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Sullivan Family Ideator

Noticed a problem or challenge you think you could solve? Have an idea for a new product, service, technology, research tool, or process that’s been keeping you up at night?

Think you have an idea that has the potential to lead to a new venture, nonprofit, or licensing deal? Or you’re unsure how your idea or research could deliver value in the market, but want to take steps to find out.

Don’t know where to start?

The Sullivan Family Ideator Program at the Wond’ry is for you!

To inquire about any of the programs, you can book a meeting with Kyle Caruso here.



About the Program

The Wond’ry at Vanderbilt University offers the Sullivan Family Ideator as a way to assist university innovators (faculty, students, staff) that want to take the ideas that have been percolating in their minds and bring them out into daylight. This program teaches an evidence-based approach to idea evaluation. Is the idea needed? Who is the ideal audience? Where do you even start?  Ideator is here to help answer those questions. Centered around customer discovery, Lean Launch methodology, and market evaluation, Ideator will help you determine if your idea has potential or maybe needs a bit more time at the drawing board.

Ideator is divided into two parts. The first two-week short course is designed to immerse you in the process of idea evaluation and customer discovery. This period helps you determine if there are early signals that your idea is worth pursuing and whether you want to commit to taking the steps necessary to pursue it. If you can demonstrate evidence of these early signals and a commitment to the process, the remaining three weeks after the short course will allow you to dive deeper and explore the customer ecosystem, market potential, available resources, and how to build a prototype. The goal is to understand and achieve product-solution fit by the end of the program.

The Sullivan Family Ideator program is an entry point into accessing the Wond’ry’s resources and expert mentors. It is a no-cost, non-credit program for students, faculty, and staff from universities throughout the Southeast. A limited number of microgrants are awarded to participants displaying a high level of commitment to the idea and initial evidence that supports its merit.

For participants in Ideator that are working on STEM ideas, receiving microgrant funding from the Wond’ry makes you eligible to apply to the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Program. Acceptance into the National I-Corps Program provides a $50K non-dilutive grant!

If you successfully complete the full Ideator program and demonstrate evidence of product-solution fit, you can apply to the Wond’ry’s Builder Program to go from idea evaluation into learning what it takes to build a new venture or pursue licensing.

How to Determine if Ideator is Right for You

In order to participate, you must be an active student, faculty, or staff member at a university located in the Southeast region of the United States. Ideator participants typically have not formed a business or nonprofit entity and are at the early stages of developing and evaluating a new idea (product, service, technology, medical device, etc.).

If you have any questions about whether you and your idea is a good fit, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Wond’ry team at


Applications are now closed!



Short Course (Three weeks)

The program is a three-week accelerated program composed of a kick-off and closing session with required instructor and mentor office hours. Each participant will have the opportunity to pitch their idea for potential microgrant funding and additional mentorship.

Session 1 | Kick-off: Sep. 17 | 10:00 am-1:00 pm

Short Course Q/A: Sep. 24 | 12:00 pm -1:00 pm 

Session 2 | Closing: Oct. 01 | 10:00 am-1:00 pm 


Full Program (Three additional weeks)

For participants or teams that excel in the short course program, Ideator will continue for an additional three weeks to dive deeper into evidence-based idea evaluation, market evaluation, and pitching an idea, as well as additional office hours and mentor meetings.

Session 3: Oct. 08 | 12:00 pm-1:00 pm

Session 4: Oct. 22 | 12:00 pm-1:00 pm 

Session 5: Oct. 29 | TBD (in person – optional)


Pitch Day

At the end of the full program, a pitch competition will be held and participants will have the opportunity to pitch their idea to a group of high-caliber judges composed of business leaders, investors, and accomplished entrepreneurs. Microgrants will be provided for a number of teams that excel in the Ideator Program.

List of Former Microgrant Recipients


Each session will take place virtually over Zoom. Office hours and mentor meetings will also take place over Zoom with some in-person office hours being offered for participants near or willing to travel to Nashville that prefer to connect in person.


  • Participants are required to attend all sessions. Participants that miss a session are not eligible for potential microgrant funding.
  • Participants must conduct 10+ customer interviews over the 2-week short course and another 10 if continuing on to the full course for a total of 20.
  • Participants must meet with their assigned mentor each week.
  • Participants must participate in office hours with the instructors.
  • There will be a series of assignments directly related to evaluating your idea, these must be completed to discuss in office hours.
  • The pitch competition at the end of the full course is optional.


The Sullivan Family Ideator Program is funded in part by a generous donation by the Sullivan family and is supported in part by the National Science Foundation (Grant #1735762, PI David Owens).