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aQtive limited and the University of Birmingham have combined forces with organisations in the City's business support sector to provide practical assistance to a group of enterprising students. Structured Entrepreneur EDucation for IT (SEED-IT, as the pilot scheme is known) aims to provide training and financial support to a small group of students at the University in the development of an IT related venture. Success with this pilot project will ensure that a multi-group scheme is implemented next year.

The project is the brainchild of Dr. Russell Beale, CEO of aQtive, based on his experiences in trying to raise venture capital finance in the UK.

"There are many problems facing would-be entrepreneurs" he stated "and SEED-IT aims to highlight the common ones and provide a supporting structure within which good business ideas can develop and thrive."

SEED-IT is not simply an academic exercise or a set of training seminars. The students are given a potentially viable business idea, some seed funding for developing and marketing the idea, and then supported in taking that further. At the end of the project, if the idea can secure further funding then the students can spin it off into a separate company and continue to make it successful.

"We are taking an entrepreneurial approach to the whole idea" said Russell Beale, "in that if they are successful, they can continue in business and benefit directly in that success."

The scheme runs for a 10-week period over the summer vacation and will provide the students with the knowledge, experience and finance to create a business. The scheme is backed by the University's Schools of Business and Computer Science and by its technology transfer company, Birmingham Research and Development Ltd (BRDL). Simon Freeman, Business Development Manager at BRDL, said:

"The University of Birmingham is keen to stimulate enterprise within its students and I hope that SEED-IT enables young innovative individuals to think of alternative career routes for the future."

Both financial and training support has been secured from the following sponsors: Enterprise Link, Birmingham City Council, Clement Keys, HSBC Midland Bank, IMARGO Limited, Martineau Johnson and WM Enterprise. The sponsors will be providing the financial resources with which the students develop an IT-based product and create a business. In addition they will interact with the students via the structured training programme that will give valuable business advice to the participants. The project will be based in an office being made available by Birmingham Research Park.

Commenting on this innovative initiative Brian James, Chief Executive of Enterprise Link, said:

"I was extremely enthusiastic that Enterprise Link and the networks in Birmingham were involved in SEED-IT at as early a stage as possible. This project gives us an excellent opportunity to integrate the expertise of the University's technology transfer company into the City's mainstream business support and finance."

Support for the project has come from a variety of public and commercial organisations. Encouraging this joint participation, Gisela Stuart MP, said:

"I applaud this initiative by the University. A structural problem that our economy suffers from is the lack of connections between our world-class research capability and our business support infrastructure. SEED-IT directly addresses this problem and I look forward to hearing how the networks in Birmingham make this pilot a success."

It is anticipated that this project will not only create a viable business but will also give invaluable and practical expertise to the students involved. At the end of the 10-week period a business plan, aimed at securing additional funding, will be presented to venture capital companies. The recently awarded 4m University Challenge Fund to the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick will be one such vehicle approached.

SEED-IT is being operated by Birmingham Research and Development Ltd, a company wholly owned by the University of Birmingham. For further information please contact Simon Freeman, Business Development Manager on 0121 471 4977.

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