Thirty-four students from universities across the UK have been selected to take part in a new initiative designed to help budding entrepreneurs launch their own technology start-ups.

Entrepreneur First is a not-for-profit initiative that launched last year with the backing of Silicon Valley Bank, Microsoft, McKinsey & Company and the City of London Corporation. The programme aims to make high-growth entrepreneurship a viable career choice for graduates by offering training and mentorship, as well as access to a network of entrepreneurs and investors.

“What we were seeing was that a lot of young people were excited about the idea of entrepreneurship, but very few were choosing it as a career, opting instead for something more secure like law or banking,” said Matt Clifford, CEO of Entrepreneur First.

“Entrepreneur First is really about building valuable companies. This is not work experience, it is a step into the world of entrepreneurship.”

The 34 successful candidates were selected from among 400 applicants, 200 of whom were given telephone interviews. The final 80 were grilled by a panel of entrepreneurs and investors including Ben Drury (CEO of 7Digital), Pete Smith (COO of Songkick), Harry Briggs (co-founder of Firefly Tonics), and representatives from Balderton Capital, Index Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank.

Those selected where chosen because they had already demonstrated entrepreneurial flair, according to Clifford. For example, some had set up their own businesses to support themselves through university, while others had developed and sold their own software or hardware.

“The best candidates were able to talk knowledgeably and passionately about their idea and were quick to recognise potential challenges and barriers to its execution,” he said.

The successful applicants will participate in a two-week “bootcamp” in Cambridge in August, where they will form companies with fellow participants and begin turning their ideas into businesses. The scheme will then formally begin in September 2012, when they will be set up with a desk in a co-working space in London's Tech City.

Speaking to Techworld at a launch event at Club Workspace in London today, some of the selected candidates expressed their excitement at being given the opportunity to take part in the scheme.

“I'm kind of seeing it as a gap year thing. Rather than saving apes in Africa I'll be building something in my basement, sleeping on the floor and eating toast,” said Robert Whitehead, who is studying computer science at Cambridge. “I have the technical ability. I used to create products for Second Life when I was at school. What I need is guidance on how to run a business and how to get funding.”

Songkick's Pete Smith, who has been helping as a mentor with the interview process, said that he is excited by the calibre of applicants, and believes that Entrepreneur First will give aspiring entrepreneurs the kickstart they need.

“At no point in your life will you really be prepared to run a business, you just have to jump in and get on your way,” he said. “If a programme like this had been around when I was getting started, maybe I wouldn't have spent two years dicking around and not doing anything.”