The one question founders have asked me in my {volunteer} role successfully sponsoring 350+ startups into Microsoft BizSpark is why Microsoft declined their startup. Sometimes the applicant will wait weeks only to get declined; sometimes it takes mere minutes.
Nearly always the founder/applicants are shocked, hurt, frustrated: Can’t Microsoft see what a great startup we are? Don’t they care?
Well, they do and they don’t. Let me explain.
Let’s assume you meet BizSpark’s qualifications. And, let’s assume you’re not a development shop, custom software business or something else that’s not a software for-profit startup.
The key question is, do you look like a startup? Do you walk, talk and quack like a startup? Is it blindingly obvious you are a startup bringing to market commercial software?
If it’s not, then do what you have to do to make it so before you apply to BizSpark.
The people at Microsoft who decide if you’re going to get into BizSpark are not mindreaders. They need to see you spelling out things for them and the rest of the world.
The way I think of it is there’s some poor sap in Seattle, sitting all day long in front of a Windows PC, who has the unenviable job of:

  1. Screening out all the XBox kiddies who apply because they want free software,
  2. Screening out all the consultants, developers, and oddballs who want free software,
  3. Pushing the approve button after a 30-second reviewing your startup’s site — or not.

Why don’t they spend the tens of minutes needed to click through each and every part of your site, carefully analyzing each and every bit of your prose, then mulling all this information over so that like a spiritual awakening, they at last perceive your inner-startupness and grant you your due?
Because, like your prospective customers, they are not going to do that. Unless you can make a clear case for your startup and the software it is going to offer, you’re going to get at most 30 seconds before getting a big fat no.
Here’s some obvious things you should do on your startup’s index page to qualify:

  • Explain what you’re bringing to market and why: “Acme [or whatever your company’s name is] is a startup building [whatever you software is named] for the [whatever market/industry you’re in] that [your key differentiator and your software’s main claim to fame]. Yes, use the word startup.
  • Fill in, “The X founders have Y years of experience in industry/market z and have founded this startup to bring software A to market because [fill in the blank]. Or whatever is your story why you are founding a startup and why you’re going to be successful. Make yourself credible.

In other words, don’t be shy: tell the world (and Microsoft) why you’ve launched a startup, what your software will do and why anyone but especially the people in a your market or industry should care. And just like every other real company with a web site put your name, physical address and phone in the footer, and have a page about the founders listing real people.
It’s easy as a startup founder to get completely wrapped up in your startup — and completely lose perspective. No. One. Cares. Until you clearly explain what’s in it for them, and make a public commitment to what you are building. Then, maybe, they (and Microsoft) will keep reading your site. Who knows, they may actually take a step that leads to a sale, whether that sale is for $10 a month or $10,000 a month or more.
If you clearly spell out what your software will do and who you are and why you’re going to build a startup to make that software real, then your odds of getting approved are greatly improved – even without one of the 20 17 special codes I have been entrusted with by the BizSpark team.
If you don’t do that, I won’t sponsor you and probably neither will Microsoft.

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