From Scientist to Start-up: Our Story

With nearly two decades of combined team experience conducting network science research and evaluations, Visible Network Labs is the culmination of many years of hard work. Our team comes from a variety of backgrounds, including network science, policy research, training and software development. However the spark behind our mission, tools and services really is our CEO and Founder, Dr. Danielle Varda.

After spending three years as a policy scientist at the RAND Corporation, Dr. Varda spent the last 10 years at the University of Colorado Denver as a tenured professor, researching the impacts of social networks on health outcomes. She built a team (including current team members Sara Sprong and Mike Cooper) and created the Center on Network Science. The team built and scaled our first network analysis tool, PARTNER, that has been used by over 2,500 customers across 40 countries. The Center also hosted workshops and started a popular annual Network Leadership Training Academy, which has doubled in size since its inception.

After years of adoption of the PARTNER tool in communities, a large and one-of-a-kind database of information about the relationships between organizations developed. Recognizing the potential for this dataset to help improve collaboration and outcomes for community networks, Dr. Varda and her team began considering the possibility of using the data to create new network analysis tools for the individual, rather than organizational level.

This momentum from the PARTNER tool and insights generated through research and customer interviews led to the generation of a new tool to help professionals identify and leverage the personal support networks of their clients. The Person Centered Network App brings the network approach to an individual level by determining who helps people with their care – friends, family, etc. – and what needs remain unmet. This helps target care plans and leverage the strengths of individuals as a part of their own wellness. After getting accepted into the Innovators Society in 2016, the team went on to get their first investment in the app, leading to the first beta version which is currently being piloted in organizations across the country.

Finally, in 2018 Visible Network Labs was established, after winning full ownership of all IP developed in prior years. The company was accepted into the Boomtown business accelerator program and used the opportunity to launch of a pilot of the Person-Centered Network App and develop a financial and product strategy for scaling Aspen. We’ve also been selected to be Fightback Fellows by the Fightback Foundation, an incubator focused on social impact companies. We have gathered our tools and data together in a single social connectedness platform that we’ve named Aspen, along with a Connected Community forums to create an online peer-learning network for our community. VNL also continues to expand its training offerings through the Learning Lab, including the flagship Network Leadership Training Academy. We can’t wait to see how many professionals we can support through Aspen, our trainings and resources!

Alex Derr

About the Author: Alex Derr, M.P.A.

Director of Marketing & Communications

Alex joined VNL in 2017, originally supporting our events. He now helps manages our communications and marketing strategy and content development work. Alex creates blogs, infographics, reports, and other content while managing our web and social media presence. He also runs our email marketing campaigns, tracks analytics, and conducts market research to drive our strategy. He supports our entire team with copywriting, graphic design and research, and helps with events, webinars, demos, and other online learning. When he isn’t at work Alex spends his time climbing 14ers (30 done, 28 to go!) and blogging on his own website, The Next Summit Blog.

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