In a creative effort to market its platform of open source technologies to Israeli start-up companies, Sun Microsystems announced on Thursday that it is expanding its successful Sun Startup Essentials program here, the fifth country to be tapped as a participant in the initiative. "By expanding the program, we're reaching emerging as well as leading markets that adopt and adapt new technology rapidly, and we're enabling startups to get to market quickly and economically," said Juan Carlos Soto, vice president of Market Development at Sun. On Wednesday, Sun announced the expansion of the program to the UK. The Startup Essentials program was launched last November in the US and quickly expanded into India and China. Today, some 1,300 companies are signed into the program and Soto has high aspirations for Israel. "We hope to sign up 500 companies to the program," he told The Jerusalem Post at the announcement of the project in Tel Aviv. "This country is an obvious place for Sun to expand the program into because of its strong technology sector and the fact that behind the US, it is the largest venture capital market in the world. Plus it has more scientists and start-ups per capita than any other country." The program helps eligible start-up companies by allowing them to purchase a range of discounted Sun products and services, including the award-winning Sun Fire x64 servers and Sun Fire servers with CoolThreads technology. Program members can also work with Sun worldwide hosting partners Layered Technologies and Navisite, plus regional hosting partner NTT Europe Online, to rent discounted Web hosting infrastructure based on Sun technologies. In addition, Sun is also offering free technical advice via e-mail and access to free software, such as Apache, MySQL and Perl. Sun provides network computing infrastructure solutions that include computer systems, software, storage, and services. Its core brands include the Java technology platform, the Solaris operating system, StorageTek and the UltraSPARC processor. The program was not expected to generate returns for Sun any time soon. "Sun is not looking to make money off of these start-ups now, because start-ups on the whole do not usually have a lot of money - this is definitely a long-term program," Soto explained. "But by these companies becoming aware of Sun and what we have to offer, when these companies grow to become the next big thing, like YouTube, they will be more likely than not to use Sun technologies for the basis of their infrastructure." According to Sun regulations, in order for a local company to be eligible to qualify for the program, it must be less than four years old, employ less than 150 workers, be based in Israel and be able to demonstrate a real market presence. "As soon as a company can show us that they qualify, we will admit them right away, for free and with no obligation to purchase anything," Soto said. "As soon as they are members, they will be given a user name and password and have access to our services and software." The program will be run in cooperation with the Chief Scientist's Office, which will contribute a grant of up to NIS 250,000. When combined with the non-monetary, but financially significant, assistance from Sun, the Chief Scientist's Office believes that it will make a significant difference in promoting start-up growth in Israel. "We are going to work together with Sun to create a "win-win" situation for small companies in Israel that may have created breakthrough technologies, but are having a hard time bringing their product to market," said Yaacov Fisher, director of the Tnufa program in the Chief Scientist's Office. Tnufa is a non-profit Israeli government-supported organization dedicated to helping inventors successfully commercialize their new product ideas by providing them with seed money grants in addition to free legal, marketing and business-management counseling.