Microsoft and Dell to help bring 150 tech start-ups to full bloom

7 Nov 2008

Microsoft has unveiled an ambitious new approach to working with start-ups by providing them with free developmental tools and discounts on the purchase of hardware and hosting to free them up to win business and raise venture capital.

The new programme called BizSpark will see Microsoft provide start-ups and entrepreneurs easy access to development tools and server products with no upfront costs.

Unlike other BizSpark programmes elsewhere in the world, the Irish programme will include discounts on the purchase of Dell hardware and preferential rates from hosting providers like Blacknight, C-Infinity, Digiweb, Eircom and Hosting 365.

In terms of software, the programme will provide start-ups with access to current full-featured development tools, platform technologies and production licences of server products.

Sean Foley head of developer and platforms at Microsoft Ireland told that, in addition to the technology support, the programme will give start-ups credibility and opportunities to meet venture capitalists seeking investment opportunities.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there about the economy right now. But the very people who can do something about it are the start-ups that have to be the engine of growth for the Irish economy going forward,” Foley explained.

“We have connections, networks and resources, and BizSpark puts in place the three things most important to start-ups: cut the cost of development and deployment, reduce the cost of training and reduce the cost of hardware and hosting.

“It will also give them support for their business through resources such as research from parties like IDC, legal frameworks and visibility in the international business community.”

In terms of hardware discounts, Foley said that typically discounts will be in the range of 25pc to 29pc.

He said that because most technology start-ups will have some element of software as a service (SaaS) at the heart of their offering, securing preferential hosting deals with hosting provider was vital.

Microsoft itself is currently building its own data centre in Dublin which will host future products for the company, particularly those part of the Azure Cloud Computing family of products coming soon from the company.

Foley added that the programme is aimed at companies that are privately held and that are building a software product or service. “They must also be in business for less than three years and have less than €1m in revenue.

“We will give them all the software they need for development and deployment and we charge just US$100 when they graduate at the end of the three years.”

Foley said that the software giant is prepared to work with up to 150 companies that will sign up in the course of the coming year.

But what’s in it for Microsoft? “We want to catch the energy and vibrancy of these start-ups and encourage them to be part of our ecosystem. One of the largest early stage companies in the world – MySpace – runs everything on Microsoft, for example.”

Conor O’Riordan, chief executive of Trade Facilitate, a company that develops paper-free customs technology aimed at speeding up international trade for SMEs, said the BizSpark programme has enabled his company to go global by conquering the technology hurdle a rapid international expansion requires.

The company has worked with the EU and the UN to bring about smart electronic trade, and it has been deployed in Ireland, Finland, Latvia, Slovenia, France, Australia, as well as Ethiopia and Vietnam, to help SMEs navigate new electronic trading rules for physical goods shipments.

“Our SetDocs platform is based on Microsoft technology,” said O’Riordan. “We came to a point where we had all the internal innovation ,but moving it to international markets would have required a significant capital investment in technology. France has over 100,000 SMEs for example.”

As a result of the availability of technologies, O’Riordan was free to focus on business development and breaking open new markets, and as a result the company will go live in January with a technology that will facilitate paper-free trade for SMEs across Europe.

“Our vision is to provide our services on a SaaS basis by allowing firms that want to use SetDocs access it via the cloud. Developments like Microsoft Azure will be pivotal going forward,” O’Riordan said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years