The Wond’ry pairs up with VUIT to launch ‘Genius Bar,’ bringing technical innovations to life

To assist the Wond’ry’s Ideator and Builder entrepreneurs developing innovations with a technology component, Vanderbilt’s Innovation Center and VUIT have launched the Wond’ry-VUIT Genius Bar.

In the spring 2021 semester, the Wond’ry worked with 27 teams of aspiring entrepreneurs across Ideator and Builder programming. Of these efforts, nearly half are technology-driven, making the opportunity to partner with technologists and for the technologists to mentor Vanderbilt innovators mutually beneficial. Entrepreneurs in the program include Vanderbilt faculty, graduate students and postgraduate students and other local campuses without entrepreneur centers, including Meharry Medical College.

Developers from VUIT with expertise in data science, cloud architecture, web, software and mobile app development, and health care IT knowledge around security and HIPAA considerations, consult with Wond’ry entrepreneurs on a range of technical topics. They include insights on how to develop prototypes or minimum viable products, technologies that can bring pathbreaking ideas to life, necessary resources and challenges to consider. Developers are also available to review product mockups, answer technical questions and assist in the development of apps and other technology solutions. Because of VUIT’s wide-ranging relationships across campus, they have brought in nontechnical mentors for applicable projects, including mentors from the Division of Communications and the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office.

“VUIT was the loveliest complement to the Ideator experience, as many of our cohort’s ideas, including mine, have a unique set of technological needs that are not always the most straightforward,” said Cambri Driskell, an undergraduate entrepreneur studying human organization and development. “VUIT’s generosity in filling in the gap for my idea between my technology experience and the experience I need to successfully use technology to the benefit of my idea was such a blessing to me. I am so thankful for their help and now feel equipped with the right resources and knowledge of places to turn to as my idea develops technologically.”

The VUIT staff has been impressed with the ideas that have been shared, the progress that has been made and where the students already are in terms of their thought processes around evolving their products during the 10 sessions conducted thus far, said Ed Wisdom, VUIT senior director of development and operations.

“With David Owens’ search to extend how the university fosters collaboration for innovation, and with John Lutz’s passionate search of new and better ways to offer technology services to the institution’s most important stakeholders—the students—the two envisioned VUIT expert technologists coming together with Wond’ry entrepreneurs to aid in the development of technological innovations,” Wisdom said. “I have been involved in many initiatives in my 21 years at Vanderbilt. I know we are in the early stages of the Genius Bar, but I don’t know that I have been a part of anything more fulfilling than helping students bring their ideas to life.”

Shannon Ware, an instructor with the Wond’ry and the owner and partner of Virtual Collective, said, “As the Wond’ry grows and VUIT has the capacity to build a deeper connection with us, the opportunity to share their feedback and expertise is very special for our participants. This is exactly the kind of mentorship so many entrepreneurs, including myself, wish they had at the beginning of their founder journeys.”

The Genius Bar launched in spring 2021 and will be evaluated in real time, with updated offerings next semester for graduates of the Builder program. Currently the Genius Bar is serving entrepreneurs working on products and technologies in the health tech, food tech, community building, construction and digital media spaces.