To speed the start-up process for student (and faculty) entrepreneurs, the University of Texas is launching a program called Texas Venture Labs.

The university-wide initiative will guide entrepreneurs through the company birthing process and connect them with business, technology and legal resources. Funded by alumni from the McCombs School of Business, where it is housed, Texas Venture Labs will selectively take on projects and provide (student) labor to help the firms get off the ground. That includes doing market research, developing a business plan, building a team and seeking outside funding -- all of which students will do for course credit. The program, which won't take equity in the companies, will work closely with the university's schools of engineering and law.

Texas Venture Labs will also guide Austin companies and investors to the fledgling firms. Its first partnership: the 67-member Central Texas Angel Network, one of the nation's leading groups. In 2009 -- as venture capital funding declined across the US -- CTAN invested $3.5 million in 12 ventures, 10 in Austin itself. That's up from $1 million in nine deals during 2008.

The news of the program, announced Wednesday night, comes as a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report shows U.S. entrepreneurship education lagging and follows a decrease in VC fundraising last year. In 2009, 125 funds in the US took in $13.6 billion, compared to $28.7 billion raised by 203 funds in 2008 and $40.8 billion from 217 funds in 2007, according to VentureSource data cited in The Wall Street Journal.

"Employers are looking for people who can manage innovation, and satisfying that demand requires that our students have tangible experience turning ideas into products and services," said Thomas Gilligan, McCombs' dean, in a statement.

Rob Adams, the program's director, said the program aimed to be a "central clearinghouse for helping entrepreneurs transform ideas and technologies developed on campus into start-ups." Adams, who has contributed to Inc., has helped more than eight start-ups through an early stage version of this program  in the last five years, with each successfully raising multi-million dollar rounds of financing. Two of the companies, Phurnace and eVapt, ­ recently were acquired, generating venture class returns for their investors, Adams said.

He described Texas Venture Labs as a "very novel" way to help produce results in a down economy.