New UK programme joins the accelerator vogue, offers evergreen funding

There’s no denying that startup accelerators are now officially in vogue. Whether that is a sign of a bubble (or even a Blubble) or not I will leave to you.

However, today the movement is joined by the Oxygen Accelerator a UK-based investment programme designed to intensively mentor super-early stage startups. The 13-week programme will take applications from around the world, so long as the startup sets up a UK limited company.

The programme is unusual in that it’s offering an “evergreen” loan of £20,000 to start with, in return for a 6% equity stake. In effect this covers the startup’s costs and ‘ramen noodle’ living expenses during the programme (they are working with local athorities to also provide subsidised or free accommodation for teams).

And teams won’t need to ‘pay back’ the loan until its raised more investment or the business can afford to repay it. After which that £20k is designed to re-circulate back into the programme. It’s also unusual in that the £200,000 fund covering 10 teams is coming from one individual businessman with no previous history in the tech industry.

That is not about to put off Mark Hales, however. He says that after building up a £65m turnover in the nursing homes business he wants to get involved in the fast-paced tech industry and is prepared to slap down the cash to do it. To do this he’s brought in Simon Jenner, head of incubation at Birmingham Science park to oversee the running of the programme and the assembling of mentors like former Plusnet entrepreneur Lee stafford, Eze Vidra of Google and VC Cafe and Katy Turner from Eden Ventures. Personally I think Hales is slightly crazy – but it’s the kind of crazy I like, so I am joining as a (pro-bono) mentor as well, at least for this first programme.

Admittedly it’s going to be difficult to produce a programme as highly developed as a Seedcamp or Ycombinator from a standing start – and in a place not known as a tech cluster – but Hales reckons he can do it.

“I love technology and young people, and after being successful myself I want to put something back,” he told me. “I wanted to do something outside London, support young entrepreneurs and create a sustainable project that will continue for a long time.”

Luckily he is not coming to this completely cold. Hales has already been a mentor and Founder investor in Springboard in the existing UK tech startup “Springboard” programme run out of Cambridge which has a similar £20,000 offering.

At the end of the 13 weeks the teams will be taken on a roadshow of investor pitches around the UK (not just London) to help them raise follow-on funding.

The programme will be based at Birmingham’s Science Park Aston (BSPA) from 1st September this year.

Applications are open now and close on June 30th 2011 via the site.