Young entrepreneurs can tap the business secrets of experienced directors and mentors through a new fund kicked off by the University of Auckland Business School.

The EC-35 fund aims to give under-35s with a flair for business $100,000 to pay a world-class adviser or director for three years.

The initiative is part of the University of Auckland Business School annual multi-million dollar Entrepreneurs' Challenge.

Entrepreneurs' Challenge investment committee chairman and technology entrepreneur Greg Cross said the best way to boost success for businesses in the high-growth phase is to tap the knowledge of people who have been there and done it before.


"You learn so much more quickly and when you're in a growth curve those learnings can be the difference between success and failure," Cross said.

For five years the Entrepreneurs' Challenge has turbo-charged the growth plans of up-and-coming businesses by offering ambitious companies the chance to share in $1 million of growth funding, mentoring and support. Fifteen companies across a range of sectors have benefited from the Entrepreneurs' Challenge since it launched in 2009.

"When you've been doing the same thing for five years it obviously means you've got a good model and you're doing a lot of things right but it's also a good time to reflect and say, 'How can we change things up; how can we eat our own dog food and be a bit more innovative and a little bit more entrepreneurial?'," Cross said.

He said the Entrepreneurs' Challenge investment committee wanted a new programme specifically aimed at young entrepreneurs and decided that the "biggest lever that we can pull" was to give the under-35s access to the wisdom, governance and insights of an experienced adviser or board member. The Entrepreneurs' Challenge was the vision of New Zealand businessman Charles Bidwill, who provided the original $3 million in seed money.

Bidwill said he had seen a change in the way New Zealanders are talking about business.

"What I find interesting is we started this when entrepreneurism really wasn't a word that was generally talked about," Bidwill said.

"I'm extremely pleased from the point of view that entrepreneurism is out in the open, it's being discussed, people are talking about it."

His ambition for the Entrepreneurs' Challenge is for it to find and take an equity stake in the next global business phenomenon.

Not only would it boost the profile of the business school it would create a funding pool far in excess of the current $5 million, Bidwill said.

"You'd end up with a fund that could do far more than what it can at the moment."

Michelle Dickinson, nanotechnology specialist and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, kicked off the Entrepreneurs' Challenge at the University of Auckland Business School on Thursday evening.

Recently returned from a week spent discussing sustainability and technology at the invitation of Richard Branson, Dickinson talked about "the five things I learned about business from Richard Branson".

Entries to the Entrepreneurs' Challenge opened yesterday and close on July 28.