Over the last few days you may have heard of Microsoft’s new program for startups, BizSpark. I am now a BizSpark Network Partner, so if you are interested in taking advantage of what Microsoft is offering please contact me at bob.walsh@47hats.com (Please, include the word BizSpark in the subject so I can spot it quicker.)
Before you do so, definitely have a look at the BizSpark FAQ and Portal to see if you/your company qualify.
Here’s the gist on BizSpark:

  • You get development-only licensing for everything from VS Team Studio to Excel for everyone developing in your startup for up to 3 years.
  • You get development and production licenses for up to 3 years for Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint and the other Microsoft servers you might want to use to power your web app.
  • You get an MSDN subscription that lets you into the moderated tech support groups and 2 tech support incidents a year.
  • You pay zip until you quit the program, or hit $1 million a year revenue, or the 3 years is up. Then you pay a disconnect fee of $100.
  • Your company has to be privately held, younger than 3 years, and be making less than $1 million year revenue when you enter the program.
  • You get BizSpark from a BizSpark Network Partner (various VCs, angel networks, user/startup groups and others) or from certain Microsoft employees.
  • BizSpark is global: some adjustments in price conditions in some countries.

I hope in the future Adobe, Apple, Google and Yahoo create similar programs for startups: they can make a huge difference in getting a microISV or startup off the ground.
Something I should make clear re my motivation here. Microsoft is not paying me to do this; in fact I expect it’s going to add to my workload. But what I am really focused on is helping microISVs and startups succeed.
They can be Rails/Mac startups like what I am now, they can be .NET developers chained to a cubicle, they can be any OS, platform, framework or language or combination thereof: it’s all good. That’s why I consult with (and work for) startups and microISVs, do this blog, co-moderate BOS, kicked off The Startup Success Podcast, write books and ebooks and will be launching a productivity web app especially for startups and microISVs (Project X) before year’s end.
Bob Walsh


  1. Bob,
    I’d love to take advantage of this but my company is more than 2 years old. But MLP has been around more than 2 years, so do you have to form a new DBA (Doing Business As, not DB Admin) or work on a new app?

  2. Bob Walsh Reply

    It’s 3 years Mr. A – but your company is past that. I’m seeking clarification from the BizSpark program manager re this and other issues lurking in the “in business for less than 3 years” qualification. For example, there’s http://fairsoftware.net. I’ll post what I learn here.

  3. Just a thought, but im pretty sure youll find that Google provides all their products for free already to all start ups. Free docs, free tracking software, free GWT platform, free website creator, free company email, and im sure ilve missed alot of other products.
    Don’t really know if being a BizSpark partner is much to be proud about really. Its just part of microsofts grand plan to get as much of its poor quality software into the market place before everyone realises there are some real quality alternatives that are free.

  4. Bob Walsh Reply

    Andrew – Google does indeed do those things (although some of them have more to do with providing advertising surface, but that’s a quibble). Further, Google has done three things for startups that I know of: the google desktop fund, the android development contest and I think they also put money into a VC fund for android development. All good things.
    As for Microsoft’s “poor quality software” well that’s debatable. I personally hate Vista, but made a few million bucks between ’89 and ’03 writing custom corporate desktop apps in Excel. Nothing can touch Excel.
    But just how useful is it to trash Microsoft? If their software not what you need, don’t use it. And your statement, “just part of microsofts grand plan to get as much of its poor quality software into the market place before everyone realises there are some real quality alternatives that are free”, well, that’s just plain silly. Whatever you think of Microsoft, it’s a nonsensical statement – I think pretty much anyone that codes has some idea of all the great open source tech out there and there’s little danger they won’t realize those tools exist just because of this program.
    Short version: get a life and build something! Use what works for you and your customers and leave don’t treat programming like its partisan politics – fortunately, it’s not.

  5. Interesting concept this is. I was thinking about the “Empower” program. We did it a few years ago where I work full-time and it turned out to be an excellent fit for us. Now we are a “Certified Partner” and moving up the ranks.
    But for me as a uISV, I am not sure which route to take now that the BizSpark thingy has come along. I would be interested in hearing what you find out about the 3 year clause thing. I have been selling a product for about 6 years so I am sure that I don’t meet the conditions. Sounds interesting none-the-less.
    On a side note, Microsoft and its products have been very good to me over the years and I have been through allot of years. Using MS products has allowed me to provide for my family and meet all my bills with some set aside for savings. I can’t say that I ask for much more than that. That does not mean I cannot do this with other products (and I am using other products too — Rails and Python interest me) but don’t fix what ain’t broke.
    +1 Bob.

