tracking, customer service help, and more. Providing this capability via the cloud for customers was unheard of just a few years ago—and this is just one example. It’s crucial we anticipate what’s next and keep up with the rapid pace of our customers.

Lesonsky: What is one big change you think entrepreneurs should make this year to be more successful?

Bates: Small business owners invest their blood, sweat, tears and—in many cases—their entire worth on their businesses. So, making decisions on behalf of their businesses based on assumptions or gut feelings isn’t enough. Hard data is a small business’s secret weapon in keeping pace with the competition and in winning and keeping customers. To understand how to grow and evolve their organization, a business owner should lean on data to help them anticipate the next big thing—whether that be an untapped industry opportunity or emerging customer need. Most businesses today have a wealth of data already on hand that will provide insight into exactly these things, but many don’t know how to stitch it all together to uncover the opportunities that will propel their business forward. For instance, customer purchase history data can help businesses better identify when they’ll need to stock up on certain products. And web traffic patterns give insight into the best times to target customers with ads and offers. Solutions such as Office 365, Power BI, and SQL Server are key in unlocking insights from the data businesses already have at their fingertips.