If you're a founder and hungry for cloud credits, Microsoft has a hub for you
Step right this way, budding Azure addicts – er, sorry, entrepreneurs
Microsoft has flung open the doors to its Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, a means for the Windows giant to give people free Azure credits to run stuff on its cloud.
Microsoft for Startups replaced Redmond's BizSpark program in 2018, and gave out freebie licenses for selected Microsoft products, Azure credits, and various perks for entrepreneurs and startups.
Last year, Microsoft privately previewed its latest iteration of that program, Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, and on Tuesday made it generally available. We're told the IT titan has reduced or removed various requirements for entry; for example, no prior funding is needed to enter the hub. You still need to Founders Hubsuccessfully apply to take part.
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Said to be "open to anyone with an idea," this program is supposedly geared toward those who want to gradually build a business as their product grows, with Azure credits dispensed along the way. At the "Ideate" or prototyping stage, Redmond will provide $1k in cloud spending tokens. At the "Develop" stage, in which one gets a minimally viable product up and running, you can expect $5k in credits, and so on. Up to $150k of Microsoft Azure spending is available to those who successfully join this hub.
"We removed restrictive timelines and inflexible benefits so founders can save money and develop with the tools they need the most at their own pace," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "The credits are ranked by tier depending on what phase the startups are in. If a startup runs out of credits, they have options to unlock more."
Mentoring, training, networking, and technical support are all included, we're told, as well access to products, including 20 seats of GitHub Enterprise and five of Visual Studio Enterprise for one year; 10 seats of Microsoft 365; and seats for the Power and Dynamics 365 platforms. A three-month OpenAI Innovation License, with access to GPT-3, and a consultation with an OpenAI expert is also potentially available.
The downside? Well, for one, it isn't a return to the BizSpark of old. Some readers may recall the joy of snaffling access to Microsoft's on-prem server products via this program, whereas now you're being mainly nudged onto Azure and Redmond's software-as-a-service offerings. By the way, if you were in BizSpark and received more than $10k in Azure freebies, a rejection from Microsoft for Startups is likely.
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Microsoft is also a bit sniffy about which startups it will accept. Privately held businesses expecting to make a profit are fine, so long as they have nothing to do with Bitcoin or cryptomining. Educational institutions, consultancies, and government entities are also out.
A LinkedIn account is also essential.
As with its predecessors, Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub is handy thing for entrepreneurs who have both an idea and a lack of resources to realize it. The criteria for eligibility, such as not requiring a prior stamp of approval by outside investors, and various benefits, such as the OpenAI API access, are more than welcome.
However, as with many schemes of this type, there is always more to it than just altruism. Should your startup soar, there is every chance that you'll be so deeply entrenched in Microsoft's ecosystem that it'll be a very short hop from Ideate, Develop, Grow, and Scale, to Locked-In Paying Customer. ®