Mark Hales launches £200,000 start-up Oxygen Accelerator

Entrepreneur Mark Hales has launched a £200,000 start-up accelerator programme in Birmingham that aims to develop entrepreneurship by providing tech start-ups with early stage finance and mentoring.

The investment programme, titled Oxygen Accelerator, will select ten individuals or teams from around the world who want to participate in a 13-week intensive business ‘boot camp’ based at Birmingham’s Science Park Aston (BSPA) from September. The venture launches this week.

Each of the 10 recipients will be awarded ‘evergreen’ loans of up to £20,000, in exchange for a 6 per cent equity stake, that are repayable once investment has been received or the start-up reaches a stage of profitability where it can afford to repay it. During the programme, applicants will have access to BSPA’s resources and also receive guidance from successful tech entrepreneurs, business mentors, and other financial and legal support.

The programme, which is modelled on Springboard, another start-up accelerator programme being run at Cambridge, will end with an ‘Investor Day’ where the business will present their idea to venture capitalists and angel investors.

Hales, who became an angel investor after exiting care services provider Claimar Care in 2009, says he has created the programme because there is a ‘shortage of good advice’ for start-ups.

‘Certainly going through a process of building a business almost from scratch, I recognise completely the mismatch, particularly in the UK, between having the right people and the right advice at the right time,’ he tells GrowthBusiness.

‘When I look back at my career, and go back to 1999 when I was just setting out, there was an absolute shortage of good advice. So I want to say to young entrepreneurs, we are going to provide you with a huge network of experienced, capable, well-connected mentors and structure at the time when it is going to add the most value to your business.’

Despite not having a tech background, Hales says he has always had the ‘passion’ to help grow innovation in his hometown of Birmingham. He adds that he is not worried about applicants baulking at the programme because of the requirement to be based in the Midlands.

He explains, ‘In terms of Birmingham as a city, it is vibrant and it is the second-biggest business community outside of the capital – that said, I don’t think we necessarily need to compete with London. London is a great tool for the Birmingham community. It’s only an hour and 20 minutes on the train – people forget that sometimes.’

The programme comes at a time when the government is focusing more energy on developing support structures and mentoring initiatives for start-ups, particularly tech companies. Last November, Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of the East London Tech City, which has been inspired by the growing ‘Silicon Roundabout’ group of early stage tech companies.

Hales says that while the support has been welcomed, there has been too much of a focus on the Southeast.

‘Innovation anywhere is good and we need to build sustainable economies everywhere, [but] there is a second part of me, as a local boy, that feels we perhaps are missing out and that is why I am trying to draw some of that focus outside of London and say, actually we can build sustainable communities outside of London,’ he says.

Oxygen Accelerator applications close on 30 June 2011. Information on how to submit proposals, or how to become a mentor and/or investor, can be found online at Oxygen Accelerator.

Todd Cardy

Todd Cardy

Todd was Editor of between 2010 and 2011 as well as being responsible for publishing our digital and printed magazines focusing on private equity and venture capital. Connect with...

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