A Bunch of Up Starts

Could you be the next Martha Lane Fox--if only you knew how to get your great dot-com idea off the ground and onto the Web? Or perhaps the exciting world of high-tech start-ups appeals to you, but you're not sure what companies are looking for and how to find one that suits you? The newly formed UpStart Network aims to bridge the gap between entrepreneurial students and potential employers and backers. The founders are six recent graduates of Oxford University's Engineering, Economics, and Management course and they're taking their message that start-ups provide a dynamic, varied, and exciting alternative to city careers for technology-savvy students across Britain.

Jeremy Sugden explains that he and his fellow founders were impressed by First Tuesday, an organisation that provides a matchmaking service for people with ideas and venture capitalists. But students, they realised, need more than a dating agency. As well as networking opportunities, they intend to provide additional resources, such as training in how to write a business plan for example. Their aim, says Sugden, is to become "the first port of call for a student with an idea."

The UpStart Network is open to undergrads and postgrads, regardless of discipline, and its focus is on the new media (dot-coms and Internet service providers) and high-tech (telecoms and software) sectors. A recent event in Cambridge, for example, featured a talk by Stephan Stanislawski of consultancy and research firm Analysys, who gave an overview of the telecom sector. There is "a huge amount of money sloshing around" in this area, he claimed, and pointed out that it reaches far beyond the field of voice telephony. He advised that when it comes to starting a new telecom company, it's much easier in the technology area than the service provision area. In terms of cash injected, "along with IT and genetics it's one of the most interesting sectors over the last few years," he suggested. But it is also "brutal," a genuine case of "survival of the fittest." The talk was sandwiched between two networking sessions that gave students the chance to pick the brains of Stanislawski and representatives of other local high-tech companies--fueled by some very passable vino.

As well as larger networking sessions such as this one, the UpStarts intend to return to the universities they've targeted with workshops for smaller groups of students on, for example, the legal issues involved in starting your own company. And their Web site will provide resources for those not able to attend their gatherings--such as access to guides, case studies, and transcripts of meetings. Ten events are planned for the spring term, so when you make your first million, just remember that you heard it here first!

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