Deal of a lifetime for entrepreneurial software developers in Africa

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Microsoft has unveiled a new initiative, BizSpark, that gives start-up software companies low or no-cost access to its tools and technologies, with technical and marketing support to help them develop and take their products to market.

Qualified start-ups get access to a range of Microsoft technology, such as Visual Studio Team Suite, for up to three years at negligible up-front cost. They can also access a network of organisations - startup incubators, investors, advisors, government agencies and even potential customers - with an active interest in software-fueled innovation and entrepreneurship.

To be considered, start-ups must be private companies in the business of software development and less than three years old with under $1 million in annual revenue. Startups are nominated into the programme by a venture capital firm, startup incubator, economic development group, Web hosting company, or other approved pre-screener.

The head of the developer and platform group at Microsoft South Africa, Dave Ives, says BizSpark is a great opportunity for the South African emerging business market to obtain low-cost solutions that will deliver their products and services to the market efficiently, and foster fresh ideas in terms of software and web development.

“The key objective for BizSpark in South Africa is to support the local software economy,” says Ives. “Enabling the IT Sector is an area specified by the South African government for support and the encouragement of further development.”

Access to technology is a key issue in the early life cycle of a startup. “By making it easier for local software developers to access the much-needed software, tools and services, they can get going with the design and marketing of new products into the local market and abroad,” says Ives.

Microsoft has partnered in BizSpark with investment and development groups Internet Solutions, Rackspace Hosting South Africa, SEDA Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator, The Information Technology Association of South Africa, The Innovation Hub and The York Group International.

Rackspace, a global partner in Microsoft’s international BizSpark programme , will provide network hosting to the BizSpark participants. In the programme, startups can download free Microsoft software for development, test and demonstration purposes and use Microsoft software hosted production licenses free of charge for up to 3 years. Rackspace then provides hosted servers onto which BizSpark SPLA software licenses are installed.

Brian Garvey, Rackspace channel and strategic alliances partner, estimates that up to 100 companies can be brought into the programme this year. “Not only does this potentially create 1000 new jobs, but the top 20 companies will be able to enter into an accelerated incubator programme.”

After three years, organisations graduating from BizSpark will have to pay the same licensing fees as other businesses. And participants are obliged to pay a $100 program fee at conclusion or if they leave for any reason.