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the ultimate guide to aws credits for startups
21 February 2024·7 min read

Jonas Jovaišas

Customer Success Manager, Cloudvisor

The ultimate guide to AWS Credits for startups and how to claim your free credits

Startups face many challenges, but the one that keeps founders up at night is the slow, inevitable, drain on their financial runway. Burn too much, and you might find yourself unable to pay for your tech stack. Burn too little, and the competition might run ahead of you. The key to finding the right balance is to identify ways to meet your goals without laying out capital up front. AWS Credits for startups do exactly that. They enable startups to build out infrastructure on the leading cloud solution, without needing to pay for it up front.

However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and obtaining AWS Credits does require a little bit of legwork. In this article written by our partner Cloudvisor, we’ll dive into how AWS Credits for startups work, the Amazon Activate program more generally, and how your startup can benefit. 

What are AWS Credits for startups? 

AWS Credits are a type of currency that can be used to cover your Amazon Web Services (AWS) bills. They don’t require startups to put any money up front, and remain valid for between one or two years from their date of issuance. They are essentially a way for startups to kick-start their AWS implementation, without needing to lay out thousands of dollars in advance.

How do AWS Credits work?

This can feel a little confusing at first, but it’s intuitive once you wrap your head around it.

AWS credits are released in batches, and counted against a total maximum amount of $100,000. So how does this work? Well, when you apply for $1,000 in AWS credits, you’ve used $1,000 of your startups limits. This means that your next application needs to be higher than $1,000. If you need an additional $1,000 credits, your application would need to be for $2,000, and so on.

Additionally, AWS credits can only be used to offset bills for the same billing period or in which you obtained them, or subsequent periods. For example, you can’t use AWS credits received in May to pay for bills from March. 

How can startups obtain AWS Credits? 

So how do startups apply for AWS Credits? Well, credits are unlocked through the AWS Activate program, which is directly created by AWS. With over 15 years of experience, AWS has helped more startups launch, build, and succeed than any other cloud provider. Since its launch in 2013, AWS Activate has provided $6 billion (USD) in AWS Promotional Credits to startups worldwide.

This program providers a number of benefits, including:

  • Access to the AWS Activate Console
  • Guidance on business and technical subjects
  • Training and support materials via Learn on AWS
  • Over 40 pre-built infrastructure templates 
  • Discount codes and free trials
  • Access to the AWS Activate Recommendations feed, with personalized tools and content 
  • The ability to apply for up to $100,000 in AWS credits over a startup’s lifetime.

There are three tiers of credits:

Founders Credits —- up to $1,000 AWS Credits

Founders credits are the simplest form of credit to unlock for companies that meet the following criteria:

  • Founded within the past 10 years
  • New to AWS and not associated with an AWS Provider
  • Self-funded, or in pre-series B
  • Have a comprehensive company website

Unlocking credits requires taking the following steps:

  1. Complete your registration on the AWS Activate Console > Activate for Startups.
  2. Select the Founders’ Tier
  3. Select your options, and the AWS Account ID that the credits will be applied to
  4. Provide any additional information requested
  5. Submit your application, and await approval. 

The founders tier is best suited to startups who want to dip their toes into AWS and test it for fit. If on the other hand, you already know that you want to use AWS credits then it’s best to skip the Founders’ Tier of AWS Activate, and link up with an AWS Activate Provider. 

Work with an AWS Activate provider —- up to $10,000 AWS Credits 

It’s possible to skip the Founders’ tier entirely by working with an AWS Activate Provider. These are organizations that help navigate startups through the AWS Activate program, and apply for up to $10,000 in credits. 

This isn’t the only benefit. AWS Activate Providers also offer services that help startups make the most of their AWS implementation, and AWS credits can usually also be used to pay for this. Additionally, many are also AWS resellers, which helps startups to gain a discount on their AWS services generally.

For example, Cloudvisor is an AWS Activate partner that offers startups globally the opportunity to unlock AWS credits. They’ve helped startups to secure more than $10 million in AWS Credits, and are intimately familiar with AWS as a platform. These kinds of partners can be a key source of assistance for any startup who wants to build on AWS. In addition, Cloudvisor can help you obtain special discounts on your AWS bill and conduct AWS cost optimization that can help you save up to 40%!

This initial $10,000 should be enough to get your startup on the right track, but it is possible to unlock even more once you’re ready, via a partnered incubator-accelerator program. 

Go through an AWS Activate portfolio 

This step is probably the trickiest, but it is also something that most startups will likely want to do at some point in their lifecycle anyway. Once you’ve hit $10,000, you’ll need to find an Incubator or Accelerator to work with. This means you’ll need to have your business model and pitch fully prepared, but you’ll obtain not just the AWS Credits, but the other expertise offered by an incubator-accelerator.

This step can be a challenging process, but the Cloudvisor team is able to help. They have built strong relationships with a number of incubators across the world and can help you build a pitch, connect with the right people, and ultimately unlock AWS credits for your startup. 

Are there other benefits to AWS Activate? 

We’ve touched on this a little earlier, but AWS Activate isn’t just about AWS Credits. AWS has devoted significant resources to providing startups in the AWS Activate program with a range of tools that they can to maximize the benefits of AWS, and become accustomed to building on AWS.

There’s a lot of them, so we’ll focus on three key benefits that startups can immediately take advantage of: 

Pre-built AWS Infrastructure templates 

This is probably the most powerful tool offered through AWS Activate. Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, startups can build scalable, reliable, and secure infrastructure templates tailored for their specific use-case in a matter of minutes with Build on AWS.

This offering includes over 40 pre-build infrastructure templates and reference architectures that can be used as a quick way to get the foundations for your AWS implementation in place. 

Exclusive offers and discounts 

Another key benefit is reduced, or free, access to a variety of services that have partnered with AWS. These are often services, like Slack, that many startups will want to be implementing anyway, and it helps you round out your non-AWS business infrastructure at a reduced cost. 

AWS Credits are a key tool for startups 

While they take a bit of work to obtain, AWS Credits are a key tool for startups who want to grow without increasing their overall burn rate. It sets them up for long term success by giving them a way to build on the best cloud infrastructure out there, and AWS Activate gives startups the tools they need to be successful.

Whether you want to take the journey yourself, or jump right in with an AWS partner like Cloudvisor, every startup should look very seriously at AWS Credits, and how they can form an overall part of their strategy. 


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