How an institute at the University of Utah helps student entrepreneurs – Business Insideronline entrepreneur
Over the past 20 years, Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, has helped Salt Lake City’s entrepreneur community flourish. He leads programs for students at the university that fosters a culture of innovation and supports the next generation of startup founders.
“We’ve seen how much interest there is from entrepreneurs and where we thought we could fill in the gaps” to be a resource for them, D’Ambrosio, who’s also an assistant dean at the business school, told Insider.
Salt Lake City’s entrepreneur community is “amazing, robust, creative, and continues to grow,” he said. “It’s becoming part of our DNA. Entrepreneurship is what people want to do in the future. They’re really interested in entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation.”
As a Salt Lake City native and University of Utah alum, D’Ambrosio said he’s seeing entrepreneurship and innovation being used to solve problems around climate change, health care, and transportation. So far Lassonde has helped students launch more than 2,700 startups and raise more than $700 million in funding, including venture capital. These include the medical device LERC Medical, an addiction-recovery mobile app called Relay, and Kroy Railway Group, a company helping mitigate railroad safety issues.
Here’s a look at how Lassonde is supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in students.
This month, the institute launched Lassonde for Life, a new program open to University of Utah alumni who completed any degree in any major and now want to start or grow their business. The program is free and offered online so alumni can participate from anywhere.
“We have a number of alumni who have been really successful who are always coming back saying, ‘You made an impact on my life while I was there. How can I give back now?'” D’Ambrosio said. Alumni also often get in touch to ask about resources for starting a business.
The program pairs these two groups. It will feature a series of workshops during the 2022-23 academic year that are hosted by successful alumni on topics like launching an e-commerce business, prototyping new products, conducting market research, and navigating legal issues for startups.
D’Ambrosio said the first program will help the institute learn more about which programs to offer, how often, and the best format to deliver the content going forward.
In January 2023, the business school will expand its master of business creation (MBC) degree online, which will enable anyone from around the world to enroll. It’ll focus on “the founder’s startup, applied curriculum, personalized mentorship, substantial scholarships, peer support and discussion, access to $5 million in startup funding, and more,” according to an announcement about the program.
The online MBC is part-time with a flexible schedule that’s completed in 14 months instead of the nine-month full-time program, which is in-person only. It will feature video content and live virtual group meetings. Every student is assigned a coach, who they’ll meet with regularly one-on-one.
“We created the online program because we had so many people apply for the in-resident program who either couldn’t physically be in Utah or Salt Lake or because of economic circumstances, they’re still working a day job, they have children they’re taking care of, or they couldn’t participate in as intense of a program as in-resident,” D’Ambrosio said.
Students in the online program will have 60% of their costs covered by scholarships and will pay around $15,000 out of pocket. Next, D’Ambrosio said they plan to launch region-specific online MBC programs in Africa and Europe.
The institute provides many other initiatives, programs, and resources to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. Its Lassonde Studios is a 400-person residential community and innovation facility on campus for University of Utah students to create and launch ideas. It features a 20,000-square-foot innovation space with 3D printers, laser cutters, and office space.
“It’s become this gathering place, a community where entrepreneurs go,” D’Ambrosio said. “It’s a unique place where people can find each other on campus and work together.”
Students also help commercialize ideas created by other university departments by translating them into real products. D’Ambrosio said they’ve helped around 70 technologies developed at the university raise startup capital and enter the market, including Peel Therapeutics, a biotech company developing cancer and inflammatory disease medications that recently kicked off its clinical trials.
“We’re using that intellectual property on campus as a tool to teach technology commercialization, entrepreneurship, and capital raising,” D’Ambrosio said.
The institute also runs the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge (HSUEC), which is open to all Utah high school students, who can win prize money and scholarships based on their ideas. Another program, the Lassonde Founders Program, is a cohort of incoming freshmen at the university who have started companies. The students receive housing at Lassonde Studios, a scholarship, and access to resources and a community to develop their businesses.
“The really interesting thing for us is these young people teach us about the new trends and new technologies and stuff out there,” D’Ambrosio said. “They’re educating us as much as we’re educating them.”
Working with students and creating a place where they can develop their ideas and get them out into the world is what D’Ambrosio loves about his role.
“When a student walks into your office and says, ‘I have this idea,’ and I get to say, ‘I can help you,’ it’s the coolest job ever,” he said.