Utah Entrepreneur Series student managers pose at the Lassonde House. 2012-2013

Lassonde Center: Square one for student entrepreneurs

For the thousands of students who participate in programs offered by the Pierre and Claudette Lassonde Entrepreneur Center, it’s no mystery why the University of Utah is among the most entrepreneurial schools in the country.

The Lassonde Center, which is part of the David Eccles School of Business, provides a wealth of programs that allow students to cut their teeth and earn serious money for their startup companies. No school in the country offers the same variety of programs.

“We give students hands-on experience to show them what it’s like to make a pitch, start a company and, sometimes, fail, which can be a very valuable lesson,” says Troy D’Ambrosio, the executive director of the Lassonde Center. “Our programs give them a way to cement what they have learned in the many excellent entrepreneurship classes at the U.”

A few of the most popular programs offered by the Lassonde Center include a graduate business plan program, three business plan competitions, a student incubator and a growing variety of specialty programs. Beyond these, the Lassonde Center partners with departments across campus to provide the most diverse opportunities possible.

“We like to think we offer something for students in every discipline at every stage in their education,” D’Ambrosio says.

The program that kicked off the Lassonde Center more than 10 years ago was the Lassonde New Venture Development Center. This program pairs faculty inventors with graduate students, who get a scholarship to spend a year researching an invention and writing a full business plan. About 30 students participate in this program every year, and they help launch about three faculty startups annually.

The business plan competitions offered by the Lassonde Center are grouped in the Utah Entrepreneur Series. It consists of three competitions that take students from idea to full business plan in one year. Hundreds of students participate in each of these competitions for a slice of more than $100,000 in cash and prizes.

The Foundry is the student business incubator provided by the Lassonde Center. Students apply to be a member of this peer network and education program. Since founding in 2010, it has trained more than 200 aspiring entrepreneurs and launched 35 companies.

New specialty programs at the Lassonde Center include the Social Entrepreneurship Program, which allows students to use their business skills for social causes, and the Health Gaming Initiative, which gives students the chance to help make the U an international center for video games that improve people’s health.

“We encourage everyone to get involved,” D’Ambrosio says. “We have something for all students. We also always need sponsors and mentors.”

The Lassonde Center and related programs are made possible through a generous endowment from Pierre and Claudette Lassonde. Donors like Zions Bank have also made significant contributions.

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