Business ideas get extra cash

July 3, 1998

Budding entrepreneurs in universities can bid for a slice of a Pounds 50 million government venture capital fund to help turn promising research into successful business.

Science minister John Battle said the University Challenge Fund, announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his March budget, will farm out awards of between Pounds 2million and Pounds 4 million.

The money will be available in two tranches, the first in April 1999. Successful bidders have to get extra contributions amounting to 25 per cent of the total seed fund the universities wants to establish.

Mr Battle said that although the scheme is focused on universities, the fund steering group is keen to see a range of other organisations joining with universities to advance ideas. These could be higher education institutes, laboratories funded by charities and research council institutes.

The deadline for bids is October 20. Applicants meeting the fund's criteria will be selected to compete in the second, which will run from December until early 1999.

Mr Battle said the fund might support evaluating the commercial potential of research, preparation of business plans, further development work and the construction of prototypes.

While the government is giving Pounds 20 million, the Wellcome Trust is contributing Pounds 18 million and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation Pounds 2 million. The scheme will be jointly managed by the trust, the foundation, the Office of Science and Technology and the Treasury.

Roger Ashby, managing director of Southampton University technology transfer arm SIL, said that like all emerging university companies, his firm has problems securing seed funds.

"The fund is exactly what we need. The 25 per cent contribution will be difficult for many to find, but it will ensure the academics applying will have the full support of their management for the bid." The university will bid for Pounds 4 million in funding, he said.

Fund guidelines and entry forms are available from Dr Martin Power, OST, 2/14 Albany House, 94-98 Petty France, London SW1 9ST

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