Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is launching its first direct startup-accelerator program to lure burgeoning businesses to the Windows Azure cloud-computing system. The program is still accepting applications, and the first wave of 10 companies will be announced on April 22, according to TechCrunch.
The biannual four-month Windows Azure Accelerator program will be held at the company’s research-and-development center in Israel, with future potential for location expansion. Microsoft will supply accepted developers with office space, advice, and two years’ worth of access to Azure, an application-development-and-hosting platform that allows businesses to utilize Microsoft’s data centers.
Developers will also receive a software program pack that includes dynamic web-application framework ASP.NET, development environment Visual Studio, and the three most recent editions of the Windows operating system.
This initiative isn’t the only way Microsoft has reached out to new businesses. The Microsoft BizSpark program connects startups with local mentors and resources. BizSpark recently announced a partnership with TechStars, a startup accelerator with five locations in the U.S. That arrangement also promotes use of Azure, but Microsoft is less hands-on in that deal than it will be with its own accelerator. The Windows Azure Accelerator will have Microsoft employees as leaders and only Microsoft as a backer.
Microsoft has increased its cloud focus since the launch of Azure in 2010. Last year, the company used 90% of its research-and-development budget for cloud-related products. The cloud market has vast potential for earnings, but Microsoft will have stiff competition in acquiring clients. Research firm Accenture has declared the frontrunner to be Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Web Services, estimating that it runs on 450,000 servers, which could equal billions in revenue.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has its own cloud offerings, including the business-oriented Google Cloud Services and the rumored Drive consumer cloud storage. The search giant is also launching a startup accelerator in Israel. The program will focus application developers on the Chrome web browser and Android operating system.
Tech companies have more skin in the game than potential cloud revenues. The success of an application or company using a particular cloud could drive more developers, and ultimately users, to both that cloud and its associated products. If Windows Azure succeeds, for example, it could lead to further adoption of Microsoft’s programs and operating systems.