IBM just became the latest company to offer free software and other resources to startups, with the announcement of what it’s calling the IBM Global Entrepreneur initiative.

The program is meant for startups that are less than three years old and that focus on the industries covered in IBM’s Smarter Planet program, including energy and utilities, health care, telecommunications, and government. Participating companies get free access to IBM software (though if you run the software on web-based infrastructure such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, you’ll still have to pay for that), the opportunity to work with scientists in IBM Research, and to participate in IBM’s SmartCamp workshops.

In some ways, such as the younger-than-three-years requirement, IBM’s new program sounds similar to Microsoft BizSpark. Like BizSpark, the Global Entrepreneur initiative will help IBM connect to companies that might become huge successes a few years down the line, and to tie those companies to IBM technology and services.

IBM is also working with industry associations to help it find startups in countries like the United Kingdom, Israel, and France. In the United States, those partners include SD Forum, TiE Silicon Valley, Mass Tech Leadership Council, TiE Austin, and MassInno.

As for why you’d choose IBM over Microsoft or other competing programs, the company says:

While many companies make their technologies readily available to entrepreneurs, only IBM also has the relationships with large clients and the skills of its business, technical, and marketing leaders.

IBM can offer the industry context in which to develop the technologies, customer insight for market validation of the technologies, and the additional skills an entrepreneur needs to bridge that gap towards building a business.