What’s so amazing about Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah that everyone’s clamoring to be a part?
On a recent episode of Enrollment Growth University, I got to talk to Troy D’Ambrosio, Assistant Dean of the David Eccles School of Business and Executive Director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah, about how Lassonde grew to support student entrepreneurs.
Designing a Place for Student Entrepreneurs to Create
Troy explained that the initial launch of their entrepreneurial program met some challenges. Namely, where would students meet to make things?
Not the library or union building. Not the engineering labs. Not off campus or their dorm rooms.
As it turned out, there was no space that perfectly allowed students of all classes and majors to both meet and make things.
“We realized we had to create a space to engage students in a different way,” Troy said. “That’s where our decision to engage in a maker space came out of that desire to get more students engaged.”
In thinking about how to solve this problem, Troy pointed out that a dedicated place for entrepreneurship was essential.
Life at Lassonde Studios
“Lassonde is a residential community tied with a maker space and an entrepreneurial space,” Troy said.
He walked us through a day in the life of a typical freshman.
- There’s a core maker space on your floor.
- People from all over campus use the studios to create ideas and products.
- You can use the 3D printer or woodworking station, for example, whenever you want for free.
- You collaborate with mentors, inventors, makers, and people with entrepreneurial knowledge.
- If you have an idea for a product, you could just be given $100 or what you need to get started.
“We’ve exceeded every expectation we have for the building, for both the residential experience in how students engage with each other and the variety of people we’ve been able to attract,” Troy said.
“The satisfaction surveys are off the charts,” Troy said. And with good reason!
A Place to ‘Get Seeded’
The year before they opened Lassonde Studios building, Troy had 100 active startup teams.
Now it’s 500, with 100 earning revenue (some in the millions).
That’s partly the credit of the amazing community partnerships and the Get Seeded program, which gives students who are taking action on their entrepreneurial idea from $100 to $1,000.
“Students came in with the idea that they wanted to be entrepreneurs, they wanted to build a company. And so we see this happening at scale that we never imagined of ways students are building products and launching digital companies and launching gaming companies and launching service companies,” Troy said.
“If we just offer up the resources, students would learn how to use them,” he added.
Employers seek students with an entrepreneurial mindset. “Somebody who can identify a problem, put together a solution, build a team, and take action with little or no direction,” Troy said.
They’re looking for the kind of talent that can take a couple hundred bucks, launch a Kickstarter, and then sit down with an attorney to figure out what kind of business license they should file for.
Lessons Learned When Designing Maker Spaces
For universities that want to invest in maker spaces like Lassonde Studios, Troy has two tips earned with hindsight.
1. Meet students where they’re at.
“We realized we had to meet students where they were at,” Troy said. “We need to be the flexible piece.” If a student has an idea in February, but the seminar on ideation was in the fall, have they missed their chance, or can we adapt?
2. Create a milestone-based funding program.
Having Get Seeded meant that students didn’t need to have a fully fledged idea and 30-page business plan before they could access funds.
“Let’s take an action first rather than think about it,” Troy said. “Let’s get some momentum going.”
To contact Troy, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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