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Microsoft hatches Bing Fund incubator for startups

With luck, entrepreneurs can be as successful as the Bing boyz

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After weeks of dropping hints, Microsoft has finally taken the wraps off the Bing Fund, its new incubator for startup companies – and its website is already accepting applications, should you be in need of cash.

"Bing Fund is an angel fund with an incubator program, founded by entrepreneurs, sponsored by Bing, and backed by the experience, expertise, and resources of Microsoft," reads the official announcement.

The fund says it is interested in providing angel investment for startups that are "building online or mobile experiences that incorporate fresh insights."

As airy as that might sound, the fund's FAQ notes that "Bing Fund is more appropriate if your startup already has momentum; at a minimum you should have a working prototype and a solid business plan."

The fund – obviously – derives its name from Microsoft's Bing search engine, and its offices are located in the Bellevue, Washington, headquarters of Microsoft's Online Services Group.

Despite the name, however, participants are not required to use the Bing search engine or any of the Bing group's other assets. In fact, they are not required to use Microsoft technology at all.

Mind you, it might be better if they did. The FAQ mentions that Bing Fund would "love" to see startups build products on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform (hint, hint). But it's not a requirement.

If a startup does plan to use Microsoft technologies, however, working with Bing Fund will have its advantages. In addition to funding, Microsoft will offer participants "subsidized" use of unique Bing APIs, plus access to "certain technology assets" developed by Microsoft Research. Program participants will also be able consult with technology experts and execs in Redmond.

Microsoft says its goal isn't to gobble up companies or steal their tech. Participants in the program retain control of their products and intellectual property, and Microsoft won't even guarantee that it will buy a company once it completes the program – so sorry!

The fund plans to invest in just a few startups at a time, though it will enroll startups on an ongoing basis rather than all at once. Each participant must work with the fund for a minimum of four months. When a startup graduates out of the program, the fund will find another to take its place.

Mind you, there's a certain irony in Microsoft using the Bing name for an angel investment fund. Microsoft has dumped billions into Bing, but the Online Services Group's revenues are low and it has consistently posted losses all the way back to 2006.

If startups can expect the same treatment that Bing has received, investment from its eponymous Fund sounds like a sweet deal, indeed. ®

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