February 1, 2016

Successful entrepreneur and innovator chosen to lead new Innovation Center

Startup veteran Robert Grajewski has been chosen as the inaugural executive director of the newly created Vanderbilt University Innovation Center.

Robert Grajewski

A startup veteran whose ventures range from retail to manufacturing will be joining Vanderbilt University this spring as the inaugural executive director of the newly created Innovation Center.

Robert Grajewski, president of Edison Nation Medical and co-founder of Heritage Handcrafted, both in Charlotte, North Carolina, will become the Evans Family Executive Director of the Innovation Center on April 1. At Edison Nation Medical, a health care-focused innovation marketplace and incubator, he provided strategic leadership, financial oversight and partnership cultivation combined with day-to-day operational leadership. The company was recognized in 2014 by the TEDMED conference as one of the world’s top health care innovative startups.

“The Innovation Center will provide an amazing springboard for all students and faculty to collaborate and to benefit from Vanderbilt’s global network, corporate partners, the Nashville entrepreneurial community and beyond,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Wente. “Robert Grajewski has a vision that will build on these assets and grow an even more robust culture of innovation on campus by leveraging our unique multidisciplinary approach to discovery and learning. We’re delighted to find someone with his passion and expansive business experience.”

The Innovation Center is set to open this summer and will support a “maker” culture that encourages innovation and creativity and bolsters implementation of the four intersecting themes that make up the university’s Academic Strategic Plan: offering students a rich intellectual community and immersive experiences; investing in multi- and interdisciplinary programs; building programs that offer innovative, effective solutions to pressing health and health care problems; and transforming education models through technology and research.

Key features of the Innovation Center:

  • 13,000-square-foot hub for innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Prototyping lab and maker spaces
  • Student, faculty and alumni collaboration space
  • Innovators and entrepreneurs-in-residence
  • Global mentoring network
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship education and venture creation programs

The Innovation Center will be a key resource in supporting immersive experiences for students and interdisciplinary projects for faculty, allowing them to work alongside their peers to develop and test ideas, supported by mentoring from other faculty, alumni, corporate partners and the local business community. Resources will include a genius bar staffed by the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization and immersion and career hotspots.

“It is my goal to make the Innovation Center the primary point of contact for all students and faculty interested in innovation and to make it a home for launching immersive experiences,” Grajewski said. “As I’ve progressed in my career, it’s been important to me to foster technologies and innovations that improve the way we live. This role with the Innovation Center is a great opportunity to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. I’m motivated to be able to teach what I’m so passionate about.”

Grajewski, a native of Statesville, North Carolina, holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a master’s of public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, as well as an undergraduate degree in history and international relations from Harvard. He started his first company, Heritage Handcrafted, which makes furniture and gifts from reclaimed bourbon barrels, while in graduate school, and later co-founded an antimicrobial technology company, PRO-Techs.

Early in his business career, Grajewski worked in private equity and venture capital sourcing, analyzing and investing in companies across a variety of sectors, including health care, retail, business services, and specialty manufacturing, for leading firms including J.H. Whitney Capital Partners, Westwind Investors and Kamylon Capital. Notably, with J.H. Whitney Capital Partners, he assisted in the successful acquisition and operational turnaround of Wellman Engineering Resins and Wellman Plastics Recycling. The company was later successfully acquired by an international conglomerate.

The national search for the executive director was launched last summer, and Vice Provost for Academic and Strategic Affairs John Geer led the search committee. “We reviewed numerous candidates for this position and are delighted that Robert will be leading the Innovation Center,” Geer said. “He understands that innovation has a broad definition. Robert offers a compelling vision and is exceptionally energetic, making him the ideal person to build this center from the ground up.”

Grajewski’s hands-on product experience combined with his preliminary plan for the center’s launch impressed committee member and innovation expert David Owens, a business and engineering professor. “He’s worked with innovators, he’s worked with incubators and he’s owned businesses,” Owens said. “He put in the time to understand what we want to accomplish with the center, and I am excited that he will be joining us.”

For more on the Innovation Center and to sign up to be a part of the center’s global mentor network, visit www.vu.edu/ic.