Microsoft has made its Startups Founders Hub generally available and eased the eligibility criteria for the program, meaning a founder only needs to have an idea to gain access.
Instead of providing traditional benefits, such as lump cash sums in funding, Microsoft is instead providing start-ups with progressive amounts of Azure credits over their journey on the program. At the "ideate" stage, start-ups can get up US$1000 of credits per year, increasing to $120,000 for companies who are ready to scale up.
No prior funding is needed for participation, removing a lot of barriers founders might come up against in other programs. While the program could hugely benefit business founders early on, by offering Azure credits, Microsoft could end up locking these new companies into its cloud platform from day one.
In a blog post announcing the revamped program, Microsoft also detailed a new partnership with not-for-profit, artificial intelligence research lab OpenAI. Founded in 2015 by Elon Musk, Sam Altman and others, OpenAI received a $1 billion investment from Microsoft in 2019.
As a result of this new partnership, participating startups will be provided with exclusive access to $1,000 of OpenAI credits, three free months of an OpenAI API Innovation License and free consultation with an OpenAI expert.
Alongside these credits, participants will have access to products, including 20 seats of GitHub Enterprise and five of Visual Studio Enterprise for one year. Ten seats of Microsoft 365 and seats for the Power and Dynamics 365 platforms are also on offer. Mentoring, training, networking, and technical support are all included.
In a blog post announcing the changes to the program and the incentives on offer, Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive vice president of cloud and AI, acknowledged that navigating the headwinds of building a startup can be challenging.
"Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub meets founders where they are, offering best-in-class developer tools and a breadth of cloud offerings across every function, so startups can reduce costs and accelerate development with a partner they can trust," Guthrie said.