By Jonathan Goodyear
Just about every software developer dreams of one day launching his/her own startup business. You think of dozens of must have products and services, but for some reason you never breathe life into them. The two big problems are that startups are very expensive and time consuming. While you may be perfectly willing to donate the sweat equity necessary to get your startup off the ground in the labor department, software licenses and hosting can catapult the price of the project out of many peoples reach. In my case, I had to build up a successful consulting business for 10 years before I felt comfortable enough to fund my own startup, http://PlumReward.com (about which I write many times here so you all can avoid the mistakes I ve made).
This is where Microsoft s new BizSpark program comes to the rescue (http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark/). BizSpark offers startups access to licenses for the latest and greatest design tools, like Expression Studio v2, development tools like Visual Studio Team System 2008: Team Suite, operating systems like Windows Server 2008, server tools like SQL Server 2008 and SharePoint, and productivity tools like Microsoft Office Ultimate. If you have technical problems, you get two technical support incidents.
The BizSpark program also can assist your startup with hosting services, as well as help put you in contact with mentors and potential investors for your product/service. The cost of the program is only $100 and you don t even have to pay it until you leave the program. It s a pretty amazing offering, to say the least.
Of course, not every startup will qualify for the program. The basic constraints are that the startup:
- Is in the business of software development.
- Is privately held.
- Has been in business for less than three years.
- Has less than US$1 million in annual revenue.
Additionally, you must be creating a product/service that will be delivered over the Internet. Essentially, if you re a Web developer grinding it out right now in a corporate job, but have a dream to get going with a startup, you re most likely going to qualify for the program. Your startup must renew its membership annually, and may remain a member of the program for up to three years. After that, you can continue using for free the software you obtained through the program, or you can sign up for one of Microsoft s licensing agreements to continue to get the latest versions, updates, and support.
I really like this program, because it puts an official face on a rarely discussed, but relatively widely known, policy that Microsoft has had for many years of quietly ignoring software licensing infractions by small startups until they were mature enough to afford the fees. This policy has enabled many companies to get off the ground using Microsoft technology vs. using lower quality (in my opinion) open source alternatives. At the end of the day, though, it is an illegal activity (even with the best of intentions), so many on the level developers don t feel right about doing it. BizSpark allows Microsoft to openly support the startup community, where it has only passively supported it in the past by not pursuing small-time licensing infringements.
BizSpark is the logical evolution of the DreamSpark program launched last year, which gave students access to Microsoft products (http://www.dreamspark.com). Again, this brings legitimacy and legality to the distribution of Microsoft technologies on campuses worldwide, whereas before, software was shared behind closed doors. Capturing the minds of students is a great way to ensure that Microsoft technology remains the technology of choice in business for years to come.
Along with the launch of BizSpark, there also is the Microsoft Startup Zone Web site, which is a portal to put startups in contact with fantastic resources (http://www.microsoftstartupzone.com). There is some really great material out there that can help answer the many technical and business questions associated with running a startup. You also can register your startup in the BizSparkDB, which is a way to get your startup some publicity and get noticed by potential investors.
So, get those creative juices flowing again, because the list of excuses why YOU can t be the master of your own startup just got a lot shorter.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT (http:// www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and co-author of ASP.NET 2.0 MVP Hacks (Wrox). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto: [email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http:// www.angryCoder.com.