BizSpark is a program to help young startups get all the software they need to run their businesses.
These are the requirements for entry:
- Actively engaged in development of a software-based product or service that will form a core piece of its current or intended business,
- Privately held,
- In business for less than 3 years, and
- Less than US $1 million in annual revenue.
The enrollment process seems simple, and the only external requirement is that you get an approval code from a Network Partner. I would assume this is easy to acquire, and allows you to be involved with a local mentor that can assist you.
This reminds me of the Zend Small Business program I used back during my first startup. It offered Zend's prime software tools for PHP at a greatly reduced cost as long as revenues were less than $250,000. Microsoft's program is completely free and offers much more software for every aspect of your business. I don't think Zend's program is around anymore.
Here's a PDF that explains all the details.
The software provided is an amazing array of software that covers a startup's needs completely: Windows, Office, Server, SQL Server, Expression Engine, Virtual PC, even Robotics Studio. Just about any high-end Microsoft software you can think of.
One important point is that after 3 years you must leave the program. Depending on your startup's revenues after 3 years, you may have a problem supporting the software platform. Over time you'll need to pay for new versions/upgrades, and licensing for your server software. It would be prudent to investigate these expenses before outfitting your startup.
An alternative recently announced by IBM is the Global Entrepreneur initiative. Here's a brief video. This initiative offers free software from IBM to assist nascent startups that focus on the industries covered in IBM's Smarter Planet program, including energy and utilities, health care, telecommunications, and government.
Updated April 6, 2010: See comment by Wade below. On further reading, use of Office is only for testing applications built for Office, not general "office" use. In such a case, using Remote Desktop to connect to Office for testing seems reasonable. Read the EULA in order to understand the limitations. There have been mixed reviews of the program.
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