BUDDING software developers in Singapore have been offered a Microsoft software carrot worth tens of thousands of dollars - in return for a token US$100 subscription fee which they do not even have to pay upfront.
This initiative, dubbed BizSpark, was launched in Singapore last Thursday by the software giant with 11 local partners, and with support from the Media Development Authority (MDA), Spring Singapore and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
Launched globally around three weeks ago, on Nov 5, BizSpark targets private start-ups that are creating software-based products and services. To qualify, firms must be younger than three years old and earning less than US$1 million in annual revenue.
Speaking to BizIT, Microsoft Singapore managing director Jessica Tan said the current financial crunch has heightened this scheme's relevance. 'In a time when banks are tightening their purse strings and regulations on lending, getting the essential capital to jumpstart and grow their business has become very challenging. For start-ups, a technology investment of $5,000 could be potentially significant and one that they may not be able to afford,' she said.
And Microsoft will profit simply from having a more robust software ecosystem, she said. 'It just makes good sense to identify and help our next batch of successful partners, and as these companies grow and succeed, we will all benefit.'
Some industry observers have also noted that BizSpark could aid Microsoft's cause in its battle with the open source camp, which has been gaining foothold because of open source software's relative lower cost of entry.
John Fernandes, director of Developer and Platform Evangelism for Microsoft Singapore, told BizIT that a five-person start-up can save at least US$75,000 over three years. 'If you go online to a retail website like Amazon.com you can search on the software products we're providing and get a sense of the prices and costs. To an entrepreneur or college student starting a business, US$10,000 or US$20,000 can be a prohibitive cost,' he said.
Under BizSpark, start-ups will get free access to a wide range of Microsoft development tools, technical support and a new Microsoft cloud computing platform dubbed the Azure Services Platform. There will also be discounted hosting services. Eligible start-ups can stay on the scheme for three years.
A membership requisite is an endorsement from one of Microsoft's designated network partners, which include venture capital (VC) firms, incubators and Web-hosters. A US$100 programme fee will be payable when start-ups exit the scheme.
During last Thursday's launch, Microsoft announced that 12 local start-ups had signed up. One of them, location-based services portal ShowNearby, believes it will save over US$12,000 monthly. 'Potentially, with (the upcoming) Windows Azure, we should able to save even more money, with an additional US$3,000 in monthly savings over the next 12 months,' said company co-founder Douglas Gan.
Justine Ho, co-founder of photo-sharing and photo-selling firm Phlook, said the firm expects 'considerable savings' over the next three years, as well as support and exposure benefits from leveraging BizSpark partners.
Microsoft is expecting membership to swell to 150 start-ups in a year. 'We spoke to our partners, looked at the market size and the target of 150 was agreed. But that's just a target and I hope we'll be able to exceed that number handily,' Mr Fernandes said.
BizSpark partner, VC firm Azione Capital, said the scheme will help it reach out to a larger pool of start-ups. 'Since the global launch of BizSpark, we've received enquiries from 23 start-ups already and hope that the momentum will continue in the coming year,' said executive director and partner Nicholas Chan.
Another BizSpark partner Upstream Ventures is also eyeing new funding targets. Co-founder and partner Pierre Hennes said the firm joined this scheme because it is 'in line with our mission to accelerate a startup's time to market'.
Microsoft's other local partners are Thymos Capital, Frontedge Capital, Business Angel Network of South East Asia (BANSEA), Expara, Extream Ventures, iAXIL, NUS Entrepreneurship Centre, Aksaas and Webvisions. They are expected to offer guidance and mentorship to start-ups.
Mr Fernandes said that 750 start-ups have signed up to BizSpark since its worldwide launch. The programme will be rolled out in 80 countries before year-end, he added.
For more information about BizSpark, visit www.microsoftstartupzone.com