How Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute Allows Students to Create Their Own Entrepreneurial Journey

We want our students to learn, and you can learn with a success or you can learn with a failure.

Remember when you attended college with the sole purpose of receiving a diploma, weaseling in and out of your classes with the least amount of pain and suffering (read: homework) as possible? When your main worries consisted of scrounging up quarters for double cheeseburgers at McDonald’s and then lying to your parents about how productive you’d been that day? And then you graduated, entered the hustle-and-bustle of everyday work, and felt like a clown for thinking you were fully prepared? Everybody nods their heads sadly. Me too.

What if I told you there’s a place in Utah that defies conventional thinking when it comes to education; a place not centered on cramming worksheets and lectures down your throat, but instead focuses on giving students the freedom and opportunity to apply their skills in a real-life, beneficial way? You’d be pretty excited, right? Everybody nods their heads happily. Me too.

Then settle in and let me tell you about the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

Created at the University of Utah in 2001 by Pierre Lassonde, the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is a uniquely designed program where students can test their own ideas in a nurturing environment without the added stress of financial desolation that accompanies these ventures in the real world (nobody deserves the fate of eating McDonald’s all their life). It offers the perfect way for young entrepreneurs to hatch and perfect their own ideas; success or failure is irrelevant, expanding students’ experience is the goal. No pressure, just explore.

“We want our students to learn, and you can learn with a success or you can learn with a failure,” executive director Troy D’Ambrosio said in a recent interview with Beehive Startups. “We’re focused on the student and the entrepreneur, not on the business, not on the product.”

While the Lassonde Institute is a division of the David Eccles School of Business, all U of U students are eligible to partake of its fruit. Competitions are held each year where students pitch their ideas to a panel of judges with the winners being awarded prize money, simulating the much scarier process of pitching to a venture capitalist firm. Grant money is available for students with ideas in need of a financial boost, with multiple rounds of funding offered to the more successful prototypes. Maybe more importantly, the Lassonde Institute offers a way for students from different majors to share ideas and abilities with one another.

“We want to create a space that brings more students together and gives them a unique opportunity to work together,” D’Ambrosio said. “If you need help there’s probably somebody here that knows how to help you. It’s just how do you find that? We built this student hub that allows you as a student — whether you’re a business student or a fine arts student — to come in and create your own entrepreneurial journey while you’re here at the university; your own educational experience too.”

For those students who want to be absolutely immersed in the startup life, the Lassonde Institute has got you covered.

Currently under construction and set to open its doors in 2016, Lassonde Studios offers students a unique experience: a dorm exclusively designed for the budding entrepreneur, where one can live and exchange information with similarly-oriented individuals 24 hours a day.

Started with a $25 million donation from Lassonde himself, Lassonde Studios is basically a thinking-man’s dorm with the normal vices of weed and alcohol exchanged for laser cutters and 3D printers. There is no classroom or faculty space, just 160,000 square feet dedicated exclusively to students. The main floor, a vast, open, garage-type space, will be accessible to all students — a place to meet and mingle with your fellow entrepreneurs — with the upper floors reserved for students living in the building.

Ever heard of modular pods? They aren’t just words I combined to sound futuristic, but actual living/working areas designed to give inhabitants the benefits of a working space and the privacy of a bedroom all in one. Picture it like having your bedroom transplanted into your office at work, minus all the awkward looks your co-workers would give you when they saw what you wear to bed.

“We think about this a little bit like a fraternity or sorority for the tinkerer or entrepreneur,” D’Ambrosio said. “You want to be able to find people that are thinking about the same things you are and that can also help you…we started talking to students and really the things that we heard from them is that they needed to find each other.”

If the concept of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute sounds simple, that’s because it is.

Helping students explore and hone their ideas makes sense. Giving students the opportunity to meet people who possess vastly different skillsets, learn from them, and then use those abilities in a mutually beneficial way makes sense. Building a housing center, and bringing together students interested in the entrepreneurial world makes sense.

In a world where logic is hard to find, the Lassonde Institute takes a simple approach. It’s inclusive, it’s focused on the student, and it offers everyone who is involved a fantastic way to learn about the startup world.

Sometimes, simple is the best.

Published 1/6/2015

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