Northern Ireland's two universities are working together in an initiative to promote entrepreneurship among students.
The Northern Ireland Centre for Entrepreneurship (Nicent) is a joint venture between Ulster University and Queen's University, Belfast.
Sean Farren, minister for higher and further education, said the centre was in a unique position to act as a major asset to Northern Ireland's business and industrial community, using campuses throughout the province.
"The new centre will work to promote innovation and enterprise, develop intellectual property rights and establish an interface between business and academia," he said.
Business in Northern Ireland is heavily dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises. But Terri Scott, UU's dean of regional development and head of the centre, said: "Starting their own business is not a common career option for young people in Northern Ireland. Nicent will be working to change that."
The centre would encourage young graduates to capitalise on the two universities' innovative research, said Professor Scott. It would also set up an entrepreneurs' forum to support and encourage fledgling start-up firms.
Gerry McKenna, UU's vice-chancellor, said entrepreneurial skills were lacking in many graduates. "Nicent is an important piece in completing the jigsaw," he said.
"Northern Ireland has paid a price for its public-sector dependency culture in the past and we need to change."
Change applied to the economic system and to the province's attitudes, he said. Opportunity was offered through the emergence of a knowledge economy and through competing on a more equal basis.
"The only way for us to compete will be to ensure enterprise is second nature to our graduates in all disciplines, and not only the traditionally vocational subjects," Professor McKenna said.
The centre has won £900,000 through the Office of Science and Technology's science enterprise challenge and £300,000 from Northern Ireland's Industrial Research and Technology Unit.
In a complementary move, Queen's has launched a chair of innovation, sponsored by the IRTU and the First Trust Bank.
Professor Scott said there was an urgent need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland. The centre had a pivotal role to play in nurturing the requisite skills and was a visible demonstration of partnerships between government, the universities, private sector and the professions.