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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah launched its Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute in fall of 2016, opening up a world of resources including dorms, funding, and office space for students seeking to start their own businesses.
As of 2019, the incubator has helped facilitate the launch of many startups with more incoming. Here are some of the most exciting small businesses emerging from the University of Utah this year.
The team behind Etched DNA came together to find a way to diagnose patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) more easily. The disease causes inflammation of the esophagus, and current medical knowledge has mandated that it be diagnosed through an endoscopy under anesthesia.
University of Utah researcher Dr. Christopher Gregg’s lab thought they might be able to find an easier, faster way to diagnose patients with EoE. He decided to start Etched DNA, which measured RNA rather than DNA to diagnose the disorder.
“When RNA molecules are generated, they create a real-time measure of what’s going on in your body," Gregg told Lassonde. "We wanted a simple way of getting RNA samples, and so we developed a way to do a swab of the mouth. We’ve learned a lot of new things about how that controls the expression of our genes, and we wanted to find a home for this new knowledge in the real world.”
He partnered with students at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to help him find a home for his research, and the team is actively looking for clinics to apply their new method of diagnosis.
Quantum Snow’s founders were galvanized by a weak snowfall in 2018, prompting them to create a man-made snow production alternative to help skiers enjoy deep powder throughout the entire winter.
“Our thought was: Why not make a man-made snow that is the same as the powder that falls from the sky?” Peter Veals, one of Quantum Snow’s founders, told Lassonde.
Current man-made snow production tends to be heavy and icy, while Quantum Snow seeks to blow powder that’s as light and fluffy as natural snowfall. They’ve acquired enough equipment to get started, but have a little ways to go before their product will be useful on Utah’s mountain resorts.
This startup was born from the concerns of a mother after having her first child. She found that her son wasn’t getting enough milk from breastfeeding and was beginning to starve. Despite research, she couldn’t seem to find a product that would suit her needs. She decided to create a breastfeeding tool that would be effective without discomfort, inconvenience, or leakage.
“Oftentimes these products cannot be used in public,” Nana Ewusi-Emmim, NipaYe’s founder, told Lassonde. “It is for in-house use. Mothers are not comfortable using it in a public setting because of the messy, convoluted nature of it all.”
Ewusi-Emmim’s initial prototype has sought to address all of the needs she saw, and she’s hoping to further improve the product before beginning clinical testing.
“The Airbnb of Storage,” neighbor is a peer-to-peer marketplace for storage space in Utah. Anyone with an empty basement, open garage or vacant RV pad is able to sign up and put their space up for rent. Renters can then get online and find places to store their belonging at 50 percent less cost than traditional storage spaces.
Neighbor has raised over $1 million in funding from venture capital and grants, and they have developed a consistent user base. Colton Gardner, Neighbor’s COO, told Lassonde that some of their hosts make more than $200 a month renting out their extra space.
Prolink.gg is a social network for gamers, giving users the ability to create their own profile featuring gamertags, the games they play, and a place to share clips and highlights from games with their friends. It provides an environment for those who play videogames to discuss them and meet new people.
“More than 150 million people are playing video games, and that’s just in the United States. These people currently have no way to find each other outside of random conversations or sites that focus on connecting gamertags to each other rather than the real people they represent,” founder Derek Omori told Lassonde. “We’re on the verge of a new age in video gaming media.”
Prolink.gg won $10,000 last year in the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, and as of May 2018, they had over 150,000 active visitors on their beta site, and were expecting over 500,000 with a new marketing push.
Is it a chair, a tent or a hammock? It’s all three. Chase McMicken, a business student at the U., came up with the idea on a backpacking trip. He wondered if there was a way to make his hiking experiences even more comfortable.
Bushwhack’s 3-in-1 tent is convertible and can be used as a tent and a chair, a hanging hammock with a tent over it, or just a traditional hammock or chair. “The ultimate goal would be an outdoor equipment company to create adaptive gear to be able to adventure without limits,” McMicken told Lassonde.
This international medical nonprofit collects underused medical devices and re-purposes them for people in need in low and middle-income countries like India. He became inspired to create the nonprofit after volunteering abroad and seeing how quickly kids outgrew their orthotics and prosthetics. He decided to use them to help children around the world who were in need.
Project Embrace collects “any kind of medical device that provides skeletal structural support or provides mobility assistance. These can range anywhere from crutches, slings, medical boots and braces, to orthotic materials and wheelchairs,” Mohan Sudabattula, the nonprofit’s founder, told Lassonde. “For the most part, medical devices that fall into this category either end up at the landfill, an incineration facility or in the closet of someone who no longer needs them.”
MounTins offers tins which can be purchased for $30. Inside are 20 coasters, which are each designed by the founders, Aaron Dobron and Austin Scaccianoce. Each coaster corresponds to one of 20 restaurants in Park City, and each one will give $10 off at their respective restaurant. They function well as a gift, an adventure or a way to reduce the costs of a meal.
The tins provide a $200 value, for only $30. Dobron told Lassonde, “Everyone loves saving money, so why not save money on things you already do and find some new favorite restaurants along the way?”
Learn about more startups emerging from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute on their website.