By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Vanderbilt University’s The Wond’ry reflects the combining of two words – wonder and foundry, but the distinctive name of the new three-story structure the institution unveiled in a public grand opening Wednesday evening is symbolic of a very exciting philosophy.
The 13,000 square foot facility, adjacent to the school’s Engineering and Science Building, is described as the epicenter for innovation and entrepreneurship at Vanderbilt. For several hours during the afternoon, we watched as hundreds of people – students, faculty, staff and those from the community including several individuals from Knoxville – toured the state-of-the-art space, obviously impacted by what they saw.
Since the Wond’ry had a soft opening about a month ago, more than 3,000 people have toured the facility that includes two maker spaces, a virtual reality floor with three stations and a sandbox, and numerous collaboration areas. You can get a glimpse of the diverse facility by watching several videos on this YouTube channel.
An invitation only reception in late afternoon drew a jam-packed crowd to the building’s third floor, where Vanderbilt’s Provost celebrated the culmination of what she said was a five-year journey that turned her dream into a reality.
“Think of this as one of a kind space,” Susan Wente said. “We are going to take this space and make it an epicenter to showcase what Vanderbilt can do.”
In essence, the Wond’ry is both a catalyst for creativity and innovation within the university and a symbol of how that collaborative energy can make Nashville and the world better places to live. It also represents a unique opportunity for PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz.
Our firm has joined with the Vanderbilt, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and Waller Law to host a seven-week “Pre-Flight” program for students, faculty and staff who want to explore starting a business. The commitment includes a dedicated cubicle on the third floor where PYA Nashville staff are available at regular times to confer with aspiring Vanderbilt entrepreneurs.
“Pre-Flight” is one of three programs that are described as the pillars of the Wond’ry. The others are “Innovation Garage” and “Social and Entrepreneurship Ventures.” Collectively, they fuel the overall goal of creating an innovation culture within the university and the community.
“My vision is that Vanderbilt will serve Nashville the way that Stanford serves Silicon Valley,” Wond’ry Executive Director Robert Grajewski told the attendees. He is a serial entrepreneur who took the reins of the new center in April.
“Innovation is truly special when diverse groups come together,” Grajewski added.
As he introduced Wente, the Wond’ry’s Executive Director described her as the “true champion” of the new facility. She told the attendees that “we (want) to use this place to show what Vanderbilt is and where we are going.”
Emphasizing that it is interdisciplinary in its focus, Wente said the open space will serve as a focal point for collaboration involving students, faculty and staff from Vanderbilt’s 10 schools and colleges.
Grajewski used one student to illustrate the dynamic possibilities of the Wond’ry. He said the student was tired of the showerhead in his dorm room, so he designed and made a new one using the maker space.