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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt hosts inaugural Mid-South Innovation Summit

The Mid-South Innovation Summit featured a startup job fair, venture showcase and launch of a hub that supports research commercialization.
Geetika Komati
The Mid-South Innovation Summit, as photographed on Feb. 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Geetika Komati)

The Wond’ry hosted the inaugural Mid-South Innovation Summit on Feb. 9.

The event began with a startup job fair and venture showcase, where startups recruited interns and full-time employees. They were followed by the convocation of the Mid-South NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Hub, an NSF initiative to facilitate research commercialization by forming regional alliances of universities. 

The National Science Foundation made Vanderbilt a Mid-South I-Corps site in 2017, and the university will now lead the new I-Corps Hub made up of nine universities. The event was co-organized with several student organizations, including the Vanderbilt Innovation Council, Vanderbilt Innovation and Entrepreneurship Society, Change++, Vanderbilt Blockchain and Theta Tau.

President of VINES Sam Stubbs, a junior, expressed excitement about the turnout at the event. Stubbs added that this event was a great opportunity for student innovators to showcase their ideas, progress and achievements to other students and the public.

“A lot of times, people don’t necessarily think that a lot of startups are being started by Vanderbilt students. But in reality, there’s so many,” Stubbs said. “Something really cool about this event is that all these student founders and student innovators that have been working so hard on these ventures come to the surface and be invisible.” 

Stubbs said it was great to see the university continuing to provide support for student innovators through the creation of the new I-Corps Hub.

“Wond’ry and Vanderbilt have emerged as a leader for innovation in the country. And I’m glad that our student innovators have institutional support in that way,” Stubbs said.

Startup job fair & venture showcase

The summit began with a startup job fair, which featured startups from a variety of fields ranging from healthcare and entertainment to agriculture and design. The job fair was followed by a venture showcase, where startups pitched their ideas or products to the summit attendees.

Junior Intiser Parash, co-president of Change++, a student organization that develops software for nonprofits, said that the student organizations began planning for the job fair last semester.  Parash said the student organizations invited the startups and organized the event with the help of the Wond’ry. The event comes after several Vanderbilt undergraduates founded their own cryptocurrency startups last semester.

“There are a lot of Tennessee startups here. Startups from outside of Tennessee also came in. Vanderbilt alumni started some of the startups. But many are also successful startups from the South in general,” Parash said.

Sophomore Vraj Dirajlal is the founder of Vello, a bike rental startup targeted toward college campuses. Presenting Vello’s bike model and its mobile application at the job fair, he said he was seeking mechanical engineers who could figure out a new solution for locking bikes.

Senior Alessandra Priolo said she came to the job fair to look for a full-time position at a start-up, especially because of recent layoffs in the tech industry. 

“The job market is pretty tough, especially in tech right now,” Priolo said. “Startups cover more niche areas in whatever industry you’re looking at. So it’s really nice to get in person, learn about new companies, learn about new niche areas.”

Mid-South NSF I-Corps Hub convocation

According to NSF’s website, NSF launched the I-Corps program in 2011 to encourage collaboration between academia and industry by offering training, funding and resources to the designated I-Corps sites.

In their opening speeches, Vice Provost for Research and Innovation Padma Raghavan and Wond’ry’s Deputy Director and Lead Instructor of the Hub Deanna Meador said NSF designated Vanderbilt as an I-Corps site in 2017 and since then, the university has supported more than 25 teams of students in converting their research into products.

By forming the Mid-South I-Corps Hub, the university plans to expand the program’s impact by uniting nine universities in the region in 2023. The hub spans four states and includes Vanderbilt University, the University of Virginia, Jackson State University, George Mason University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University, the University of Louisville, the University of Tennessee and Knoxville and the University of Kentucky.

“We started to see interesting ideas come through our program. The students were getting this experience that was setting them on a path with remarkable outcomes,” Meador said.

Charleson Bell, director of entrepreneurship and biomedical innovation at the Wond’ry and I-Corps hub, said he was excited about the future of the program.

“This is the beginning of something special. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your background is, what you look like. We care about the positive value change that you can bring to this world. That’s what the Mid-South hub represents,” Bell said. 

Following the event, executive director of the Wond’ry David Owens said the purpose of Wond’ry’s programs is to train the students’ entrepreneurial skills beyond skills taught in the classroom. 

“All you need to do is to want to make some change in the world,” Owens said. “My belief is that when you leave Vanderbilt, you leave in a very advantageous, positive, powerful way. And one of the tools that you should have is how to drive change. But you don’t learn that in classes. That’s what we [Wond’ry] are trying to help.”

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About the Contributor
Geetika Komati, Staff Photographer
Geetika Komati ('26) is majoring in economics and music performance and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Livingston, N.J. Geetika loves photographing sports games and getting in on the live action. Apart from the Hustler, some of Geetika's favorite things are traveling, boxing, and cheering on the New Jersey Devils. She can be reached at [email protected].
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