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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
University of Utah employee Katie Sexton, second from right, and her sister, Laura Sexton, who is a student at the university, sit in a hanging lounge chair at the new Lassonde Studios during the building's unveiling ceremony at the U. in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new project at the University of Utah could be the incubator for the state’s next big technology and business innovators. A division of the David Eccles School of Business, the institute broke ground on the project in October 2014 and began occupancy on Sept. 15.

“The University of Utah is already among the best schools in the country for entrepreneurship. Lassonde Studios will help us reach the next level,” said Taylor Randall, dean of the business school. “We train thousands of students, help develop hundreds of startup companies and provide dozens of programs to all students. This building will amplify all of these efforts, allowing us to give every student an entrepreneurial experience.”

The Lassonde Studios are comprised of 160,000 square feet on five floors, including a 20,000-square-foot innovation space, workshop and cafe on the first floor open to all students at the university. The main floor has numerous spaces for students, including workbenches, group working areas, 3-D printers, a laser cutter and power tools.

The four higher floors are made up of student housing units for 400 students to live, collaborate and launch new ideas, said senior Jaron Hall.

“It’s amazing. I meet so many smart students that have great feedback,” he said. “It’s great (also) for students who don’t have their own ideas and know they want to make an impact with something new, but don’t know what that is yet.”

Hall said students are already starting to create groups in the few short days the facility has been open for occupancy.

“You can just come and network with each other and they have workshops where you can learn different skills like coding,” he said. “It's really helpful to all the stages of entrepreneurism from beginning to end.”

Sophomore Natasha Fisher is a former chemical engineering major who switched to business and helped launch a creative content agency last year. She said being a member of the inaugural student resident group of the Lassonde Studios is humbling and exhilarating.

“I never really considered myself an entrepreneur, but being involved with the institute I’ve learned that I probably have been,” she said. “Almost everyone I’ve met with here has been so talented and so passionate. Making those connections and seeing what we can build together will be really exciting.”

Founded in 2001, the Lassonde Institute has a mission of helping students learn about entrepreneurship by working across disciplines on business ventures.

“We think we have assembled one of the best groups of entrepreneurs anywhere,” said executive director Troy D’Ambrosio. “We can’t wait to see what the Lassonde 400 accomplishes this year and in the future. We expect big things.”

The first group of residents have a variety of academic interests, including business, engineering, computer science, video gaming and film. The inaugural group of students is 37 percent female and 63 percent male, with half the residents enrolled as freshmen, 17 percent sophomores, 14 percent juniors, 12 percent seniors, 6 percent master's students and 1 percent doctoral students.

Residents live on one of four themed floors that have unique tools, furnishings and activities to match themes that include sustainability and global impact on the second floor; products, design and arts on the third floor; adventure and gear on the fourth floor; and games and digital media on the top floor. The themes are designed to encourage collaboration across academic disciplines, D’Ambrosio said.

The facility was funded by renowned gold-investor and University of Utah alum Pierre Lassonde, who donated $25 million to support the project.

“We want to achieve something that has never been done before,” Lassonde said. “We want to create a community of entrepreneurs unlike anything anywhere else.”

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