Enterprising students and ex-students from across the North are to compete face to face in a new competition that will see one of them walk away with a cash prize and expert support.

It’s been devised with the help of the former executive producer of Granada’s Flying Start, which preceded Dragon’s Den by two decades, and it will be sponsored and produced in association with both The University of Manchester’s Enterprise Centre (MEC) and its agent for intellectual property commercialisation, UMIP.

Former Flying Start executive producer and Educate - North co-creator Rob McLoughlin

Former Flying Start executive producer and Educate – North co-creator Rob McLoughlin

They will be a key sponsor of the second Educate – North Conference, which will be held on April 21st at Manchester’s Hilton Hotel, where the competition will be based.

Two key departments at the university are combining to support the conference and the first ‘University Entrepreneurs Challenge’, showcasing new student and graduate enterprises emerging from the North’s growing higher education sector.

The sponsorship deal follows the success of the 2015 awards and conference which celebrated the world class achievements of many institutions in the HE and FE sectors in the North and opened a critical debate on the future direction, risks and opportunities ahead. The events are staged in association with The Telegraph Media Group and Barclays Bank.

“The Educate – North Conference is building an important and much-needed platform to demonstrate to the North and the UK as a whole just how much is being achieved in this sector and how much more needs to be done to make it sustainable in today’s changing environment’,” said Professor Luke Georghiou, vice president, research & innovation, at The University of Manchester.

“This year we felt it would be the right moment to bring our Enterprise Centre on board together with our intellectual property arm, UMIP, to help drive and support the Conference but also to introduce this innovative competition for student and graduate start-up companies emerging from the sector.”

The University Entrepreneurs Challenge will see student and former student companies – which have grown out of the HE sector – compete against each other to win recognition, investment and mentoring from successful entrepreneurs and tutors.

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Rob McLoughlin OBE, one of the conference and awards creators and Flying Start executive producer in the late 1990s, said: “The Barclays team said it to me first, then UMIP said it and they were quickly followed by others.

“They all said we should create a Flying Start/Dragons’ Den style contest and bring some of the more exciting new firms from across the North to compete but also to gain valuable recognition – so we are trailblazing it here in April under the banner of the first University Entrepreneurs Challenge – it should be tremendous and we have a few surprises for the contestants up our sleeve.”

The 2016 conference will also hear from keynote speakers on current developments and Government plans to change the way teaching is assessed. It will also discuss the success and difficulties in spinning out new ideas and companies from the HE sector into the commercial world.

Full conference details will be announced shortly but the awards are now open and entries can be made via the website www.educatenorth.co.uk.