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Chris Samuels, Deseret News
FILE - Students walk past the "block U" on the University of Utah's campus in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah college and high school students looking to become the "Next Big Thing" in business have a chance to score some serious cash and get a little real-world experience, thanks to the University of Utah's Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

Lassonde's 14th annual Utah Entrepreneur Challenge is open to students from all public and private Utah colleges. Applicants will compete for $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, including a grand prize of $40,000. Organizers say it is one of the biggest programs of its kind in the U.S. and has helped launch dozens of successful business ideas.

Anne Bastien, program director for Lassonde, said the long-running competition helps cultivate interest in, and support for, local entrepreneurial ventures but is also aimed at helping students keep their startup dreams alive.

"Truly, one of the key points is to keep student-driven efforts going," Bastien said. "We want to keep them in the game and help create a bridge to the marketplace.

"I spoke with a competitor from four years ago who told me that without the challenge, and the funding his business secured as a top finisher, he may not have stuck with it."

Bastien said the first level of competition comes via judging of applicants' online submissions. The top 20 teams advance to in-person live rounds where students will pitch their ideas to local judges. Judging panels are made up of a diverse group of local experts and business owners, including some winners of past competitions, according to Bastien.

One lucky winner of the college competition walks with a check for $40,000 to help get their business off the ground with $10,000 going to the second-place finisher and $5,000 for third. Every top 20 team is guaranteed at least $500 for earning their way into the final.

Students who aren't waiting for college to start building their personal business empires have their own competition, the Utah High School Entrepreneur Challenge. Also hosted by Lassonde and open to all Utah public, private and home-schooled high school students ages 14 to 18, the high school version puts up $30,000 in prize money, including $7,500 for the grand prize winner and thousands more in lower-tier prizes and scholarships.

Like the college version, the top 20 teams selected from online proposals will advance to a live competition that takes place on the same day as the college challenge.

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Bastien said past competitions have reflected a wide diversity of business ideas spanning from fashion and food innovations to high-tech products and novel data and software programs.

"Not only do our Utah high school and college students have great ideas, but they are building the skills they need to take them all the way to market," Bastien said. "Everyone who competes has a lot of fun and the ideas are getting better each year."

Deadlines for online applications are midnight on Feb. 14, 2019, for the college competition and midnight on Feb. 28, 2019, for high school competitors. For complete details, visit lassonde.utah.edu/uec.