Microsoft has launched a broad new effort, known as Microsoft BizSpark, to help entrepreneurs and startups get off the ground using Microsoft tools and technology.
The BizSpark effort, announced Nov. 5, is a global program to do just what the name suggests-help spark new companies to enter the business world. Dan’l Lewin, corporate vice president of strategic and emerging business development at Microsoft, said with BizSpark Microsoft will be providing entrepreneurs with access to Microsoft technology, support and visibility.
BizSpark provides startups and entrepreneurs with fast and easy access to current full-featured Microsoft development tools and production licenses of server products with no upfront costs and minimal requirements.
“We will provide access to our software with no upfront costs whatsoever-qualified through a set of network partners,” Lewin said. The software available to the BizSpark participants include Microsoft’s Visual Studio application development tool set and “and virtually all of our servers,” including Windows Server, SQL Server and other technologies, such as Windows Azure-Microsoft’s recently announced cloud computing platform, Lewin said.
Indeed, as part of BizSpark, Microsoft is providing startups with a three-year MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) Professional subscription, which enables them to download a broad set of development tools needed to build, test and maintain an application on the Microsoft platform, including Microsoft Visual Studio and the Microsoft .NET Framework. Through MSDN, BizSpark also provides professional support services and expert information resources.
For startups building hosted software, BizSpark includes production licenses for application hosting and management servers, including Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server, BizTalk Server and Systems Center, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM to be added soon, the company said.
Moreover, Microsoft will provide a worldwide network of hosting partners, offering discounted hosting services to startups that would like to take their business or product online using their BizSpark licenses. Also as part of the program, Microsoft will promote the startups on the BizSparkDB, an online startup directory, the company said.
And in addition to the core BizSpark offering, BizSpark startups also will be allowed access to the CTP (community technology preview) of the Azure Services Platform, a new computing platform that will help developers build the next generation of applications that will span from the cloud to the enterprise data center and deliver compelling new experiences across the PC, Web and phone.
The BizSpark startups also will have access to the CTP of the Live Framework, Microsoft’s framework for developers to access and consume Live Services. Live Services is a set of building blocks within the Azure Services Platform for handling user data and application resources, which includes Live Mesh technologies for synchronizing users’ data and extending Web applications across multiple devices, the company said.
Criteria for Participating in BizSpark
The criteria for participating in the BizSpark program? BizSpark is available worldwide to privately held startups building a software-based product or service that have been in business less than three years and have less than $1 million in revenue, Lewin said.
BizSpark provides startups with software, support and visibility early in their life cycle when those resources are most needed and least affordable, the company said. And as a demonstration of Microsoft’s commitment to startup success, a program fee of $100 is payable on exit from the program rather than upfront when joining, Lewin added.
More information about BizSpark and other startup resources is available at the Microsoft Startup Zone.
Speaking with eWEEK about Microsoft’s cloud effort and its potential impact on startups, John Shewchuk, a Microsoft technical fellow working in the company’s Connected Systems Division on cloud services, said:
“I just met with a bunch of startups and VCs [venture capitalists] on Friday, and they were all saying that as the cloud starts to show up, the amount of money that it takes to go do a startup, and how far people get along, is going down. And we think we have the opportunity really to change that even further. Microsoft’s core value prop for many years has been to simplify and to bring lots of technology to bear. We think we can continue to do that in this cloud space. So we can reduce the capital expenses. We can make the operating expenses lower. And we can reduce the overall development effort required to go build an app. So we can significantly change the productivity of the developers.“
Microsoft officials said BizSpark will leverage a global network of hundreds of organizations, such as economic development agencies, university incubators, hosters and investors, including The National Venture Capital Association and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). These BizSpark Network Partners provide guidance, mentorship and resources to help drive startup success, Microsoft said.
“We think Microsoft BizSpark addresses a fundamental challenge startups face: access to current, full-featured tools and technologies that help turn ideas into a thriving business,” said Suren Dutia, CEO of TiE Global, in a statement. “We will work closely with Microsoft to help startups bring their innovative solutions to market more quickly and effectively by providing educational programs, business mentoring and peer networking.”
“Entrepreneurs play a vital role in driving innovation and creating the kinds of new jobs that are essential to sustainable economic growth,” said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, in a statement. “Microsoft BizSpark is an exciting way for us to help provide business startups with the development tools, advice and exposure they need. We look forward to working with organizations and development agencies around the globe to foster entrepreneurship and help new companies succeed.”
Microsoft officials said the company will ensure that BizSpark members are notified of all programs of particular interest to startups, such as the Microsoft Web Platform Installer and Microsoft Web Application Installer, which make it easier for developers to bring compelling PHP and .NET Web applications to market faster, as well as design and development integration and prepackaged open-source applications that run well on the Microsoft Web Platform.
The launch of a program such as BizSpark indicates a change in climate for startups, many of which just a few years ago would likely look first to open-source technology. Even some VCs frowned on supporting projects based solely on Microsoft technology.
In speaking with eWEEK on the issue of startups and Microsoft technology, Shewchuk said:
“One of the things that I was most surprised to hear, particularly in Silicon Valley, was how much the mind shift has already started-that Silicon Valley used to be the place where Microsoft was evil. You couldn’t even develop on Microsoft technologies, and what we heard universally from people across the board, and these were not Microsoft “friendlies,” was, “Hey, we’re-in a sense, we’re kind of over that. We’re now looking out at the world in this new way, there’s a new thing emerging.” And to the extent Microsoft has useful, interesting pieces to play in here. This is no longer a religious battle.“
Added Lewin: “We have been doing reasonably well. There are always zealots focused on ‘Anything But Microsoft.’ But for the most part, startups are pragmatic, and they want to use what’s efficient.”