  6. I have a few problems with this.
    1) Do you have to share your finances with Microsoft? If they have a $1 Million cap, how would they know?
    2) Microsoft is notorious for being a “look what they did, we can do that better” company. (Zune, Search Advertising, GUI, XBox, etc) Who’s to say they won’t take your idea? What does their TOS look like?
    3) Why just a $100 fee? That seems like such a strange number, especially when there is a $1 Million cap, AND a 3-year time frame. What’s the catch?
    I’m just being skeptical here.

  7. Bob, starts who joined the program must be below 1 M USD in revenues but they can grow as big as they want after enrollement.
    the 1M USD ceil only matters when they join.

  8. Bob Walsh Reply

    Ben –
    1. As far as I see, Microsoft takes you at your word re the $1 million dollar cap (that applies when you start – you can make as much as you want and stay in the program for 3 years).
    2. Does Microsoft have a history of imitating what other companies have done? All the way back to DOS, absolutely. I can remember when Excel came out – “all the features of Lotus 1-2-3, only better!”. But whether you are in BizSpark seems irrelevant – there is no IP disclosure from you to them. In fact, here’s the Startup Eligibility Requirements wording, straight from the BizSpark Statup Program Guide (on the BizSpark home page):
    Startup Eligibility Requirements:
    An eligible startup must have the following characteristics at the time of joining:
    • Actively engaged in development of a software-based product or service that will form a
    core piece of its current or intended business1,
    • Privately held,
    • In business for less than 3 years2, and
    • Less than US $1 million in annual revenue3.
    To be eligible to use the software for production and deployment of hosted solutions, startups
    must also be developing a new “software as a service” solution (on any platform) to be
    delivered over the Internet.
    I don’t see anything in that that requires your startup to be 100% or even 10% Microsoft-centric.
    3. The $100 fee is lame – I guess there’s some justification for it ala a disconnect fee. Or maybe it’s an offering to bean counters to keep them quiet. Would you prefer to pay that up front? 🙂
    Re what’s the catch? Well, see the post after this one….

  9. I would like to join this program but as uISV I am still not incorporated (working on weekends and nights) and it is not applicable. I am happy to have Express versions of VS. As for other (Google, Apple, etc.) this is good example to follow.

  10. Bob Walsh Reply

    Ross, assuming you are in the U.S., doing business as a Sole Proprietor is perfectly legitimate for purposes of IRS and I believe for BizSpark. You probably should do a DBA “Appraisal Mind Software” in your county, but even that’s not manditory if you are simply going to use your name as your business name.
    That said, it’s a dumb idea to sell software that way because a) if you are sued, you get sued – there is no business apart from you, b) most people prefer to buy from companies, c) lots of tax reasons why you want to be structured as an LLC or S Corp.

  11. you don t have to be incorporated to join Bizspark. if you plan to create an ISV in the next few months, you can join right now

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  13. Bob,
    I wanted to give you props for the Startup 101 session. I thought it was a great webcast series. In my opinion it is really nice to see Microsoft kickoff the BizSpark initiative right after the Startup 101 sessions. With that said I have a few questions for you.
    Do you know what happens after three years? Can you still use the current software you had access to through the BizSpark program after the three year commitment runs out?
    Do you think there will be a time limit towards jumping on the BizSpark initiative? Do you think this will stick around?

  14. Bob,
    I’ve dug through the documentation, and also understand that VSTS is licensed per user … if we meet the criteria and have (4) developers, does that mean we qualify for (4) VSTS licenses through BizSpark?

  15. Bob Walsh Reply

    John – thanks, it was a lot of hard work. After 3 years, 1) You need to pay for regular development and production licenses for all software and 2) Everything still works, but your MSDN premium subscription goes away so you can’t get updates/upgrades.
    Re time limit when to jump on BizSpark – none that I know of. I can’t see a reason why Microsoft would do anything but improve/extend BizSpark as time goes by: they really want web apps on their stack.
    Kam – Yes it does. Figuring that’s what, $3k a developer, that’s $12K you save right there. Email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word BizSpark in the subject if you want to apply through me.

