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Making space for business

A college in Leeds is offering one of its buildings to would-be entrepreneurs who produce good business ideas

A Yorkshire college is holding a Dragons' Den-style competition to find entrepreneurs who want to set up businesses on its campus.

Park Lane College in Leeds is using pound;1 million of European funding to transform the ground floor of one building into offices for new start-up companies.

Would-be entrepreneurs will make their pitches to a panel of successful business people, just as on the BBC show where the "dragons" choose which idea to invest in.

The successful entrants will get cheap office space and support services to help launch their business. The facilities will cost nothing until they start making sales - then they will be charged 10 per cent of turnover.

Ian Bond, director of increasing participation and engagement at the college, said it was an educational project as well as a way of supporting new businesses.

He said: "What we are hoping to benefit from is embedding entrepreneurship.

One of the targets is for FE is to work as closely as possible with businesses, and to support people in the community to set up new businesses is reflecting government thinking. Rather than just running courses on enterprise, we hope having the business incubator as part of the college will be an inspiration."

Students will be able to do work placements with the fledgling companies.

Some will work side by side with them on the campus.

One company under consideration is a multimedia firm called Letterbox which hopes to share the college's audio-visual equipment.

"While students are working on their coursework, the company could be editing a film for a client," Mr Bond said. "They will see the skills don't just lead to university and getting more skills, but that there are also opportunities to use them in an entrepreneurial way to make money.

"It's not just about setting up businesses. It's about being an entrepreneurial employee. They don't want people to just come in and punch their ticket."

The new facility, called The Unit, will offer small offices for up to 30 businesses, along with meeting rooms, a kitchen and space to relax in a room which used to house English languages classes. These have been relocated.

Support services worth about pound;27,000 a year will be available. These can include help from the college's accounting and human resources staff, while the rent would be worth about pound;20,000 a year at market rates.

Mr Bond suggested that once college staff realise their skills have a value on the open market, the college could bring in money by hiring them out as consultants.

Twelve business luminaries from Leeds have volunteered to help in the selection process. Mr Bond said their suggestions had already helped the project.

Originally, the college intended to ask for detailed business plans from applicants, but the business experts said this would put too many people off.

Instead, they suggested spending more face-to-face time with the budding entrepreneurs, listening to brief pitches from all of them, and then drawing up a shortlist, with detailed interviews before choosing the lucky few.

The college hopes the unit will attract 50 per cent female entrepreneurs, 10 per cent from ethnic minorities and 10 per cent from deprived inner-city areas around the college. It is hoped that about half will still be trading after their first year - an improvement on the typical survival rate of 30 per cent for new businesses.

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