A network of enterprise hubs linked to local universities will soon be providing support to entrepreneurs and start-up businesses across southeast England.
According to Anthony Dunnett, chief executive of the South East England Development Agency (Seeda), which is responsible for the project, the hubs will address five areas essential to all businesses access to: technology, investment, flexible workspace, business mentoring and other growing companies.
Seeda is committing £9 million over three years to establish 30 enterprise hubs.
"We expect to help give birth to 600 new companies a year by 2005 and provide five times this number with some direct benefit," Mr Dunnett said.
The first five hubs have recently been announced and, while having a different focus, each will have an affiliated university, a hub director, incubator space and be business led.
The Isle of Wight hub, which is the first to have appointed a director, is linked to Portsmouth University, for example. It aims to create a world-class research centre in composite materials.
By contrast, the Newbury hub, connected to Reading University and Henley Business School, will specialise in the implementation of robotics in manufacturing. Best practice in dealing with business angels will be provided by the North Oxfordshire hub, linked to Oxford University, while Southampton's hub, affiliated to Southampton University, will focus on telecommunications, computing, media and creative industries and marine technology.
Both Brighton and Sussex universities are linked to Brighton and Hove's hub, which will concentrate on new media industries, including e-commerce, multimedia and TV production. A web portal will be created that will link into local cable TV and provide easy access to sources of help for new businesses.
The incubation units will be provided by the Sussex Innovation Centre, based at Sussex University, which has been helping academics to set up spin-off companies and has been providing incubation support to new technology businesses since 1996.
Mike Herd, executive director of the Sussex Innovation Centre and a member of the Enterprise Hub's steering group, said: "The Enterprise Hub will enable us to extend what we've been doing in terms of networking and will provide support for more students and academic staff to bring their ideas through."
Mr Herd hopes new media will not be the only area to benefit. "If we are attracting potential investors to the area to look at new media, let's start introducing them into new biotech and electronics projects as well," he said.