Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute takes students ideas to real life
Sep 20, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 1:10 pm
(Photo Thad Kelling, Lassonde Institute)
SALT LAKE CITY — There is a mini city within the campus of the University of Utah called the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. There are no classrooms inside this beautiful building, but 412 students from 60 different majors live there. There are 6,000 students, from freshmen to doctoral students, who interact at the institute every year.
“You notice as you walk in — there’s nobody checking you at the door,” said Troy D’Ambrosio, Executive Director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and Assistant Dean of the David Eccles School of Business. “People ask me, ‘How do I get involved with the Lassonde program?’ I say, ‘You just walk in and do stuff.'”
It doesn’t cost anything. There are no classes to take. You just come and, as he says, do stuff.
“We tried to create the most open, porous platform that we could so that students can engage and sample on their time frame,” D’Ambrosio explained.
How does the Lassonde Entrepreneurship Institute work?
So, a student comes in with an idea but has no clue how to market the idea or produce the product. Another student understands the engineering side but doesn’t know if he needs a patent or not. These students are able to connect over lunch or a game of pool at the institute.
“All the people who can help you to be an entrepreneur exist on campus,” D’Ambrosio said. “But to find them is hard. The business school is over here, and the engineering school is over there. How do you get those two people together? We decided we had to have a space where you could gather and find each other.”
Each year, there will be 400 student-created businesses developed at Lassonde. One hundred of those will get to revenue every year.
How do students get funded?
“We have a program called Get Seeded,” D’Ambrosio explained. “It’s a microgrant program. We give $5,000-$10,000 a month in $200, $500, and $1,000 increments.”
At Lassonde, they ask the students to share something they need to learn about their business.
“We’ll help fund that,” he said. “You need to learn how to build a prototype? We’ll give you a little money to try that. Plus, you can get a grant every month. They keep evolving their business and moving it forward.”
Who gets to live in the Lassonde Entrepreneurship Institute?
“Tell us why you want to live in a creative, entrepreneurial environment,” D’Ambrosio explained. “We don’t want it to be all founders. They need artists, engineers, accountants. We want it to be a diverse, eclectic community.”
You can see the diversity as you walk around the ground floor, which is called Main Street. In one corner is a group of students working on a company they created that deals with drone technology. In another corner, there are offices of student startups. Across the way is a restaurant open 24 hours a day. In the middle of it all, you’ll see a grand piano and students shooting pool.
“I got an application from a young woman that said, ‘I don’t know what I want to do, but I think this would be a great place to figure it out,'” D’Ambrosio shared. “And we also have students who started a business in high school and want to come here and grow it.”
For high school students
This week, Lassonde kicked off the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.
“Any high school student in the state from ages 14-18 can apply,” said Thad Kelling, Marketing Director at Lassonde. “We have $30,000 in cash and scholarships, so it’s a great opportunity to get a taste of entrepreneurship.”
This is what Kelling called an “idea competition.” He explained that “all you need is an idea. Every student has at least three app ideas alone, right? So, enter one and maybe earn some scholarship money or just have a good experience.”