News that TV mogul Simon Cowell is teaming up with Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am to launch an X-Factor style reality TV show to find the next Bill Gates has been met with a mixture of amusement and scorn by the industry.

According to a report in The Sun newspaper today, the new project is called “X Factor for Tech” and aims to discover “budding technology wizards” who can follow in the wake of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Will.i.am - who is also director of creative innovation at Intel - has previously spoken about wanting to launch a technology programme for tech-minded people and said the new show is going to be “out of this world”.

“Singing and performance create a couple of jobs. But this will create lots,” he reportedly said at a technology conference in London. “It’s about getting in touch with youth and giving them a platform to express themselves - whether that’s in science or mathematics.”

However, some members of the UK tech industry seem less than enthusiastic about the idea:

“Oh dear god, kill me now,” tweeted technology entrepreneur Chris Arnold, founder of Awedience.

“If you didn't hate Simon Cowell enough, he's making an x-factor for TECH CEOs. Can he just LEAVE OUR INDUSTRY ALONE?!” added Natalie Rooke, a designer at PeerIndex.

The question is not so much what the tech industry thinks, however, as whether the idea has legs as a commercial venture.

There is undoubtedly a market for programmes that depict aspiring entrepreneurs striving to get their projects off the ground. Dragon's Den and The Apprentice are among the most popular shows on TV, and adding a technological spin doesn't require too great a stretch of the imagination.

The format is also popular among technology entrepreneurs, with every week seeing the launch of a new start-up competition or hackathon. Many of these events are modelled on Dragon's Den, giving entrepreneurs five minutes to pitch their idea in front of a panel of judges.

Even technology itself is becoming more of a sexy subject. Programmes like Channel 5's The Gadget Show are making technology more accessible to the casual viewer, and the rise of the “digital native” means that it's no longer just geeks who want to know about the latest Android app.

Simon_Cowell.jpgThe real concern is over Simon Cowell's involvement in the venture. After all, what can a high-trousered tango-faced music manager offer the burgeoning technology scene, other than a bit of razzmatazz and fairy dust?

Will.i.am can at least claim the Intel connection, although his appearances at company conferences to date have not revealed any deep technological insight. As for Cowell, his opinions don't extend far beyond the vocal talent and dress sense of wannabe pop stars.

Moreover, Cowell's interference in the entertainment industry has not resulted in any great musical innovation. He has merely succeeded in producing a continuous stream of manufactured pop acts that keep his pockets lined by paying a vast percentage of their income to his record label - not a path that start-up tech companies want to embark on.

But perhaps we shouldn't dismiss the idea too quickly. Are the future Mark Zuckerbergs of this world really the kinds of people that will enter a glitzy reality TV show in the hope of fame and success? Probably not. But Cowell's shows have an undeniable mass market appeal, and in particular seem to attract women and teenagers - groups that the technology industry is desperate to recruit.

Maybe the winner of this type of contest will not be the stereotypical pale-faced bespectacled nerd but a new type of technology entrepreneur, who is ready to embrace the spotlight and help change the image of the technology industry.

The UK tech start-up community is still fragile, however, and relies on the leadership of established entrepreneurs who understand the needs of the industry and recognise that innovation and monetisation can be poles apart. Exposure is important, but so is guidance.

With all the subtlety of a hand grenade, the Cowell machine will inevitably end up blundering in and upsetting the whole delicate balance.
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