By Alison Decker

NASHVILLE, TN — The Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s Innovation Center, hosted the first Mid-South Innovation Summit for innovators, students, founders, government officials, investors and community and ecosystem partners across the entire Mid-South  region on Thursday February 9th at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel Ballrooms. 

The Mid-South I-Corps Hub is laying the foundation for innovators to commercialize their inventions. The venture spreads across the region and includes four states. Vanderbilt University is one of nine universities included in the innovation hub. 

One of their key missions is to provide an inclusive environment for innovators. Charleston Bell, director of entrepreneurship and biomedical innovation and director of the Mid-South Innovation Corps Hub, said, “Opportunities are on the precipice of something great. Feeling like you have value and answering invisible barrier questions so innovators have a sense of belonging.”

250 to 270 people RSVP’d to the event but over 500 were in attendance. The Innovation Summit on Thursday included a job fair, venture showcase, and hub convocation. The job fair’s objective is to expand the company’s diversity and create jobs in celebration of knowledge in STEM pathways. The venture showcase featured the work with AI that the University has been working on. The hub convocation was a ceremonial hub to honor the hard work and dedication employees have put in. Leaders from each university spoke on behalf of their institutions. Every member of the voting body of the Hub presented their heirlooms to the Masters of Ceremony to arrange them on a table around the Hub logo, Representing the institutions coming together for the first time toward a shared vision of inclusive, shared prosperity across the entire region.

Bell said, “These events were 100 percent a group effort with us all carrying weight of each individual aspect to the event made the event seamless.” 

Other collaborators included: Deanna Meador, deputy director; David Owens, Family Executive Director; and Mandy Lalrindiki, program manager of innovation and design research. 

Bell said, Vanderbilt’s University Innovation Center, the Wond’ry, is a combination of the words wonder and foundry together, comprised of social, advance technologies, and innovation. Entrepreneurs and innovators from throughout the region are able to showcase their abilities. The I-Corps program’s development is devoted to turn trained innovators into the market for economic development. 

The National Science Foundation first named Vanderbilt and the Wond’ry as an I-Corps site in 2017. The initiative offers training, micro-grant funding, application review, interview preparation and proposal resources for researchers and entrepreneurs with STEM-related innovations. Fundraising has contributed $50,000 each to further research and inventions to improve healthcare in underserved populations. Mid-South I-Corp Hub, Vanderbilt will receive up to $15 million from NSF over the course of five years to fund participant micro-grants, engage consultants with experience, train instructors, lead cohorts, publish materials resulting from hub work and create positions to support programming and outputs. 

According to Vanderbilt’s website, the teaching teams from I-Corps partner institutions will reflect the full breadth of diversity in innovation, including race and ethnicity, gender and product category expertise.