Microsoft Corp. announced today that it’s willing to support startup founders with a combination of technology benefits such as free cloud computing credits and expert guidance in the form of technical support and mentorship.
To access those benefits, all that’s required is to sign up to the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, which is open to anyone with an idea and designed to address some of the most common challenges faced by startups.
Microsoft Cloud + AI Chief Operating Officer Charlotte Yarkoni said in a blog post that startups play a pivotal role in thriving ecosystems. Yet despite being vital to innovation, she said, the reality is that more than 90% of startups fail in their first year of business.
Microsoft is aiming to change that, and to do so, it’s offering three things. First, its platform is designed to eliminate the barriers faced by founders when they get started, such as the need for venture capital or third-party validation before accessing any kind of support. “To that end, unlike others in the industry, we don’t require startups to be ‘investor-backed’ to sign up and access benefits,” Yarkoni said.
The second is the technology benefits that will grow as each startup grows. Microsoft is offering up to $150,000 in credits for Microsoft Azure, based on a startup’s progress. So any founder in the “Ideate” stage will be provided with $1,000 worth of Azure credit for up to one year.
Once that credit has been used up, the startup can request a “Develop” credit of $5,000 for one year. Further progress will bring access to more than $100,000 worth of credits for development and productivity tools such as GitHub and Microsoft 365, Yarkoni added.
“Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub meets founders where they are, offering best-in-class developer tools and a breadth of cloud offerings across every function, so startups can reduce costs and accelerate development with a partner they can trust,” said Microsoft Cloud + AI Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie.
The technology benefits extend to artificial intelligence thanks to a partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI LLC, a research firm that aims to bring the benefits of AI to all of humanity. Under the partnership, Microsoft and OpenAI will provide $1,000 worth of credit plus a three-month OpenAI API Innovation License and free consultation with an OpenAI expert. Founders will be able to start building AI-powered products using GPT-3, said to be one of the most advanced language-based AI models in the world.
The third benefit to founders will be access to guidance and mentorship. Through the platform, they’ll be able to connect with a network of industry veterans in the Microsoft Mentor Network and seek expert advice and feedback on their ideas. The program will also provide access to a wealth of startup-centric training materials.
Earlier this year, Google Cloud announced a similar program that also provides up to $100,000 in credits for its cloud platform. With Microsoft now following suit, it’s clear that there’s a second motive at play, said analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc.
“Getting them in early is a common paradigm in many business models, and it applies to cloud as well,” Mueller said. “In that sense, IaaS vendors have their startup programs, trying to get nascent software companies to come to their cloud, with the hope they will stay there and eventually become a unicorn.”
Mueller explained that this approach is a win-win for both parties in the early phases, because the startups save on costs and can scale their software, while the cloud vendor gets more workloads. “For the startups, it’s necessary to evaluate their dependency on the cloud vendor and make sure it’s a good fit for their long term strategy,” Mueller added.
Although the combination of unrestricted access, cloud computing and AI credits and expert guidance may prove to be a tempting prospect for many founders, the caveat is that by taking advantage of such an offer, startups may very well pick up dependencies that effectively leave them locked in to a specific cloud service.
Microsoft’s vice president for Startups, Jeff Ma, chose to focus on the positive benefits of the program, saying the company wants to make the global startup ecosystem more representative of the world at large, regardless of background, location, progress or passion.
“As an experienced founder, access to a diverse network – to validate ideas, get advice and coaching – was instrumental in my success and is something we aim to provide to every founder through the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub,” Ma said.