I have a software project that I'd like to release as open source. Its a quite complex tool that >50% of the industry i am in will use (i worked in it for a number of years, hobbyist and students would use this as well). I think i can get my company or another to develop it but then it would be closed off only available from licensing (which will require phone support and other issues if gone that direction) and i rather have it open source with a community behind it.
After brainstorming i thought i could get sponsors to continue the project and heavily advertise them. I'm not sure how to go about this. (the asking them to be a sponsor)
I was thinking maybe i should ask for only enough to get to the first stable release (30K, 6months and a 2nd tool for another 20k and 4months) then build a community and perhaps ask for additional funding. But i am not sure if that's the best way to go about this.
How do i ask a company to be a sponsor? and what promises might they want me to make or what promises should i make from the beginning
Put yourself in the shoes of the company and ask "What's in it for me?"
When you can answer this question, you can think about selling sponsorship to the company.
Keeping in mind that many companies will spend 5-6 figure amounts on good software tools, you may be able to position your product as a conventional sale. If you can find 3 customers @ $10k each, you have your $30k. If the prototype is usable you may be able to sell the prototype with the promise of quick incremental upgrades -- perhaps they pay in stages, 1/13th of the sale amount every two weeks when you deliver your biweekly upgrade.
The open source angle may work too -- you can position the "community" as an extra support venue. It may also reduce the risk of buying from you in that they have access to source and improvements made by third parties in case anything happens to you (or you lose interest, or get a better job offer, or the product gets bought by a competitor, etc).
Either position you choose, remember to answer "What's in it for me?".
Interesting topic. There are a few consideration I want to add:
You need to look at this from the company's point of view, the basic question they are asking is what is in it for them. They're not going to pay you to develop it and you keep hold of the copyright, or allow everyone else to use what they've paid for you to develop.
Also, they have no idea whether you'll actually deliver in six months, if you have a full time other job, there's a limit on what you can achieve part-time. If it were possible to create such a product working 6 months part-time, another company could do it in 2 months with 5 developers, i.e. the barrier to entry is low and you're subject to competition.
How much money are you going to tell the company they will make from the sponsorship (don't know is never an acceptable answer)?
Constructively, I suggest writing a brief business plan (you probably could get feedback on how to improve it by posting a link to it on this site) and iterate through until people who have their own business (like me) say yes, I like the sound of that.
A lot of people think open source is a very romantic idea, in practice very few domains are able to commercialize it. Companies know this, so think about that if part of your pitch is "it must be open source', they will ask detailed questions as to how they are going to make their money back.
Companies stay in business because they know how to make money (and not waste), so prepare yourself for brutal feedback (if you're not able to cope with this, keep it as a pet project). And remember the first idea you have in business is never the magic idea, it's takes several years of evolving the idea with commerical feedback before you make it, if ever...
To add to the other answers, the "what's in it for me" for a company could be the inclusion of features that suit them more than other users. For instance they need to output all their data in a certain XML format. You include that feature, even though there are more urgent feature requests. (I.e. if they relied on completely free open source development process the feature they need would not be added for years.)
As another example, if it is a scripting language you can get Oracle to sponsor it by making sure you include an Oracle database binding, and using an Oracle DB in all your tutorials. They'll be even happier (*) if you push work on other database bindings until after their paid sponsorship period ends.
Product placement isn't just for the movies.
*: No slur on Oracle intended, just using them for example.
I will advise you to formal write the companies you have in mind and scout out for more companies that will need it. They will write you back to have an appointment with on the project if they are interested. But get all your document ready for the Appointment and questions that will be coming from the panel on your project. Do your best to learn how to convince them.