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Big business backs new initiative to find tomorrow's business stars

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Alice Bentinck and Matt Clifford founders of Entrepreneurs First

Some of the biggest names in business, including Microsoft and McKinsey, have come together to support a new initiative that is hoped will transform London’s burgeoning tech scene into a Silicon Valley rival.

Entrepreneur First is a not-for-profit initiative created to help talented UK graduates start their own high-growth businesses.

“This isn’t about lifestyle entrepreneurialism,” says its founder Matt Clifford, but about nurturing the big businesses of tomorrow.

Open to university graduates only, the scheme has picked 33 aspiring entrepreneurs from 400 applicants.

During a process involving 225 telephone interviews and 80 face-to-face interviews, a host of entrepreneurs and investors grilled the business stars of tomorrow.

Interviewers included the CEO of 7Digital, Ben Drury; co-founder of Songkick Pete Smith; Firefly Tonics co-founder Harry Briggs; and Alex Gezelius, principal at Index Ventures.

Before launching their start-ups in September 2012, the successful 34 will undertake a full-time, two week bootcamp “based on lean start-up principles” in August.

This is designed to push them into producing the first iteration of their products, and give them the skills needed to build their future businesses.

From September the budding entrepreneurs will then launch their start-ups. Housed in a shared work space, they will be encouraged to work together and to create teams, in what is hoped will be a creative process that will maximise their different talents and result in the next Facebook and Google. Throughout the period they will be mentored by a pool of businesspeople and will be given access to a range of entrepreneurs at regular networking events.  

As well as Microsoft and McKinsey, Silicon Valley Bank – funders to tech start-ups and multinationals such as Google – and the City of London Corporation are also sponsoring the initiative.

“Overall, the successful candidates were those that had already demonstrated real entrepreneurial flair. Some had even set up their own businesses to support themselves through university, while others had developed and sold their own software or hardware.

“The best candidates were able to talk knowledgeably and passionately about their idea and were quick to recognise potential challenges and barriers to its execution,” said Clifford. Pete Smith, COO of Songkick, said: “It was only a year ago that the first rumours circulated that an Entrepreneur First scheme was going to happen. The speed at which the Entrepreneur First team has moved to set up, design, and market the programme to recent and soon-to-be graduates would make any start-up team proud.

“The most impressive thing is undoubtedly the talent that they’ve attracted to the programme in its first year. Helping as a mentor with the interview process, I enjoyed every session I was involved in and was excited by the calibre of the people sitting in front of me.”

Meet the 33 successful candidates

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