Published on November 8, 2023, 4:08 pm

In the midst of an AI chip shortage, Microsoft is offering select startups free access to “supercomputing” resources from its Azure cloud to develop AI models. As part of its updated startup program, Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, the company is introducing a no-cost Azure AI infrastructure option. This includes high-end Nvidia-based GPU virtual machine clusters that can be used to train and run generative models, including large language models like ChatGPT.

Y Combinator and its community of startup founders will be the first to gain access to these clusters in a private preview. Y Combinator was chosen as the initial partner due to its track record of working with startups at their earliest stages. Microsoft will prioritize the requests from Y Combinator’s current cohort and alumni during this initial preview phase. The focus will be on tasks such as training and fine-tuning use cases to foster innovation.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft has sought to collaborate with Y Combinator startups. Back in 2015, the company offered $500,000 in Azure credits to YC’s Winter 2015 batch—likely an attempt to attract these startups away from competing clouds. One could argue that providing GPU clusters for AI training follows a similar strategy.

Microsoft acknowledges that it prioritizes startups building on Azure because it believes that Azure offers the best system for building AI solutions. Annie Pearl, VP of Growth and Ecosystems at Microsoft, states that this offer is specifically for Azure-based startups as part of their vision to make Microsoft the preferred cloud platform for developing AI solutions.

Unlike before, where only Y Combinator startups benefited, this time around Microsoft plans to expand access through collaboration with M12, its venture fund, and the startups in its portfolio. Furthermore, they aim to partner with additional startup investors and accelerators in order to make training and running AI models more accessible for promising startups while also familiarizing them with Azure.

Microsoft wants to emphasize that while they are providing this opportunity, it is not a charity initiative. Startups will not have indefinite access to run their AI models on the clusters for free. Instead, the access will be time-bound and intended to assist startups in testing and trial periods rather than full-scale operations.

Microsoft believes that this program is unique in the AI ecosystem as it targets early-stage startups and allows them to use Azure credits for running AI workloads. Essentially, it provides free GPUs to startups in the program that would otherwise have difficulty accessing such resources due to their size. This initiative aims to empower these startups to train their AI models and drive the next wave of AI innovation.

While AWS and Google Cloud may disagree with Microsoft’s claim of being “first of its kind,” as both already offer startup programs and accelerators for early-stage AI-focused companies, Microsoft’s partnership approach with investors might give them an advantage where competition has struggled.

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