Scott Hanselman

BizSpark - Free Software and Production Licenses for Startups in the Startup Phase

January 28, 2009 Comment on this post [21] Posted in ASP.NET | ASP.NET MVC | Cloud | Programming | VB | Windows Client
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BizSpark LogoLast November, Microsoft started a new program called BizSpark for startups that's pretty sweet. It's pretty not-too-evil also.

If you are a small business and you sell a product or service to your customers, you might want to check it out. Here's the criteria:

  • Actively engaged in development of a software-based product or service that will form a core piece of its current or intended business.
  • Privately held, and in business for less than 3 years.
  • Less than US $1 million in annual revenue.

What do you get?

Here's what you get from the program:

Development Tools, Platform Technologies and Production Licenses

  • All the software included in the Microsoft® Visual Studio® Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN Premium subscription
  • Expression Studio Version 2
  • VSTS Team Foundation Server (standard edition)
  • Production use rights to host a “software as a service” solution (developed during participation in the BizSpark Program, on any platform) over the Internet, with regard to the latest versions of Microsoft products including:
    • Microsoft Windows Server® (all editions up to and including Enterprise)
    • Microsoft SQL Server (all editions)
    • Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server
    • Microsoft System Center
    • Microsoft BizTalk Server
    • Microsoft Dynamics CRM (coming soon)
  • In addition to the core program offering, BizSpark startups will be eligible for other Microsoft offerings, such as:
    • Microsoft Azure Services Platform - The Azure Services Platform is the collection of Foundational, Developer and Live Platform Service such as Windows Azure, Live Mesh, Compute Services, Storage Services, Workflow Services, Identity Services, Connectivity Services, SQL Data Services. All developers will have access to the Azure Services Platform developer tools which includes the local development fabric.

After three years, they assume you've either succeeded and are making money, or you're gone. If you're around and you want to continue, you pay for your MSDN subscriptions the regular way, and if you want to keep using your production licenses, you pay for those using the Service Provider Licensing program.

If you want in, you need to find a sponsor, and there's a list on the site. If you can't find one, though, Bill Staples (a General Manager at MSFT) can sponsor you (details on his site, click "Contact Me" under his picture) which is nice of Bill.

BizSpark is for companies that SELL something (product or service), not for pure consulting companies, but if your consulting company has at least one product or service, that appears to meet the criteria.

I asked folks on Twitter to see if they were using it and if it was a good thing, and everyone said it was a good program. It's a messed up economic time, and I think BizSpark would be an easy way to get a small business or startup idea of the ground without thinking about software licensing for 3 years. If you've got an idea for a business, or you already have a business, this could be the program for you. Tell Bill I sent you (he's one of my many bosses, so be nice and don't get me sacked) and he'll help you get setup.

Are you in this program? Is it a good thing? Leave a comment.

Update: The guy at MSFT who runs the program is Julien Codorniou and feel free to email him at julienco at with questions. Mention my name for free candy (not really).

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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January 28, 2009 2:27
I'm in and it's good. Not much to say so far, easy to sign up, very little fuss, works like it says on the box.

Try Bob Walsh at 47 Hats if you're looking for a sponsor.
January 28, 2009 2:31
We are a start up company and have recently signed up with BizSpark. It is a magnificent offer, and really helps out companies at a time when they most need it.

You don't mind paying license fees out of a healthy profit, but when you are just starting out, saving 10k+ on licenses allows you to spend money where and when you really need it. The chances are in 3 years, you are either successful or didn't make it.

Another side affect of getting BizSpark, is it gives companies already committed to Microsoft the opportunity to squeeze full juice out of all the different products available. Prior to BizSpark, it was a case of prioritising and compromising based on license costs. Now if we wanted to get a bunch of servers and use the enterprise edition of SQL Server, we aren't prohibited by cost.

A great move by Microsoft, and one that has become even more important as the economy has a very big hiccup.

January 28, 2009 2:34
I'm not in since I'm sadly not a company (Hint: Between DreamSpark and BizSpark, there should be HobbySpark for non-commercial devs who'd still like Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio Professional), but having access to pretty much all the important Microsoft software is a great way to really try out some of them. Especially the rather "obscure"/less-known ones (BizTalk, Sharepoint, to a degree also Expression Blend) can make a huge impact.

Just keep in mind that after 3 years you'll have to pay for it, so think twice if you really need 10 Web Servers, 8 Databases and 3 Sharepoint Servers in production :-)
January 28, 2009 3:03
We at Ginipic are in and it's great. Since we're a small startup that's based purely on Microsoft technology it's perfect for us. Add the trouble of raising money these days and it fits us like a glove.

