The four universities in the Greater Manchester area are launching a Pounds 12 million venture to provide their students with the skills and facilities to set up and run their own businesses.
David Auckland, chief executive of Campus Ventures, one of Manchester University's business incubators, stressed the scheme's focus on students:
"This venture is not about supporting spin-offs resulting from academic research.
"We want to tap into the entrepreneurial creativity of students offer them a third dimension that compliments scholarship and research."
The initiative means a big expansion of the universities' capacity to incubate and launch new firms. Professor Auckland said this could mean 70 new companies per annum being set up by Manchester, Salford, UMIST and Manchester Metropolitan universities.
"We project that the firms will generate high technology jobs at an increasing rate, rising to approximately 2,000 per annum, and will contribute around Pounds 200 million annually to the local economy," he said.
The universities believe the initiative can play a vital role in supporting the work of the Regional Development Agency.
The scheme also features the creation of a new Centre for Enterprise offering under-
graduate courses in creative enterprise to science and engineering students. Courses are already in place for all first degree engineering, chemistry, physics and computer students at UMIST and Manchester.
The scheme aims to see 20 students a year graduating with a "master of enterprise" and four students have already enrolled for a doctor of enterprise. Training schemes for academics will soon be in place.
A big rise in demand is envisaged for facilities where emerging companies can locate. Manchester science park, a joint venture among Manchester Metroplitan, UMIST and Manchester, could play a major role here having just secured an eight-hectare site to add to its existing seven- hectare spread.
John Allen, chief executive of the science park said: "We are already full but with the new site we will double in size. We have 43 companies but the expansion will mean we will be able to handle over 100 easily."