By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“We are servant leaders at the end of the day,” Robert Grajewski says about the team at Vanderbilt University’s The Wond’ry.
A little more than a year ago, the then resident of North Carolina accepted the opportunity to serve as the inaugural Executive Director of the 13,000 square foot, three-story innovation center in the heart of the campus. Roughly seven months after his April 2016 arrival, the facility opened to great fanfare as noted in this teknovation.biz article.
“I’m very satisfied with what we have achieved and where we are going,” Grajewski told us during a recent interview, describing his first three months as being a sponge.
“We interviewed about 300 people, both internal and external,” the Harvard and Wharton School-educated leader told us. “By doing a lot of customer validation, it helped us understand the community and set the mission and vision.”
From our conversations with a number of business and community leaders in Nashville as well as those in the entrepreneurial community, it is clear that Grajewski and his team are making great strides, particularly in linking the prestigious institution to the surrounding ecosystem. That is something that has not always occurred.
“We wanted to make it easier for the external community to engage with the innovation and entrepreneurial efforts at Vanderbilt,” Grajewski said. “To that end, we serve as the front gate and entry point for the community. I think we are achieving this goal.”
Success in more effectively connecting the institution with Nashville starts with successfully achieving the internal role that The Wond’ry plays.
“We really see this (the facility and its programs) as being a nexus for creative collisions,” Grajewski says. “We educate and train students, but also facilitate a network for them.”
Perhaps best symbolized by the unique name that captures intent – where “wonder meets foundry,” The Wond’ry not only serves students but also faculty and staff across Vanderbilt’s 10 colleges.
“We sit on a unique perch and see across the campus,” Grajewski explains. “We are the connector to innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Take a look at the website for The Wond’ry, and you’ll see the following description:
“From engineers to scientists to entrepreneurs to artists, the Wond’ry is the primary point of connection for students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. The Wond’ry is the catalyst for building and strengthening creativity across campus, fostering innovation in all fields, and forging a stronger ‘maker’ culture at Vanderbilt University. The Wond’ry provides students opportunities to gain real-world experience in creating new processes, building new technologies, and forming fresh insights. Students and faculty are encouraged to build, innovate, explore and care. Here, our campus community can turn abstract ideas into realities that make a difference in people’s lives.”
NEXT: A more in-depth look at The Wond’ry from a programmatic perspective.