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The Kinect is a product famous for the ingenuity it has inspired in third parties; it’s a product almost synonymous with the word “hack.” According to some sources, Kinect was initially wary of non-sanctioned Kinect tinkering. Eventually it came around, releasing a software development kit, with the caveat that the SDK was only for non-commercial use. And now, with a new program, Microsoft gets fully behind the creativity its product has unlocked in others: it recently announced the launch of the Kinect Accelerator, which will help 10 Kinect-based startups get on their feet (so to speak).

“Through this program,” Microsoft announced on its site, “Microsoft is supporting entrepreneurs, engineers and innovators like you to bring to life a wide range of business ideas that leverage the limitless possibilities Kinect enables.” Entrants will undergo a competitive screening process, starting with an application posing questions like “Please describe your business in 140 characters or less” and “Explain how the company will make money.” Microsoft will winnow down these applicants to 10 finalists; these will then enter a three-month incubation program in the spring of 2012, held in Seattle and co-operated by TechStars, an accelerator that has worked with over a hundred startups.

Along the way, participants will get $20,000 to help develop their business. TechStars, in turn, will receive 6% equity in common stock. Microsoft clearly anticipates that this provision will give some applicants pause. An FAQ explains why Microsoft thinks this is a good deal for Kinect startup aspirants: the common stock includes no special rights or board seats (“You will still run the show”), and TechStars will help startups get more funding beyond the program, as well as continue to “mentor and guide” the companies even beyond the three-month stint.

Microsoft doesn’t demand that companies launch their product exclusively on Xbox 360, only that they use the Kinect to give life to their idea. Some of the ordained favorite hacks (as canonized on Microsoft’s site) include decidedly non-game-like applications: therapy for stroke patients, for instance, or a visual interface to use in operating rooms.

Kudos to Microsoft for coming to understand that its product rapidly became something much bigger than the company had intended: a phenomenon the company is branding “the Kinect Effect.” A video released a few weeks ago shows Microsoft’s dawning realization that its product really belongs, in a sense, to the world. “Even though the world keeps asking us what we’ll do with Kinect next, we’re just as excited to ask the world the same thing,” the video’s narrator says.

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