Cloud credits for startups: Comparing AWS, GCP, and Azure Startup Programs

2023-07-126 minute read

If you're a startup, choosing the right cloud provider is a critical decision. The big three providers - AWS, GCP, and Azure - all offer generous credit programs to help your startup grow. Each of these programs comes with its own set of benefits, and the choice often comes down to what suits your startup's specific needs.

This article provides a comparison of the startup programs by AWS, GCP, and Azure, including their eligibility criteria, credit offerings, and additional benefits. So, whether you're in the AI/ML space or a VC-funded startup, this article can help guide your decision-making process when it comes to selecting a cloud provider.

Signature startup credits programs

Coming to the big cloud providers, all three of them love startups and provide ample amounts of credit to help your startup grow with them. What’s in it for them? Even if one in ten of the startups grows 100x, by then, they become very familiar and comfortable with the services and solution, making them very likely to become lifelong customers of the cloud provider.

Here is a bit more about the signature startup programs by the big 3 AWS, GCP, and Azure.

AWS Activate offers startups that meet the eligibility criteria up to $100K in credits, along with a range of complimentary tools, resources, and educational materials tailored to each stage of their journey. Upon registration, participants gain access to features such as curated insights from industry specialists regarding business and technical requirements, guidance and assistance, as well as readily available infrastructure templates. AWS Activate Console is a one-stop shop that helps you get started quickly. Further, they have partner benefits & discounts with partners like Brex and Datadog.

Google for Startups Cloud Program provides two tiers - Start and Scale. The credits cover up to $200,000 USD of Google Cloud, and Firebase costs for 2 years (up to $350,000 for AI startups). It also comes with free training vouchers, workspace, maps platform usage, access to Google Cloud Startup Community, etc.

Through Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, Azure provides up to $150K in credits to startups. It is available in a tiered format, starting off with $1K in credits and scaling up as you grow. Additionally, they also provide tight integration and free access to other Microsoft tools like Teams, Office 365, GitHub Enterprise, etc. Access to Azure Open AI service is also something that could be appealing to startups in the AI/ML space.

Comparing the eligibility criteria

Now we look at the eligibility criteria for the three programs. All the providers have various tiers/levels in their programs. We’ve separated GCP tiers here as they have significant differences between tiers.

AWS Activate - has Activate Founders and Activate Portfolio options.

Microsoft Founders Hub has four levels, details of which can be found here.

AWS ActivateGCP - Start tierGCP - Scale tierMicrosoft Founders Hub
Stage of startupUpto Series ABootstrapped, crowdfundedPre-seed - Series AUpto Series C
Credits upto$100,000$2,000$350,000 (AI) $200,000 (others)$150,000
Credit validity2 years2 years2 yearsScale - 2 years Others - 1 year
Age of startupLess than 10 yearsLess than 5 yearsLess than 10 yearsLess than 10 years
Other requirementsActive AWS accountNot yet funded by an institutional investorReceived startup equity fundingLinkedIn profile
Application review time7-10 business days3-5 business days3-5 business days5-7 business days
Additional benefitsPre-built infra templates, partner discountsGoogle Workspace & Maps platformGoogle Workspace & Maps platformMicrosoft 360, VS Code & GitHub enterprise

Additional programs


  • AWS Lift program is a program to help existing businesses digitize and onboard with Amazon’s cloud services. They offer a $750 starter promotional credit which then has tiers going up to $83,500 for 12 months with no lock-in period and no hidden fee.
  • AWS Impact Accelerator for underrepresented founders that provides $125,000 cash and up to $100,000 in AWS credits for early-stage startups led by Black, women, Latino, and LGBTQIA+ founders, as well as training, mentoring, and technical guidance.
  • AWS AI accelerator offers up to $300,000 credits for generative AI startups. This program provides mentors and technical assistance for AWS services and has a demo day as well. The 2023 batch is already underway, keep an eye out for future editions of the program.


  • Pegasus program (invite-only) is an accelerator-type program where your startup gets access to Microsoft’s sales channels, technical expertise from your specific industry, and dedicated support for any cloud-related queries.

To receive credits from any of the additional programs, you must not have received credits from the signature programs discussed above.


Based on our research of the above programs, there is great potential for growing your startup with any provider. Here are a few additional tips:

  • If you’re an AI-first company, there are huge amounts of cloud credits available from the providers. See if you are able to leverage AI into your solution.
  • If you are an un-funded startup and haven’t been through any startup programs, you can use this opportunity to align your startup’s value proposition and learn more about the market.
  • If your customers are corporates, Microsoft’s program offers better incentives in the form of networking and expert advice.
  • For large volumes of data and machine learning models, there is no real alternative to Google’s BigQuery out there.
  • Try not to get overwhelmed by the number of services on offer. Start small, scale, and optimize as you grow.
  • If you’re just testing out prototypes and don’t really have scale or demand yet, you can start by using tools that abstract cloud complexity, like Argonaut, Vercel, Cloudways, or Netlify.
  • Switch between clouds and get enjoy more free credits. (more on that below)

💡 Here’s an informative guide on maximizing startup credits and common pitfalls to avoid.

What if there was a way for you to leverage cloud credits from two or more cloud startup programs? By using credits from two providers, you instantly double (sometimes more) your overall cloud credits, and this leads to an increased runway. If you are a venture-backed startup, you most likely already qualify for credit programs from multiple providers.

Some of Argonaut’s customers already do this and save $$$. Here’s Bytebeam’s story.

Check out this article explaining how Argonaut enables easy switching between AWS and GCP.

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