Editor’s Note: SimpleCitizen won the grand prize and $40,000 at our 2015 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge. The statewide competition is held every spring semester. Guest writer and U student Alexander Lewandowski caught up with them to learn more about their history and progress since last year.
“If Turbo-Tax can condense mountains of tax law into a few easy questions, why can’t we do that for green cards?,” said Sam Stoddard, a recent BYU master’s degree graduate, while explaining how he came up with the idea for SimpleCitizen, an online DIY website for green cards.
SimpleCitizen didn’t happen overnight. At first, Stoddard thought filing for a green card for his wife Ally would be simple enough. Originally from South Korea, Ally had spent the past seven years in the United States, and after the couple was married, Sam decided to help his new wife apply for her green card.
But what should have been a straightforward application process slowly turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. Stoddard, with years of business and finance training, thought he could use his accounting prowess and tax-law skills to guide them through the complex legal process. But the next two months brought only confusion and frustration.
Sam took to the internet for a solution. He found site after site that explained how to apply for a green card, but none that would help guide him through the process. Sam eventually managed to finish his own green card application, and one trip to a lawyer later, was left with an application that cost $500 and more than six months of time. Surely, he thought, there had to be a better way.
From that experience came SimpleCitizen, an online green card website that guides users through every step of the application process with videos, articles, and infographics. The finished product is an award-winning site, but getting there has required time, planning, good people and the generous support from the Lassonde Institute and others.
Thankfully, it all seems worth it.
“A user now can log on, fill out an application and then print and send it to the government … saving applicants 90 percent of the time and money,” Stoddard said. It is just the kind of website he wishes he could have used himself.
Every year, the Lassonde Institute’s Utah Entrepreneur Challenge gathers competing teams of entrepreneurs from across Utah colleges to compete for prizes totaling $100,000. Earlier this year, Stoddard’s idea took the $40,000 grand prize. Students also receive priceless business advice, mentorship and help constructing their business pitch. Even if they don’t grab first place, each team walks away with a stronger business team overall.
“The staff at the Lassonde Institute was so helpful,” Stoddard said. “I had a wonderful experience getting to know them over the course of the competition.”
SimpleCitizen has more than 1,000 growing users in both the United States and 165 countries across the world. With numbers like these, Stoddard’s company is well on its way to changing the way people approach immigration, and with organizations like the Lassonde Insitute, stories like SimpleCitizen’s are more common than you would think.
With 5,000 annual participants, and $750,000 in grant funding annually, the Lassonde Institute’s programs and impact have nowhere to go but up, and in many ways, they and SimpleCitizen have quite a bit in common indeed.
To learn more about the Utah Entrepreneurial Challenge, visit lassonde.utah.edu/uec.