How Microsoft BizSpark Is Doing With Startups—And How It Can Do Better

Last November, Microsoft began an ambitious experiment. It would offer free software, development tools, and technical support to startup companies around the world, in exchange for getting its technology into the hands of young developers—and a small fee when startups exit the program. BizSpark, as the program is called (not to be confused with BigPark, the gaming company Microsoft said it is acquiring last week), seems like exactly the type of outreach the Redmond, WA, company needs to do to nurture local software clusters and get its stuff out there into the hands of innovative entrepreneurs.

Now, six months later, Bizspark has launched in nearly 40 countries and has hit 12,000 companies enrolled. “That’s slightly above our plan, and well beyond our expectations,” says Cliff Reeves, general manager of Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team. “We wanted to really push ourselves.”

I wanted to hear more about how the program is doing globally as well as in the Seattle area, where it still seems like relatively few startups use Microsoft’s technology (versus cheaper or free open-source alternatives). Worldwide, Reeves says, growth has been fairly constant and has been driven by big events like Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in late October, and by social networks like Twitter since then. “Strangely, there has been very little sniping,” Reeves says, referring to the feedback his team has received so far—one might have expected more complaints about terms, clunky features, or unresponsiveness from the Redmond behemoth. “One unique element is that we work through communities. Our network partner model has worked really well.”

Sixty percent of BizSpark companies are entering the program through these network partners, which number 1,300 worldwide (41 in Washington state). These are organizations that work with startup communities, like the Association of Shareware Professionals, TiE, Mashable, 47Hats, venture organizations, and nPost in Seattle. The approach seems to have kept Microsoft in better touch with its early startup customers, and has built up some good will. Reeves says hosting companies like GoDaddy, Peer1, and Rackspace also have provided support for the Microsoft platform, and are starting to enroll companies in BizSpark.

In terms of geography, the top six countries for BizSpark startups are the U.S. (with a third of them), followed by the United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia, India, and China. “Emerging markets are playing a major role,” Reeves says. “There’s tremendous demand for entrepreneurship there.” Within the U.S., the pattern fits what you might expect: a huge cluster in Silicon Valley, followed by smaller clusters in Boston, northern Virginia, Austin, TX, and Washington state.

Which brings us to the Seattle area. Microsoft has always had a global view, but most local developers I’ve talked to think it should reach out and take better advantage of the … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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