By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
When you think of the traditional look of a college campus, one visualizes buildings with concrete columns or pillars framing their entrances. Vanderbilt University’s The Wond’ry has embraced that imagery with four pillars for its programming.
“These are for those that really want to jump in to innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors,” Robert Grajewski, Executive Director of the innovation center, says.
The first pillar is something called Innovation Garage. Designed to help address a real industry problem through a partnership with a non-profit or for-profit corporation, this program enables faculty and students to work collaboratively, providing real world experiences, particularly for the students, in a non-traditional educational environment.
There are also two entrepreneurially-focused programs – PreFlight and PostFlight. The former is an 11-session series offered weekly each semester to help assess the viability of an idea that a student, faculty or staff member might have.
“PreFlight is a way to determine if an idea is novel and worth pursuing,” Deanna Meador, Program Manager at The Wond’ry, explains.
PostFlight, on the other hand, is a more intensive nine-week program ideally focused on individuals who have completed PreFlight and want to further develop their business idea.
“It teaches the skills – the blocking and tackling needed – to get a business launched,” Meador says. “You (the entrepreneur) then have a more developed idea and company and are more prepared to discuss with incubators, accelerators, or other funding sources. The conversation is more elegant, advanced and de-risked, thus ideally improving the outcome.”
The Wond’ry recently secured a $30,000 grant from VentureWell to further support PostFlight with micro-grants to participants to help advance their ideas. The non-profit organization is focused on fostering collaboration in research labs, classrooms, and beyond to advance innovation and entrepreneurship education.
A fourth pillar is Social Ventures. Here, The Wond’ry is partnering with the City of Nashville and local non-profits on pilot projects focused on solving urban issues like affordable housing, transportation and health that are becoming more pervasive as the city experiences phenomenal growth.
Pillar programs are not the only offerings from The Wond’ry.
“We provide 30 to 35 workshops a semester, lasting from just an hour to multiple days,” Grajewski says. “These are lighter touch with a lighter commitment, meant to introduce a participant to a certain aspect of the innovation process.”
An important component of all Wond’ry programming involves partnering with other organizations such as Vanderbilt’s Center for Commercialization and Technology Transfer, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and professional services firms like Waller and PYA, sponsor of teknovation.biz.
NEXT: The traditional “town-gown” role that Grajewski embraces for The Wond’ry.