  16. Too bad about the 3-yr limit. I formed my business (LLC) a few years ago, but then gave away my first product for quite a while before getting serious and “going commercial”.
    Otherwise, my company could be a perfect fit.

  17. Bob Walsh Reply

    Well, there’s no law saying you have to be one company – and sole proprietorship is fine for BizSpark….

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  19. Hi Bob,
    I was wondering if you could help clarify what happens after the program ends.
    I’m looking at their FAQ and it says, “Startups can continue to use the development tools they previously obtained through the program. If Startups wish to continue to receive updates to development tools, Startups can renew their MSDN subscription at usual rates and terms.”
    So I assume that means after 3 years we can continue to use the software free-of-charge? And only if we decided to get updates do we need to pay the full price?
    My main concern is that we incorporated about 2 years ago, so if we join, then we can only be in the program for 1 more year. And if we’re required to purchase the full license after the 3rd year then I need to budget accordingly.
    * * *
    Also, if you don’t mind another question, is the 3 year term based on when you incorporated or when you started to sell?
    Because even though we incorporated last year, we didn’t begin to sell until this year.
    Thanks for the help!

  20. Bob Walsh Reply

    Hi Jackson,
    1. You can after leaving BizSpark continue using the development tools (note- not the production licenses!), but until you buy a regular MSDN subscription, you don’t get updates/upgrades. Now that will work for a while, but if there’s one thing Microsoft does is fix/update their software! So realistically, you’re going to need MSDN.
    2. You can be in BizSpark 3 years – regardless of whenever you formed your startup company:
    From http://download.microsoft.com/download/4/d/4/4d41081a-d8d9-407a-9bae-5127e6e931ca/BizSpark%20Startup%20Program%20Guide.pdf:
    How long can I participate in BizSpark?
    For three years (renewed annually), unless the Startup goes public, is acquired by a company which does
    not qualify for BizSpark, or fails to abide by BizSpark’s terms and conditions in the Program Materials.
    3. re business in business, it says: “In business for less than 3 years[2], and
    (this is the footnote: 2 Startups who are actively engaged in software development but have not yet completed the formalities of establishing a business are also eligible for entry into BizSpark.)
    In your case the issue is moot (see #2:) but if it were not, I would say it’s open to interpretation – MSFT also says (see above) ” but have not yet completed the formalities of establishing a business” – so you can get in before you incorporate….
    What Microsoft wants to promote is new startups using their stack, startups being (as far as I interpret it) that you have one code base you sell for money to many people. It doesn’t matter whether that codebase is compiled and run on a desktop or just runs on a server. But – and this case has come up several times: you’ve got to be selling SaaS or a product: custom developers/consultants/bespoke developers/freelancers/members of teams of big companies – you, AS SUCH, are not eligible. In other words, you’re a contractor, launching your own startup? Great – here you go. Contractor who plans to continue doing code for other people – best wishes, but no go.

  21. Bob, is the generous offer of bizspark sponsorship still open? I sent an email over the holiday season, and I’m worried it might have been eaten en-route by a spam filter.
    My MicroISV is just starting out on a .net music product, and BizSpark seems like a really good fit for me.

  22. Bob Walsh Reply

    John – It is: I’m in email catchup mode at the moment.

  23. Thank you so much for contacting me so quickly after my email. It looks like a great program (BizSpark)but it takes great people like you to make it happen. It only took a few moments to sign up and now I am waiting for the backend stuff to process through. Wrapping up design so the timing is going to be great.

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  25. Justin Magaram Reply

    It isn’t clear to me how to retain the same set of benefits after the 3 years end. What is a typical/normal path for a small startup company after the 3 years? Team Suite retail is very expensive. Empower offers Visual Studio Professional, not one of the team versions. I’ve looked at the Microsoft partner web site and find it very confusing with all the different types of partners and “points”. If I want to get Team Suite after the 3 years at a substantial “partner” or “slpa” discount, what do I need to do? I don’t want to take tons of hours of classes to earn points – I’m fully capable of learning all the tech stuff on my own.

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