Bill GatesBill GatesBill Gates might need to start looking over his shoulders because the founder of the next Microsoft and contender for his title could be a British sixth form student.

Toshiba and XMA (its higher education and public sector ICT supplier) have launched a nationwide competition, “The next Bill Gates”, looking for an IT wizard among students who are planning to start university in 2010. Entrants can put themselves forward, be nominated by a teacher or by a colleague and the search is for the learner who answers, most convincingly, in 100 words: “Why are you the next Bill Gates?”

The coveted top prize is £3,500 worth of tuition fees, a Toshiba laptop, a summer 2010 placement with XMA, and the services of a mentor for their first year at University. Submissions can either be in writing on in a 60-second video which must be uploaded to the competition website. All entries are also included in a prize draw to win a Toshiba HD Ready flat screen television (see "Next Bill Gates" YouTube video below).

“With tuition fees, living costs, student loans and overdrafts all mounting up, many students in the UK have become completely overwhelmed by debt,” says Guy Bates, XMA’s business development director. “This competition is a great opportunity to give someone a head start at university – not only on a monetary level but the additional support from a business mentor will go a long way to helping them excel in their studies.”

Three will be short-listed and invited for an interview at XMA. The judging panel of technology and media gurus include Guy Bates, the Guardian’s technology correspondent Bobbie Johnson, and former BBC Dragon, Doug Richard whose company, School for Startups provides business training for UK entrepreneurs.

Closing date for entries is February 28 with the winner announced in May. “Bill Gates is an icon because he’s unique," says Doug Richard. "He was the first great software billionaire and a huge inspiration in the IT world. Our challenge is discovering the talent before they’re at Bill Gates’ level.”

Microsoft’s UK education industry manager Ray Fleming is kicking himself. Describing the competition on his Microsoft schools news blog as one that “does what it says on the tin”, he says “As far as I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with Microsoft, but darn, why weren’t we quicker thinking of this idea? Every year we take in about 80 interns for a full year, as well as offering work experience for pupils from local schools, but hadn’t thought of offering it as the chance to become the next Bill Gates…”

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