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£1 million to burn for the people's favourite

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The hunt for the next dotcom companies to burn up millions in venture capital, and then keel over and die, starts tonight at 8.00pm GMT.

Demonstrating an astonishing sense of timing, Channel 4's programme, The E-Millionaire Show, starts broadcasting tonight, during the heart of the dotcom doldrums (not to mention Eastenders). The format is for aspiring dotcom businesses to fight it out for a million quids worth of venture capital funding.

In the last two months, wannabe dot commers have been registering their ideas on the show's website. Business analysts have narrowed the field down to 15 finalists.

When asked if the idea had been hatched when the market was more buoyant, a spokeswoman for the TV channel said that in fact it had taken only four months to get to screen. That would put the "germination" time of this idea back in March some time. It could be argued that the writing was on the wall for the Internet stocks but not everyone was looking.

"No one is pretending that the dotcoms are having an easy time at the moment," said a Channel 4 spokeswoman. "But a good business proposition is a good business proposition. Even so, Channel Four isn't worried about the dotcom market - that is an issue for the winning company and the investors."

So that's basically saying, "It's not our money, so we don't care." Fair enough.

In a series of five heats, broadcast each night this week, the budding e-entrepreneurs will be grilled about their ideas by a panel including EasyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou; QXL founder Tim Jackson; and Mike Lynch, founder of the slick Web search company Autonomy.

Viewers get to vote every night to choose that day's winner. At the end of the week there is a grand final. Of the viewers who voted for the winning proposition, there is a random draw for one who will get a one percent equity stake in the company.

The winning venture will get £1 million to fund the company, and will be followed by a camera crew to track its progress over the next year. The remaining million will be divided between the runners up at the discretion of a panel.®

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