SALT LAKE CITY — In one corner of the first floor of this bright, open building with a modern industrial feel is a shop room. On the other end of a floor they call the “garage” are a series of small glass offices with white boards and 3D printers. The upper floors of University of Utah’s new $45 million Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute are dorm rooms and open spaces with flat-screen TVs and picnic tables, each themed for students studying focused on careers in design, gaming or outdoor adventure.
The facility unveiled Thursday is designed to foster a creative environment to help students launch startup companies. The mantra adorns large banners around the building: “Live. Create. Launch.”
Molded after offices of Silicon Valley companies, it is part of a nationwide trend of colleges and donors spending millions on institutes aimed at stirring up innovation by pairing bright young minds together in a collaborative environment. Wichita State, the University of Iowa and Northwestern University are among other universities that have opened or are planning similar buildings.
At Utah, 400 students made the cut from 1,300 applicants to become the institute’s inaugural residents. Six out of ten are male, and they come from more than 45 majors.
The building was paid for entirely with student housing fees and private donations, including a major contribution from the building’s namesake, mining magnate Pierre Lassonde, who earned an MBA from the university in 1971.
Utah officials toured about 30 creative centers where people live and work together to gather ideas, including Stanford’s design program, the IBM design studios and a hippie colony in California called the Rainbow Mansion, said Taylor Randall, dean of the university’s David Eccles School of Business.
Randall was among several speakers during a grand opening gala Thursday attended by hundreds Thursday, including many who donated. He invited everyone to come back during a lunch hour to see what the project is all about.
“You’ll see white boards and ideas on those white boards and students coming up with crazy things,” Randall said. “And you know what: A lot of those crazy things are going to happen.”
Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, said putting students together in this environment helps them solve each other’s problems and accelerates how quickly they can reach their goals.
Colby Russo, a sophomore resident who runs his startup clothing company from one of the offices, said he dreamed of studying here since a university official gave a presentation to his Salt Lake City high school class several years ago.
Russo, who grew up in Costa Rica before moving to Utah, loves that he can shoot off a request in a Facebook group to get help from a designer on a new clothing design and get dozens of responses quickly from people who live in the same building.
“Living here is amazing,” said Russo, 20, founder and CEO of Evok Clothing Collective. “It’s such an open space for creativity.”