A new workspace at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) will open in 2012 to foster the entrepreneurial skills of technically advanced computer science students.
The Venture Incubator Space (VIS), located in the School of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), will provide students with the space and support needed to kick off their own IT startup.
“The incubator is a small step to encouraging students — and staff — to develop their ideas and give them a chance to move those ideas out into the marketplace,” said Maurice Pagnucco, head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering.
Pagnucco told Techworld Australia that former student, Adam Brimo, who created the Vodafail website and now runs the startup Mijura, came up with the idea of the incubator space as “a lot of students in our school are quite interested in entrepreneurial activities and they get to the end of their studies and they find it difficult to go on and do something.”
Aside from providing the incubator space, including the use of a desk, phone and internet, the VIS also enables students to turn to the university’s resources for help. “There are academics they can turn to, there are students they can turn to for help, or also potential employees,” Pagnucco said.
“The university has this commercialisation arm called NewSouth Innovations and a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Australian School of Business at UNSW.
“We’ve also been approached by a lot of startup groups external to the university willing to offer things like mentoring and getting students involved in other parts of activities.”
Graham Morton, the general manager for the academics services group within NewSouth Innovations (NSi), said his department — which is responsible for commercialising the intellectual property developed by staff and students — will impart the knowledge and skills students need to create their own companies, such as how to write a term sheet, how to go about a deal and how to protect intellectual property.
“NewSouth Innovations is responsible for all intellectual property created within the university,” he said.
“Historically, it’s been the researcher that’s developed the intellectual property… so we have been charged with managing their intellectual property and what we’re doing is extending that model to help our students develop an entrepreneurial spin-out group in their own right.”
The VIS is currently open to students primarily in the computer science area but Morton said UNSW wants to expand this “entrepreneurial theme” to all students. In fact, he said, the science faculty has already expressed its “keen interest” in the idea of an incubator program.
Upon operation, the incubator will house four to eight student-run ventures. However, Pagnucco said that if the program proves successful, the university will look into expanding it.
The program has also been set up so that students will retain ownership of any intellectual property they develop inside the space or as part of their business venture.
Applicants must submit a business plan no longer than 10 pages to be in the running, with those shortlisted required to pitch their idea in a 10-15 minute presentation to a small panel. Successful candidates will be offered a lease of up to 12 months, with a possibility of a six-month extension. The first six months of rent are free, with subsidised rates for the remaining period.
The panel consists of Pagnucco, another academic, the CSE business development officer, two industry representatives and a state government representative.
As of last Friday, Pagnucco said that he has received four applications and three of those were shortlisted. Those candidates will now be required to pitch their business plan to the panel at the end of January 2012, with a decision to be made on the day as to who will occupy the space.
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