Liverpool John Moores University is leading a consortium that aims to include entrepreneurship in student work experience.
The consortium has set up a free brokerage service called the Business Bridge. The initiative is driven by the untapped demand in small companies for the kind of skills and support that students can give to an entrepreneur on a part-time basis.
Chris James, head of career development services at LJMU, said: "This will help inculcate the the idea of entrepreneurship."
Since 1995, 3,000 "bridges" have been set up and 5,000 companies have been visited by Business Bridge. Between 80 per cent and 90 per cent had never made contact with a university before and half of them had fewer than ten employees.
Business Bridges has attracted total funding of £7.5 million since 1995.
Wages are set above the minimum wage, contracts can last up to a year and hours must fit academic timetables.
Business Bridge projects are also accepted by LJMU, Liverpool University and Liverpool University Hope College as work-based learning modules or dissertations in undergraduate and postgraduate studies. A Business Bridge starter pack has been produced and taken up by Sunderland University.