Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
February 12, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Emotion-filled, passionate event launches “Mid-South Innovation Hub”

Convocation for new I-Corps program includes offering of heirlooms from participating universities and signing of constitution to guide new collaboration focused on inclusive innovation.

It was unlike any other technology, innovation or entrepreneurial event that we have attended during the more than 11 years of publishing We are referring Thursday night’s Hub Convocation organized by Vanderbilt University’s The Wond’ry as the signature portion of the inaugural “Mid-South Innovation Summit” that officially launched a four-state, nine-university National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps consortium.

We’ve struggled somewhat to come up with the best analogy that creates a picture in readers’ minds of the pomp and circumstance that characterized the slightly more than one-hour ceremony. Perhaps you should picture the investiture of a new college president, a graduation event, or even an old time revival. It was clearly a celebration of the universities coming together, but there was also a good deal of symbolism around the theme of the Mid-South Hub – inclusive innovation, and it was clearly captured in the “State of the Hub Address” delivered with emotion and passion by Charleson Bell, Hub Director.

The event began with a procession of close to three dozen individuals – leadership and other staff of The Wond’ry that will be managing the five-year, $15 million Mid-South I-Corps Hub and representatives of the nine participating universities. Members of The Wond’ry community lined both sides of the aisle as participants walked to either the stage or front row seats at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel.

There was the symbolism of the commitment of each partner via a 3D-printed heirloom (see picture of those heirlooms at right) that represented something very significant about their institution. In the case of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), one of the partners, it was the torchbearer. Three other Tennessee universities are part of the consortium. Vanderbilt presented “The Commodore’s Cup,” while Meharry Medical College offered “The Fountain of Harmony,” and Tennessee State University was represented by “The Tiger of Tennessee.”

There was the ratification and subsequent ceremonial signing of the framed Hub Constitution (see photo at left with signatures at the bottom) by the lead representative of each university. In the case of UTK, it was Rob Coleman, the newly named Director of Entrepreneurship and New Ventures. Other UTK attendees included Mark Gibson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, and Lilly Tench, newly named Director of the Spark Cleantech Accelerator.

After several preliminary presentations by individuals associated with Vanderbilt, Bell took the stage and commanded the attention of the audience with an address that included him tearing-up near the end after emphasizing time and again the priorities of the nine partner universities that have a shared commitment to inclusive innovation which was uttered by every speaker.

Starting by acknowledging the Hub’s “esteemed partners,” Bell described in detail the symbolism of the logo (pictured at right) that was developed for the initiative. He noted that the colors were not intended to be Vanderbilt’s gold and black but rather the gold represented the sun rising over the states that include plains, mountains, and rolling hills. The river running through the logo represents “water moving in unity . . . our shared mission.”

Bell covered many of the points that he discussed in this article from December 2022 and also during a visit to Knoxville that we summarized in this January 18, 2023 post. He stressed the shared governance model that will drive decision making, saying that “everyone has an equitable voice.”

Showing a slide with challenges that the country and region face, Bell said, “We have problems, but the solution is innovation” which he again defined as “positive value change.”

He concluded to a standing ovation by saying, “This is the beginning of something really special.”

And that it was . . . an event the likes of which we have not witnessed in years.

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