Amazon Makes A Play For Startups With Its AWS Activate Service Bundle And Support Network

Amazon’s AWS cloud services division has become one of the go-to places for startups looking for hosting and other services for their apps and other business. Today, Amazon redoubled its efforts to target new ones with the launch of AWS Activate, a bundle of services that offers startups and the incubators and accelerators that support them assistance in the form of training, geniuses to help out with certain issues, a community forum — as well as credits for AWS services and offers for third parties to expand the business those startups push to AWS.

For now, it looks like access to both tiers is free, at least in the initial instance.

The move is the latest of a number of enhancements that Amazon has been making to focus specifically on developers, to help it better compete with the likes of Rackspace for new business. AWS has upgraded basic services like hosting apps, and made regular iterations on the pricing of instances. It has also introduced other support services that aim to market and package AWS in a more user-friendly way, such as this deal from June when it partnered with Cloud vLab to come up with a program to teach developers how to use AWS better.

The idea of offering suites of support services, in a way, also positions Amazon as a competitor to programs like BizSpark from Microsoft.

Amazon already has a number of startups using its services, from relative unknowns to high-profile names like Spotify and Pinterest. So it comes as perhaps no surprise that with Activate, Amazon is raising the game to target the next level up. This signifies a ramping up of how Amazon is positioning its developer services. To be honest, it’s actually a surprise that Amazon hadn’t made an effort to go after the accelerators and incubators before now. If you think about it, signing up users through an accelerator program can potentially add dozens of new customers to AWS in one go.

The Self-Starter package includes access to the AWS Free Usage Tier (one year of free access to various AWS services); one month of Developer-level AWS Support (a “one-on-one, fast-response support channel that is staffed 24x7x365 with experienced technical support engineers to help customers of all sizes and technical abilities successfully use AWS”); web-based training and one self-paced lab. Amazon says self-paced labs are online, hands-on tutorials designed to help customers acquire new skills and gain practical experience with AWS technologies — essentially this looks like those services launched with Cloud vLabs. Also included is access to the AWS Startup Forum — a kind of social network support system that lets you pick up knowledge from other founders and AWS architects. And third-party offers.

The Portfolio package has a few extras. There are some AWS credits, which can be redeemed against fees for eligible services, including Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon RDS, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon EMR, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Glacier. There is also business-level AWS Support (this is Developer-level AWS Support plus extras such as AWS Trusted Advisor access, phone and chat and email support, and a one-hour response time promise). There is also web-based and instructor-led training, including class labs and credits for four self-paced labs. You can get a little run through of some of the services also in this short video animation (which is, incidentally, hosted with another would-be Amazon competitor in this area, Google).

It looks like the latter offering for Portfolio already has some very high-profile support, and perhaps customers:

“Programs like AWS Activate make our job of helping new companies change the world easier in that it helps startups get access to the technology resources they need more quickly. We work closely with startups to help them leverage AWS, and AWS Activate makes this even simpler for the future,” David Cohen, Founder and CEO of Techstars noted in one testimonial.

And that also seems to extend to VCs: “The ability for startups to quickly build and scale is crucial to their success. With access to resources like AWS Activate, startups can swiftly and easily use AWS and focus on growing their businesses,” said Mark Cranney, Partner, Andreessen Horowitz.

(Both of these, along with Y Combinator, Seed Camp, and many others, are listed among the many accelerators and seed funds that already work with Amazon.)

The rise of new funding syndicates such as those on AngelList represent a new chapter in how startups are getting funded, but they also represent the emergence of new kinds of support networks. In that vein, perhaps Amazon is coming in with this product at just the right time to meet that opportunity.