Wales is on track to export entrepreneurial education across the globe by launching a unique online enterprise college.
The £6.5 million venture is being set up by Glamorgan University in association with six associate colleges and business education charity Young Enterprise Wales, which is situated on the campus along with the Welsh Enterprise Institute.
Aldwyn Cooper, pro vice-chancellor, said Richard Branson and Hewlett-Packard had approached the university wanting to expand a pilot scheme to develop young people's entrepreneurial awareness.
The initiative evolved into the e.college Wales idea that has won financial support from the European Social Fund's Objective One programme.
It will initially target both the public and private sectors in Wales, followed by other parts of Britain and then overseas, Dr Cooper said, with the aim of developing an "entrepreneurial outlook".
The focus will be on helping groups such as young people, graduates, the unemployed and women returning to the job market to learn how to start and run businesses. Injecting some "zip" into unreconstructed companies and public bodies in sectors such as education, health and local government will be another focus.
Dr Cooper said entrepreneurial education was not well served by existing provision.
"There is a huge need to change people's perceptions about what they can achieve and to give them the knowledge and the skills to be able to take their ideas forward in a way that is genuinely sustainable," he said.
The problem was less a shortage of good ideas for new businesses than the fact that many collapsed too quickly. Increasing the rate of start-ups and sustainability, both of which are below the national average in Wales, is another priority for the online enterprise college.
Using successful business people as mentors is a key element in the college's vision. Dr Cooper said each student would have a mentor and a tutor. The college would take advantage of Young Enterprise Wales's extensive mentor network.
The "clicks and mortar" approach would make accessing the courses as flexible as possible, he said.
The technology will enable students to create online communities and talk over issues and problems via discussion groups and noticeboards with others who could be well placed to offer help.
Staff are being recruited and materials developed for the college, which is expected to begin full operations in January 2002 following an initial intake this year of about 500 students to test the systems.
He stressed that the venture was not seeking to reinvent the wheel and would pull together existing or developing networks. Twenty-three Welsh colleges have signed up to the e-college project and six will be involved in the pilot.