ONLINE social networking sites can provide huge untapped business opportunities, young entrepreneurs will be told today.

More than 100 budding businessmen and women are expected to attend the first ever pan-Wales virtual business conference at Glyndwr University.

The event, part-funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, will hear from virtual business experts and top young entrepreneurs.

John Lester, operations director at Linden Labs, founders of Second Life, is set to deliver a talk on opportunities in the virtual world from the United States via a video link-up.

Lucian Tarnowski, winner of the 2009 Enterprising Young Brit Award in the global category, and Hermione Way, founder of internet video site, will speak about their online business successes.

Matthew Draycott, enterprise associate at Glyndwr University, said the event aims to inspire students to think about the opportunities which virtual worlds and the social web offers them for business.

He said: “The conference is a bold statement about Wales’ commitment to innovation and enterprise – and we are leading the way here at Glyndwr University.

“Social media is very much part of students’ and everyone else’s lives – you’d be hard pushed to find a student who doesn’t use Facebook, Bebo or Twitter.

“We use these socially but we don’t always understand the business opportunities they allow.

“The potential for running a business in virtual worlds or on the social web are fantastic and we want students in Wales to start making more of these opportunities.”

Other speakers at the two-day conference, which runs until tomorrow, include Amy Louise Matthews, a Glyndwr University student who has been running a successful retail business in Second Life.

Denise Oram, senior lecturer in computing and ethics at Glyndwr University, will discuss some of the ethical issues around running virtual enterprises.

“It promises to be a great event,” said Mr Draycott. “We’ve got students coming from around Wales plus academics from universities across the UK.

E-entrepreneurship is an exciting field and I’m sure the conference will sow the seeds for a new wave of successful virtual entrepreneurs here in Wales.”

Making money in a virtual world

Wrexham-born Amy Louise Matthews, 22, joined Second Life after attending a lecture in 2006.

The virtual world, launched in 2003, enables its users – known as Residents – to interact with each other through ‘avatars’, users’ representations of their alter egos.

Residents can explore, socialise, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another. They can also travel throughout the virtual world, known as “the grid”.

Once she joined Second Life, Amy learned how to DJ online in various clubs and found out what went on behind the scenes to run them.

This fuelled a passion for radio and led her to Glyndwr University, where she built up her skills to work in radio.

Amy first owned a small clothing store in Second Life called Rebellion Designs and later purchased a Sim (a piece of land) and opened her own club.

This ran successfully for just under a year, branching out with tribute concerts, live music performances and showcases from people all over the world.

Recently she has ventured into digital photography poses and animations and has a fledgling store called *ZeSt*, which is doing well with support from big names in the virtual world.

All three businesses she has run in Second Life use the realm’s own currency, Linden dollars.

Shoppers use this to buy virtual items for their avatar and revenues can then be exchanged for real money: Second Life has its own exchange rate against the US dollar.