Entrepreneur First (EF) has raised an £8.5m fund to help scale its “pre-team, pre-idea” accelerator programme for technical individuals.

EF backs students, post-graduates and young professionals with almost £17,000 over six months to help them develop a tech idea, taking an 8% stake in the resulting business.

The programme gets around 1,000 applicants from all over the world each year, mostly from hard science and engineering backgrounds, including one in three computer scientists from Cambridge University. EF is supporting 150 people this year and 220 in 2016.

The £8.5m fund is backed by a host of investors, including Index Ventures’ Robin Klein and Zoopla’s Alex Chesterman, many of whom act as mentors.

“Lots of enterprise seed investment and accelerators are taking talent from the same pool – which makes it very competitive to get the best startups,” said EF cofounder Alice Bentinck.

“We are now one of the biggest recruiters of computer scientists in Europe, competing directly with the likes of Google and Facebook for the best people.”

“We have a high-calibre of investors and former tech founders joining the fund, directly investing in the next generation of people who could be creating Europe’s next unicorns.”

Since its first cohort two years ago, 37  EF alumni companies have raised more than $40m in total, including the founders of adtech startup AdBrain, which raised $9m led by Octopus Investments and Notion Capital, bringing the total valuation across these companies to $150m.

Edtech startup Pi-Top and bike light firm Blaze are also EF portfolio companies.

Like typical VC funding, investors can expect to wait up to 10 years to see a return on their investment, if or when the startups get an exit.