Microsoft BizSpark offers start ups “affordable access” to tech resources

Microsoft Corp. says its recently launched software and technology service program will support start-up tech firms that are trying to break ground in these tough economic times.

Unveiled earlier this month, Microsoft BizSpark provides startups with access to Microsoft’s production software and developer tools.

Read BizSpark’s Starup Guide.

Products being offered through the program include Windows Vista, developer tools such as Visual Studio, Windows Server database, BizTalk Server business process management tool, SharePoint Server collaboration tool, SQL Server and other offerings, including access to the community technology preview of Windows Azure Services Platform – the software maker’s new cloud computing service.

BizSpark could be an invaluable resource for tech firms today, according to Mark Relph, vice-president, Microsoft Canada’s developer and platform evangelism group. 

He said along with the free software use, BizSpark participants could also avail of technical support and business advice from experts, as well as access to studies, surveys, reports, business models, and free publicity and awareness-raising help from Microsoft.

“We include the companies in our press releases, give them space and highlight them in events we participate in.”  

The program is expected to boost Microsoft’s cloud computing initiatives. A key element is offering startups access to Microsoft development tools required to build Web-based applications, according to Dan’l Lewin, corporate vice-president, strategic and emerging business bevelopment at Microsoft.

“We expect many of them will take advantage of cloud services.”  

Companies less than three years old, with annual revenues under $1 million are eligible to apply, Relph said.

One company taking advantage of the service is ParkVu Inc., a Canadian messaging app development startup recently launched by Jeff Fador and Terry Goertz.

The team is building software product that would allow users to consolidate their files from disparate devices on to a single client.

Today, people typically “have to e-mail their office files to their home computers or laptops if they want to work on those files outside the main office,” Fador noted.

“We are building a personal cloud, where users can house all their files and data and access that information [anywhere] on whatever device they are using,” Goertz explained.

The tight credit market and venture capital crunch, however, has limited ParkVu’s growth options.

But involvement with BizSpark has enabled Fador and Goertz to write code on Visual Studio 2008, conduct storage control tasks on Team Federation Server, obtain plug-ins from Outlook using MS Office 2007, develop applications on Windows Mobile, and test their software on the various Microsoft operating systems potential customers might be using.

“This could have cost us thousands of dollars,” Fador said. He said without BizSpark his company would be forced to rely mainly on open source tools. “BizSpark gave us the option to work on Microsoft tools that are widely used by our target market.”

The tight venture capital market has hit Canadian tech start-ups hard, according to John Ruffolo, national leader of the technology, media and telecommunications group at Deloitte Canada in Toronto.

He pointed to the considerable drop in Canadian participation in the recently concluded Deloitte North American Technology Fast 500 – an annual awards program that ranks the fastest growing Canadian and U.S. tech companies. 

Challenges faced by tech startups today, Ruffolo said, can partly be attributed to the residual effects of the tech industry bubble in 2003 – but they are intensified by the current economic meltdown.

View the companies that made to Canada’s Fast 50 here.

“Canadian presence in the Fast 500 was down nearly 50 per cent. We’ll see even much slower growth when the impact of this year’s economic downturn hits home,” he said.

The Deloitte executive said, venture investors are shying away from start-ups because “they’ve been burned by previous investments that didn’t work out.”

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