In supporting Wond’ry participants, Management Library breaks the mold

In 2016, the Wond’ry was established to support creative innovation at Vanderbilt. Since that time, the Wond’ry has matured into a robust entrepreneurial playground for designers, builders, and aspiring start-ups, where students connect their academic studies with passions for product development and undergraduates gain immersive experience. Since the 2016 launch of the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s Innovation Center, the libraries have provided programming, mentorship, and guidance for research.

The Wond’ry Sullivan Family programs have an increasing number of participants that are geographically dispersed throughout the Southeast and, otherwise, do not have a current Vanderbilt affiliation.  Participants in the Ideator Program spend 3 weeks learning tools and resources to evaluate an idea, while those in the Builder program gain support for launching a viable early-stage idea into a new venture.   This means the research expertise of the university libraries has been able to reach a larger audience. It has also created challenges: How can the Wond’ry engage participants who don’t have access to Vanderbilt’s paywalled resources? What does support look like for these innovator cohorts? How do library services for the Wond’ry differ from traditional university research projects?

To meet the research needs of Wond’ry participants, Lead Regional Instructor, Shannon Ware, had an idea, on-demand virtual support and stand-alone videos are the key to effective engagement with regional participants. Associate Director of the Management Library Kelly LaVoice was excited to meet this need. LaVoice developed and recorded a version of the Management Library’s popular workshop on market research. Unlike the Owen Graduate School version of the workshop, the Wond’ry video highlights public and open access resources available to entrepreneurs no matter their Vanderbilt affiliation. According to LaVoice, “A primary goal of the video is to open the eyes of participants to the wealth of quality, sometimes hidden information, regardless of access to Vanderbilt’s world-class licensed resources and global collections.” Ware incorporated the workshop into the Wond’ry online learning module, and the research questions began to pour in. To meet the growing need for one-on-one research consultations with innovators, the Management Library established an on-demand referral program for Wond’ry participants.

Business librarians meet with Vanderbilt affiliated and nonaffiliated-Wond’ry teams to work through their unique information needs. For those participants without access to Vanderbilt’s premium content, databases and research tools, librarians creatively formulate searches through other means, such as government agencies, thought leaders, trade associations, local libraries, and the open internet. According to Director of Management Library Hilary Craiglow, “Wond’ry participants are motivated researchers who are passionate about their projects. Good, quality information increases the likelihood of bringing innovation to market and enhances business proposals and investment pitches.” The Wond’ry  has a strong record of successful growth. In Ware’s view, the libraries are a practical partner in this work and recognize the value that librarians bring to an entrepreneur: “Libraries are fundamental to market research, market sizing, business plans and patent research. They are preparing an entrepreneur to launch a new venture. Students rely on library services and expertise to bring their ideas to fruition.”

The Sullivan Family Ideator Program at the Wond’ry helps aspiring university-affiliate innovators (students, staff, faculty, and alumni) evaluate and develop their ideas by teaching an evidence-based approach to idea evaluation and offering expert mentorship and access to resources. Participants can receive microgrants if they demonstrate a strong commitment to their idea and its merit. Completing the program and demonstrating product-solution fit can lead to further opportunities, such as eligibility for the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Program and the Wond’ry’s Builder Program. The Builder Program at the Wond’ry helps university-affiliated innovators with a validated early-stage idea. Builder is the perfect next step for graduates of the Sullivan Family Ideator Program and those wanting to learn how to launch a venture or pursue a licensing deal.

Regarding the ongoing partnership of Heard Libraries and the Wond’ry, University Librarian Jon Shaw noted, “The Wond’ry is an exemplary model for campus-wide engagement that expands opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to design, make and create to solve problems. The Wond’ry’s partnership with the Library enhances Vanderbilt’s reputation as a leader in entrepreneurial education and regional development.”