It's difficult—if not downright impossible—to start a small business today that doesn’t involve the computing world. At a minimum even the smallest startup needs computers and software. And tech requirements only go up from there. If you're thinking about starting a small business, or you're already in the early stages, I'd like to share a couple of free technology resources you might find very helpful.
Money for Nothing: Tech for Free
I'm a member of a co-working facility called Launch Fishers, whose members are primarily involved with small business start-ups. I was interested to learn through discussions that most of these small business start-ups were completely unaware of the tens of thousands of dollars' worth of resources available to them at no cost from major companies in the tech industry.
Just like kids heading to college should spend time looking for scholarships, I recommend that people who want to launch a small business should also research technology resources that exist for entrepreneurs.
I’m going to cover two programs in this article—specifically Microsoft and IBM. Both companies offer programs—free of charge—aimed at start-ups in their early years that need a technology infrastructure to help get them rolling. Both programs offer tens of thousands of dollars in technology resources provided your start up meets some relatively basic criteria.
Microsoft BizSpark is a straightforward program for small startups that meet a few simple requirements. (Need something for slightly larger start-ups? Check out BizSpark Plus and Microsoft Ventures.)
- Less than 5 years old
- Privately held
- Less than $1 million US annually
Businesses that meet these criteria can join by answering a few simple questions to help identify your company. They include contact information, company name, company URL, the date founded, a description, and the number of employees. The process is pretty straightforward. For most startups, the only issue might be providing a website URL; however, that's a requirement.
Once you’ve filled out and submitted this information, it goes to Microsoft to review. If approved, you then receive access to the BizSpark services for 3 years. These services include free software and tools including the higher-end versions of Visual Studio, Office, SQL Server, MSDN, and more. It also includes up to $150 dollars a month in Azure (Cloud) services for up to five developers. That works out to $750 a month in Azure services.
The obvious value of the BizSpark membership is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars paying for licensing and tools when you're in the early stages of growing your business. This is all positive for you. For Microsoft, it is a low-cost gamble. By giving you the tools to build a business, the company hopes you grow and succeed, especially if you build your business with Microsoft tools, software products, and services.
Once you succeed building your business with Microsoft tools, the company hopes to see future licensing and deals from you. If you win, then they hope to win. The best part is that you win either way.
IBM offers a program for small business startups as well with its IBM Global Entrepreneur program. Similar to Microsoft, IBM offers its software solutions and technical expertise to help startups move forward with the same hope that if (or when) you succeed you will then license and use IBM's products and systems. The company's making a long term bet in the success of small business startups.
The IBM program requires an application process. The IBM program questionnaire is more detailed than Microsoft’s in that it asks a variety of questions about IBM software you’ve used and what you're interested in as far as technology capabilities.
You can apply for the program even if your company is older than 5 years; however, younger companies (less than 5 years old) that are accepted will not only have access to credits for IBM's cloud services, but they will also receive on-premises software and technical support from one of IBM’s worldwide Innovation Centers.
IBM’s offerings last for 12 months and are heavily focused towards its cloud solutions. Your company must be earning less than $1 million U.S., and you must not already be paying for any of IBM's cloud services. Companies working with VCs, accelerators, or incubators have an opportunity to receive more cloud resource coverage (up to $10,000 a month).
Other Free Technology Programs
The Microsoft BizSpark and IBM GEP programs are just two programs available to small business start-ups. Other technology companies might offer programs as well. For example, Unity now offers a version of its gaming engine for free, which means that individuals or small businesses can build solutions on it. Only after you get to a certain level of revenue do you have to then pay the basic licensing fees.
Remember, it can literally pay to research free technology resources. Make that research part of your start-up game plan.
Bradley Jones is the director and editor-in-chief of the Developer.com network for QuinStreet Enterprise overseeing sites such as Developer.com, Codeguru, and HTMLGoodies. He is also a co-founder of IndyTechFest, LLC and the primary owner of LotsOfSoftware, a BizSpark member.
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