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Students at U.'s Lassonde Studios aim to redefine entrepreneurship


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SALT LAKE CITY — What is entrepreneurship? At the University of Utah, it is defined as much more than just starting a company. The students who will live, create and launch the Lassonde Studios have the opportunity to be part of one of the most unique centers for innovation in the U.S.

Colby Russo's clothing is designed to "EVOK" a message. "That's really what we want to do is catalyze change within the fashion industry," says Russo.

EVOK aims to benefit communities, Russo says. "We donate 33 percent of our proceeds towards community enrichment projects within the Salt Lake community."

EVOK clothing produces environmentally friendly shirts and jackets. Some of the company's early profits helped set up lockers for the homeless. "Our 33 percent went to their funding and now the Hope Lockers are up and running," says Russo.

Russo, 19, has what founders of the U. of U.'s Lassonde Studios call the entrepreneurial mindset. Kathy Hajeb is the director of the Lassonde Institute and describes the mindset: "How do they see the problems of the industry that they're going to work in? What are the new ideas and how are they going to transform those industries? Those are the skills we're teaching here."

Four decades ago, Canadian Pierre Lassonde graduated from the U. with a passion for business. Lassonde talks about his life after earning his MBA at the U., saying "luck is opportunity meeting preparation."

Lassonde's luck helped him become a success. Now, he is investing millions in a space where U. students can live, create and launch their ideas. "I just love the excitement of the kids and how they can see how they're going to build their future here, and to me, that's everything," says Lassonde.

Logan Cox is a future Lassonde Studios student. "The true builders of this world are maybe even the small entrepreneurs, the people who think and want to help their communities to grow and find the small probems and fix them," he says.

When the Lassonde Studios open this August, 400 students will move into the dorm-style rooms and the 20,000-square-foot "garage" where they can collaborate on ideas. "And there will be thousands of opportunities that wil come out of these studios from the kids themselves," says Lassonde.

Russo is a believer. "That's the whole spirit of the Lassonde Studios, it's making connections and giving people the networking they need to succeed."

Lassonde really wants to see more women in entrepreneurship. In fact, the goal is a 50-50 mix of men and women when the student body at the studios is officially assembled.

U. junior Elizabeth Morales has already been accepted at the Lassonde Studios for her senior year. She didn't originally see herself as an entrepreneur but now says, "It's someone that's really passionate, that sees a problem and that wants to create something positive."

Incoming students are hoping to achieve something they never dreamed they could do, Hajeb says. "They are going to be ready to go into industry, to go into our communities and make the state of Utah much better, much stronger."

Russo believes he can make a much stronger statement with his charitable business model once he has experienced life at the Lassonde Studios. "I want to pursue business but I want to bring that aspect of community enrichment along with me wherever I go," says Russo.

More than a thousand students have applied for the first 400 spots at the Lassonde Studios. Of those students already accepted, about 79 percent are Utahns, another 15 percent are from out of state and 5 percent are from other countries. Most are undergraduates, but about 10 percent are graduate students. Email: solney@ksl.com

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Sandra Olney

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