Great to see such a nice move by Microsoft towards the developers and startup community - hope to see more programs like this in the future.
January 28, 2009 4:41
I am still looking through the fine print for the catch. ;)
January 28, 2009 5:07
Will - So am I! I don't think there is one.
January 28, 2009 5:51
Is there anything for companies that just miss qualifying for this? We are stuck in the MS Partner Points game and we are too small and too busy to keep jumping through the hoops. We want to go all open source just to get out from under this. But if there was a BizSpark Level 2 for a company like us that simplified licensing and lowered prices, that would be nice. Its a new world out there.
January 28, 2009 6:27
I signed up for BizSpark via Bob Walsh at 47hats, and the process was completely painless and quick. Once I was approved it felt like a combination of Christmas morning and being left in the royal treasury unattended. Every freaking Microsoft tool I could ever want was right there ready to download. After working for several years with VS 2005 it's been awesome playing with all the latest bits.

The price is so low it's practically free, and you don't even have to pay for three years. And face it, every good developer has some pet project or other, so if you want the crown jewels for next to nothing, call your project a company and get it on this. This is the smartest thing Microsoft has done for developers in a long time.
January 28, 2009 9:15
I singed up for it, and it really is awesome. It's pretty much the best MSDN subscription, and it's free (well, I think they charge you $100 when you exit the program). I reccomended it to another startup owner, and he signed up for it as well, and is really enjoying it. It is really easy to sign up. If you are thinking about it - just do it.
January 28, 2009 10:25
Glad you like it.
let me know if you need a code to join the program.
all feedback welcome too
January 28, 2009 11:29
The comments above seem very positive. We havent signed up yet!

January 28, 2009 12:05
I am an µISV and I'm in the BizSpark program. I think it's a great program with many benefits, especially when you're starting up and has a constrained budget. Thank you guys for BizSpark.
January 28, 2009 14:47
We're based in Sweden and are participants... Only hickup for us is that there is no word on how to get hold of production licenses ;(

We've talked to our sponsor, to MSDN support and still there's no word on how to get the licenses. Talking MSDN made me feel like a thief since just asking seemed to be enough for them to use their sternest voise to tell me that what I was (thinking about) doing wasn't allowed. It didn't feel right since I was actually just trying to follow the rules...

Hopefully it will all resolve itself in due time but we'd really like to use some licenses soon. What do all of you other participants do in order to get licenses that are allowed in production?
January 28, 2009 18:34
My company is in the BizSpark startup program as well as the MS Accelerator program. It has been fabulous. Our backend is completely on the MS stack (SQL 2008, WCF 3.5 REST, ASP.NET web) and we have been able to get whatever we need for Microsoft software and tools.
January 28, 2009 19:30
BizSpark is a fantastic program. I signed up <a href=">E3 Retail</a> in November right after the program was announced. There were a few signup glitches for me, but once I got past those, it's been great.

The program notes the $100 to exit. When I contacted MSDN, they requested we create a MSDN subscription for each developer (there is no additional charge per developer). I assume when we exit the program those subscriptions are going to cost the normal $3K+ renewal fee for each one.

Overall from what I've seen, thiis is a fantastic program. It's why folks like use will continue to utilize MSFT development tools and platformas.
January 28, 2009 22:17
I have a question regarding licenses for Windows Server and SQL Server. VSTS Team Foundation Server requires SQL Server. Does BizSpark provide licenses for the Windows Server and SQL Server for use with VSTS?
January 28, 2009 23:58
I just signed up for BizSpark and think its a magnificent offer for anyone like myself who is just getting started in business!

Good luck everyone.
January 29, 2009 0:27
I don't think there's a catch, really. The licensing is not like the 'normal' MSDN. With the 'normal' MSDN you can keep using the software when the MSDN subscription expires. Not so with this one. It works much like the Partner Program in that all licenses expire when you leave the program. So, besides the fact that using MS tools to build your Big Thing (and who would re-write it on non-MS tools afterward?), MS is really taking a gamble on your business.

Talk about watering the Startup Garden.

And the fact that MS allows the whole team a license of MSDN Premium is pretty generous.

- Curtis - Build a software startup as a side job.

January 29, 2009 23:23
Is a full business plan required to enroll in the BizSpark program? Or can startups contact sponsors such as Bob Walsh at 47Hats before this initial planning document has been completed?
January 31, 2009 23:00
Mixed In Key is part of the BizSpark program.

We absolutely love it. The best reason to get it? Free licenses of SQL Server 2008 that can be used on a production server. There is no catch. This is an incredible freebie from Microsoft.

To this day, I still don't know how the management approved this idea.
February 01, 2009 5:11
just drop me an email, tell me if you re eligible and i ll invite you to the program

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.