By Max Clarke

As The Apprentice tonight returns for its 7th season, social networks and forums are once again abuzz with the excitement and speculation that has come to surround the BBC’s cutthroat programme.

But what makes tonight’s episode different, fuelling the online hype, is the programme’s shift on focus from business executive to entrepreneurial. Rather than the format of the previous 6 seasons, in which the winner was offered a six-figure job under the programme’s boss, Sir Sugar, they will instead be granted £250,000 in investment in their business.

The Apprentice’s change in tack is arguably a subtle reflection in the change in society’s approach towards entrepreneurialism that the Coalition government have been attempting to enact since their election.

Over the past year we have seen the launch of StartUp Britain; a budget focused on removing barriers to smaller businesses; the introduction of grants and loans aimed at steering the unemployed towards launching their own businesses; as well as government policies helping businesses acquire bank funding. Other policy directions include Vince Cable’s technology and innovation centres and business stimulating Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Such measures, combined with the success of programmes like Dragons’ Den, are together shaping the public’s interest. The Apprentice’s decision to focus on new business development rather than executive level, salary paid work in an existing business is likely an attempt to ride this wave of public interest.

"I hope that this new series can provide the spark for a new generation of entrepreneurs to realise their ambitions and see that you don't need to win a television contest to finance a successful small business," said Matt Barrie, founder of Freelancer.co.uk.

"Hopefully this will inspire an even greater number of business people to go it alone - because the truth is there really has never been a better time to start a business."