The company called BizSpark "a program designed to give young companies a boost at a time when credit and funding are more difficult to come by." It could also help seed Silicon Valley garages with Microsoft technology and create future customers for the software maker.
Under the program, qualified startups get access to Microsoft technology and services, such as SQL Server Enterprise and Windows Server 2008, and some marketing support, for up to three years with little or no up-front costs. Microsoft also launched BizSpark DB, a Web site where startups can expose themselves to investors, partners, and potential customers.
Microsoft needs to reach out to startups, as new companies have more technology options than ever. Google for the past year has been pitching its hosted Google Apps offering as a means for businesses to upgrade their IT systems without having to make a large initial investment. Open source software packages, like Linux and Apache, also are making headway in numerous markets.
"With three years to get their business going without worrying about software costs, we hope these young companies can concentrate on what we all want -- building successful and sustainable businesses," said Dan'l Lewin, corporate VP and president for strategic and emerging business development at Microsoft.
Amid the credit crunch, other tech vendors are devising programs under which customers can continue to access technology.
On its Web site, IBM says it's still lending, but does not spell out terms. "Beat the credit crunch," IBM's site says. "While your competitors sit back and wait out the tight credit market, you can leverage IBM Global Financing's world-class financing expertise not only to support current operations, but to expand your business as well," the site promises.
IBM Global Financing's asset base is nearly $38 billion.
To launch BizSpark, Microsoft has partnered with a number of investment and development groups, including the National Venture Capital Association, the European Business Angel Network, and Indus Entrepreneurs.