The Gauntlet gives entrepreneurs a private grilling

May 27, 2005

The recent BBC Two television show Dragons' Den featured brave entrepreneurial souls so sure that they were on to a winner that they were prepared to pitch their idea in front of the nation to a group of venture capitalists.

Now a new venture by the London School of Economics hopes to spare young innovators and academic entrepreneurs such humiliation - and it is backed by a company founded by one of the television "dragons", Doug Richard.

Library House, which provides investors with information about innovation-based companies, joined forces with the academic team to develop a website that allows entrepreneurs with an idea to gauge its viability.

The website, The Gauntlet, assesses in confidence a business idea against 16 criteria that the research team found to be crucial to success. Although the site is not for profit, it charges £199 for its service.

Mr Richard, who made his name as a technology and software entrepreneur, said the idea came from research that showed that academic entrepreneurs, despite generally having sound ideas for a venture, tended to fail in their understanding of business and consequently were less likely to secure funding. "The applicability (of the site) to technology transfer offices will be higher than elsewhere," he told The Times Higher , adding that universities would be able to negotiate special rates.

Neil Gregory, director of business and enterprise at LSE, said the project was a long way from breaking even, but the long-term goal would be to make money.

He said: "My key performance indicator will be the first billionaire academic."

But even dragons get it wrong. In December, The Times Higher featured an idea by Portsmouth University student Rachel Lowe, who had developed a board game. Her pitch to the dragons was swiftly slapped down, but the game went on to be the Christmas bestseller at toy shop Hamleys.

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