For Startups, Is a Tech Giant’s ‘Help’ Always a Good Thing?

Startup founders: if a major tech company offered you support and tools, would you take it—even if it meant ceding a bit of control?

Microsoft recently announced Microsoft for Startups, a $500 million, two-year program that will offer “joint sales” to startups, along with access to Microsoft technology. Those startups can also work in “Microsoft Reactor” co-working spaces, where (at least in theory) they’ll have the opportunity to network with other firms.

Microsoft isn’t alone in this sort of endeavor. Google recently announced Startup with Google, which offers access to accelerator campuses, business-centric help with Google products and services, and marketing tools. Apple has also taken steps to foster third-party developers, including an “App Accelerator” it opened in India last year. There are even studios and accelerators for hardware-centric startups, including a prominent one run by a partnership between Kickstarter, Avnet, and Dragon Innovation.

What’s the motive behind this maneuvering? By offering tools and support, these companies can bond startups to their ecosystem—which means not only revenue, but also the opportunity to discover a promising company before other tech giants do.

But are these platforms a good thing for startups to participate in? That’s a much bigger—and potentially thornier—question. If you’re bootstrapping a young company, any access to resources, documentation, and support is a good thing; but that being said, you also risk premature vendor lock-in. And it’s always worth having a lawyer go over the fine print of any contracts signed with a major tech firm; there may be clauses governing intellectual-property rights that you need to be aware of.

Fortunately, the tech industry’s explosive growth has translated into a galaxy of tools and resources for companies just starting out. Take the time to explore what’s best for your young firm—while keeping in mind the resources and opportunities you might need in the future, if you’re fortunate enough to survive and grow.

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