SAN FRANCISCO — Nov. 5, 2008 — When it comes to successful technology ventures, some of the biggest in history started in garages and apartments in Silicon Valley.
The region’s celebrated reputation for entrepreneurship offered a fitting backdrop for Microsoft’s announcement of Microsoft BizSpark, a program designed to give young companies a boost at a time when credit and funding are more difficult to come by. The worldwide launch of Biz Spark was announced this week at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.
The program targets early stage software startups, with resources including access to Microsoft platform software and development tools with no upfront costs. The program will also provide access to technical support and marketing visibility from Microsoft, as well as support through a select group of network partners – industry associations, government agencies, university incubators and investors – chartered with advancing entrepreneurialism.
To share more details about BizSpark, PressPass spoke with Dan’l Lewin, corporate vice president for Strategic and Emerging Business Development at Microsoft, along with Nick Ganju, founder and chief technical officer of ZocDoc, a site that helps consumers find a dentist or doctor online. ZocDoc is a year-old Web service that just announced a new round of Series A funding from some of technology’s most prominent investors, including Khosla Ventures, Bezos Expeditions (the personal investment company of Jeff Bezos), and Marc Benioff.
PressPass: First off, can you give us a little more detail on BizSpark and what the program is designed to do?
Lewin: BizSpark is a global program designed to help accelerate the success of entrepreneurs and early stage startups. It provides fast, easy access to full-featured Microsoft development tools and server products. It was developed with the life cycle of the startup in mind so there are no upfront costs and minimal eligibility requirements. Based on our research and feedback from the startup community, we think it provides a very compelling opportunity to help get startups off the ground.
The program is supported by a global network of organizations such as economic development agencies, university incubators, hosters and investors. These include the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), European Business Angel Network (EBAN) and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). These organizations provide guidance, mentorship and resources to help drive startup success.
We’re also launching the BizSpark DB at www.MicrosoftStartupZone.com/bizsparkdb, where we will promote startups that are developing innovative software applications
Nick Ganju, Founder and Chief Technical Officer of ZocDoc, a company that has benefited from Microsoft’s BizSpark program.
around the world. This will be a place for startups to get visibility with an audience of potential investors, clients, partners and peers. Through our global presence and our ecosystem of partners, we’re in a great position to help bring attention to some of the great innovation happening in the marketplace.
PressPass: How do those elements apply to emerging businesses in particular?
Ganju: The cost of software is a significant investment even for a well-established company. When you start a technology business on your dining room table, saving thousands on software is really a make or break proposition. You don’t have the money to license high-end software or hire consultants to come in and set up databases.
So to have a program like this, which provides access to the highest level of products such as SQL Server Enterprise or Windows Server 2008, really is a fantastic benefit. It erases the biggest barrier between a true enterprise software suite like Microsoft offers, versus an open source or other technology. We can truly run our business on the latest Microsoft technologies, for three years, at no cost. It’s good news for a developer and entrepreneur like me.
Lewin: Startups need solid technology platforms, technical support and visibility to develop and grow their businesses. We believe that BizSpark addresses these three needs and brings value to software entrepreneurs, especially through the guidance and mentorship that our Network Partners provide.
PressPass: What are the advantages to working with Microsoft?
Ganju: Microsoft software is easy to set up. With some of the open source software there are a lot of back-end “config” files, all of which must be set up manually. With Microsoft, it just works. So there’s no beating it in terms of setup and configuration, especially when you’re a startup and doing all that yourself.
Microsoft also works equally well for desktop and Web applications. We knew we had to write both, because the doctors needed desktop applications to configure their ZocDoc times on a day-to-day basis. Evaluating the different platforms, we looked at Ruby, Java, and others, and they were adequate for the Web, but their desktop solutions didn’t look good. Writing in C# and ASP.NET, we’re able to get good looking and responsive desktop applications, as well as full-fledged capabilities for the Web.
Dan’l Lewin, Corporate Vice President for Strategic and Emerging Business Development at Microsoft.
PressPass: How is ZocDoc involved with BizSpark?
Ganju: Microsoft approached us about this program recently and gave us early access to the BizSpark website, where we could download and implement software like SQL Server 2008 or Team Foundation server software we could not afford before.
All of our development team members now have access to MSDN, and we will be featured as the most innovative startup of the week on BizSpark DB. That level of support would not be feasible with an open source solution. It just doesn’t exist.
PressPass: How does BizSpark fit into Microsoft’s overall strategy to support emerging businesses?
Lewin: Microsoft has been committed to helping developers succeed from day one – our first product was BASIC. We have programs and tools for a wide variety of developers across a broad range of technologies and markets. Developers are the engine that drives the software economy, which in turn creates value for society at large. The more we see innovation, new partners and new software companies coming into the market, the healthier the software economy is as a whole.
In my eight years with Microsoft, we have greatly enhanced the value and depth of our partnerships with entrepreneurs. Our programs range from DreamSpark, for students and universities, to the Startup Accelerator program for VC-backed startups. We also support global innovation centers around the world, and we continue to work with governments and universities on encouraging and mentoring entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Microsoft has always been committed to developers, and today’s startups represent the next generation of partners for Microsoft. Many successful companies have developed using Microsoft platforms: MySpace.com, OpenTable.com, Loopt, Jajah, Imeem, Plenty of Fish, Miyowa in France, WAYN.com in the UK. BizSpark builds on this strong history of supporting software entrepreneurs.
PressPass: What happens after three years of participation in BizSpark?
Ganju: After three years, when ZocDoc will be a much larger company, we’ll be in a much better position to invest in Microsoft software. We think ZocDoc has great potential and is going to be part of a giant market. Microsoft is helping us get to that point, beginning to pay the licensing fees after three years is not just fair, it’s generous. Software costs represent less than 10 percent of our overall hosting costs. We will not take a significant hit in our P&L. It is a very fair deal.
Lewin: After exiting the program, startups will keep the perpetual licenses for all the development and design tools. To continue to receive updates to the tools and the development platform, the startup can renew its MSDN subscription. To continue to use the production licenses, startups may choose to take advantage of a licensing program such as Microsoft’s Services Provider License Agreement program (or other Microsoft licensing programs that may be available at the time), but are in no way obliged to do so.
Additionally, we will make sure that all partners get a smooth transition from BizSpark to a traditional Microsoft partner program, which is widely recognized as one of the best in the industry.
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.
PressPass: How can companies get started with BizSpark?
Lewin: Startups can enroll in BizSpark through a Network Partner. If they are not already engaged with a Network Partner, they can go to Microsoft.com/BizSpark and we will help them to find one or connect them with a designated Microsoft Employee who can help them enroll.
To get more information about the program, Startups can go to MicrosoftStartupZone.com.
The bottom line is this—if you think your startup is innovative, let us know. We’ll set you up with the tools and the support you need, and help to promote you too.