By Cliff Reeves

For the past year or so I’ve been working with a team at Microsoft on a project named BizSpark, which we launched worldwide starting on Nov 5th, 2008. BizSpark is the second in a family of programs designed for early-stage developers. The first program, DreamSpark, provides students with professional-level design and development tools. BizSpark takes that idea and expands it for high-tech startups.

There’s plenty of information about BizSpark on the sites I linked to above, and in the press. but as I haven’t posted at all for about nine months, I’ll use this post to get started again with some background and a less formal description of the program. I may add a couple more posts to answer some of the questions I’ve heard.

Why startups? We built a special program for technology-based startups because they foretell the future of technology in business. Thousands of new technology-based companies are started every year. While few achieve long-term success, every one provides us with a view of technology’s role in the context of a novel business opportunity.

What do they get? BizSpark gives startups software, support and visibility. There’s a detailed description here, but in short: software means all the Microsoft products they need to build, test and deploy their product, for three years; support includes 1:1 developer-level assistance with technical problems, as well as the community support provided by the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN); visibility is via the BizSpark DB on Microsoft’s StartupZone site.

The software offer is as comprehensive as we could make it. Startups get a MSDN premium subscription for three years, for each of their developers. Each subscription includes all of Microsoft’s Visual Studio and Expressions Studio developer tools, and all the platform software (Windows, Office, SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, etc) that they need to build and test the application. The majority of startups are also building web-based applications, which they’ll host themselves or though a hosting service provider like YouSaaS, OpSource or Peer1, so BizSpark also provides free server licenses to put those applications into production. The production license allow unlimited use of Windows Server, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, SharePoint Server and Systems Center during the three-year membership. We’ll be adding Windows CRM to that list soon.

In addition, startups get access to a number of “cloud services” from Windows Live, and they are guaranteed access to the Windows Azure Community Technology Preview.

What is a startup? Startup businesses must be less than three years old, earning less than $1M/year (the revenue limit is lower in some countries), and not yet publicly held, at the time they enter the program. They must be building a software-based product which directly serves their customers, rather than doing work for hire.

How do I get it? Startups can enroll on http://microsoft.com/BizSpark. There they’ll see a list of organizations (BizSpark Network Partners) any of whom can enroll them in their own country, or they can contact Microsoft directly. Here are some of the Network Partners a UK-based startup would see:

 

There are well over 900 BizSpark Network Partners worldwide so far. They represent the entrepreneurial ecosystem: organizations or individuals who help startups and have offered to make BizSpark available to the startups they work with.

If a startup would like help selecting a Network Partner, or does not wish to work with one, the site will connect them directly with a local Microsoft employee (a BizSpark Champ) who can recommend a Network Partner or can enroll the startup directly.

BizSpark Champs are Microsoft employees who are passionate about startups and so can enroll both Network Partners and startups. There are over 200 Champs worldwide. BizSpark is part of the job for some.

 Julien Codorniou, for example, runs the BizSpark program worldwide.

 Anand Iyer is a Champ in the Silicon Valley) and a wholly voluntary activity for others

 Bill Staples, a GM in the Server and Tools Business, is an avid blogger and volunteer Champ

How much does it cost? $100 payable at the end of three years membership.

More to follow in BizSpark 201