Red Hat (RHT) is looking to attract more startup companies to its roster of customers for its cloud offerings. The open source-focused vendor unveiled the Red Hat OpenShift Startup Program this week.

The program uses Red Hat's public cloud application and development platform, OpenShift Online, as the foundation to help startups build and grow their businesses. According to the company, the program enables startups to get the advantages of hosted cloud environments, including reduced costs, more flexibility, greater reliability and quicker product iteration.

Members of the program get access to OpenShift Online subscription benefits for development, testing, quality assurance and production hosting. The program benefits, including access to OpenShift Online, are being offered to startups free of charge.

Red Hat executives hope that as they grow in size and scale, the startups will stick around and become customers of OpenShift Enterprise. Red Hat has built in the ability to shift startups' OpenShift Online services to on-premise or to their OpenShift Enterprise-focused private clouds.

"The average startup is moving at a fast and furious pace to get their business off the ground, but often gets bogged down in managing operations," said Ashesh Badani, vice president and general manager of OpenShift at Red Hat, in a prepared statement. "By moving development into a hosted cloud solution—especially one with a free hosted tier like OpenShift—many of the typical server infrastructure pain points can be avoided. We want to make it easy for startups to benefit from the cloud, just as we do with our enterprise customers. That's why we created the OpenShift Startup Program—to support software startups and increase their chance of success by providing them with an application hosting infrastructure at a reasonable cost."

It's a good "hook 'em while they're young" strategy that is being used by several cloud providers as they try to attract smaller companies.