Author: Brian Conlin

Social Ventures

Impact Hub Event Showcases Social Innovation Lab and Ventures

Impact Hub Event Showcases Social Innovation Lab and Ventures

The energy flowing through Impact Hub at 7:30 a.m. on February 22 had nothing to do with coffee-fueled caffeine rushes and everything to do with passion for social entrepreneurship.

That morning, dozens and dozens of people packed the Station North-based innovation lab for SocEnt Breakfast #29, a re-occurring morning meeting filled with brainstorming and networking to support emerging social ventures.

This iteration featured three Social Innovation Lab (SIL) teams (The Whole Teacher, Touching Young Lives and B-360), and began with SIL Director Darius Graham providing an overview of the program’s mission to develop nonprofits and mission-driven for-profits to better communities in Baltimore and around the world.

After Jenna Shaw of The Whole Teacher, Shantell Roberts of Touching Young Lives and Brittany Young of B-360 explained the issues their ventures intended to solve, each met with a focus group of 15-20 attendees to identify ways to strengthen their organizations.

“The questions were really great, and I felt that people were engaged and interested in what we were working on and very quick to offer community resources,” says Shaw, who established The Whole Teacher to increase the health, happiness and retention of Baltimore teachers.

The focus groups exposed the social entrepreneurs to diverse perspectives presented through a lens shaped by a variety of professional and life experiences.

“My group had so many people interested in Touching Young Lives,” says Roberts, who founded her nonprofit that provides education and tools to reduce the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) after her 1-year-old daughter died. “One mother in my group lost her baby to SIDS, and she was able to extend her thoughts in any capacity I needed.”

In the case of B-360, a group dedicated to changing the perceptions of engineers and dirt bike riders and using dirt bikes to teach Baltimore children STEM, it not only received feedback but used the time to educate the group.

“We talked a lot about my students who by the age of 5 either ride dirt bikes or want to become dirt bike riders,” Young says. “The group was valuable because they had raw opinions, but they left viewing riders differently.”

Though the event officially lasted only about 90 minutes, many members of the focus groups lingered to meet and exchange business cards with the other SIL entrepreneurs.

“I left with a lot of business cards, and I have a lot of upcoming meetings because of that day,” Roberts says, noting specifically an opportunity to work with the International Rescue Committee to discuss how a relationship between their two organizations might look like.

Shaw and Young echoed that sentiment. Less than a week after the event she had reached out to about a dozen people she had met and had several more reach out to her.

“I made a lot of connections just from that morning,” Shaw says. “People have been offering to make introductions on behalf of The Whole Teacher and others have discussed how they approached similar challenges.”

“We made a lot of great connections, including mechanics, business interests, motorcycle riders, and STEM experts,” Young says. “The best part was that the event was unscripted but had a great flow, so everyone left feeling empowered. B-360 left having more concrete validations on the importance of our work and the need in the community.”

The advice, inspiration and connections derived from this event, which included past SIL cohort members, may turn out to be indispensable. At least one of the entrepreneurs looks forward to paying the support she has received forward.

“(SIL alumni) have all been really inviting and willing to help in whatever they can,” Roberts says. “I always joke with (Graham), ‘How great do I have to be so that I can come back and help future teams?’ I’m always willing to lend assistance.”

Want to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab? Click here.

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Shrenik Jain is Increasing Access to…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Shrenik Jain is Increasing Access to Mental Health Care

Working as an EMT within multiple fire departments and rescue squads, Shrenik Jain has seen first-hand the unfortunate effects of untreated mental illness. From these tragedies, Jain was inspired to create Sunrise Health, a mobile app for anonymous, text-based group therapy that increases mental health support for patients and maximizes health care providers’ efficiency.

Founded in 2016, Sunrise Health, under Jain’s guidance as the company’s business lead, has received a number of accolades, including “Most Disruptive Startup” from the American Psychiatric Association and the “Judge’s Choice Award” at the Harvard Kennedy and Business School Social Enterprise Competition.

Sunrise Health, formerly known as Beacon Health, has also taken advantage of opportunities at Johns Hopkins that help startups reach their potential, joining the Social Innovation Lab, winning business plan and pitch competitions, and receiving awards from the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund and the Whiting Student Initiatives Fund.

The success extends outside of Baltimore, too. The young startup has received grant funding from the NIH and currently has more than 10 signed letters of intent from fire and police departments and health care systems.

Below, Jain, a junior applied math and German major at The Johns Hopkins University, discusses his startup, the support he receives from the university, and why Baltimore is an ideal place to live and grow a business.

In five words, what does your company do?

We make psychotherapy smarter.

What are your goals, and how will you get there?

Our main goal right now is to change how therapy is delivered. The traditional one-on-one, face-to-face model of therapy leaves so many people without help. Approximately, one-quarter of the American population has a mental health condition, and two-thirds of them receive zero treatment whatsoever.

By incorporating peer support, anonymity and the accessibility of a mobile app with a B2B model, we remove many current barriers to care centered around retention in care, social stigma, accessibility, and cost.

Our larger goal, simply put, is to make therapy better. So many of the studies done today have a very low power (statistically speaking), and only focus on very limited subjects. Our application of natural language processing technology will take a quantitative approach to behavioral health that has never been seen in history.

Aggregating this data from different populations and cross-referencing different interventions will lead to insights that will allow effective mental health care to exist for everyone.

Why have you chosen Baltimore as your startup’s home?

Our founding team, which is me, my co-founder Ravi, and our chief data scientist Satya, met as students at Johns Hopkins, and we all quickly became enamored with the city for all its quirks and history. The fit was so natural, we didn’t really consider relocating as we went full-time on Sunrise.

What opportunities make it a good place for growing a business?

Easy access to D.C., New York City, Philadelphia and Boston (but lower costs), and a strong infrastructure of health care and research.

In terms of startups and innovation, what’s one thing that separates Baltimore from other tech hotbeds?

Community and friendliness. Everything is so close: from the city government to nonprofits to other tech companies. We’ve had a particularly good experience with TEDCO. Everyone seems to focus on real problems and genuinely wants to see others around them succeed.

If you could give your past self-one piece of advice for creating a startup, what would it be?

Move fast and extract value from everything you do. Instilling a sense of urgency is critical, otherwise you can bleed months without realizing it.

What has been the most beneficial part of your work with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures?

Connections to experienced healthcare executives and providers. Feedback, mentoring and pitch advice when we were just at the idea stage.

What book are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading House of God by Samuel Schem. Think Catch-22 meets the dysfunctionality within health care. Takes you in with evocative language, while leaving behind a lot of lingering ethical questions.

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

Alex Karp, founder & CEO of Palantir. I admire his courage in tackling huge problems with massive impact within the public sector. I think too many tech companies ignore the government unless it is to lobby for their own interests, while the government itself can (and should) be a powerful instrument of change. From the tech side, any company that creates artificial intelligence solutions for both the CIA and the CDC seems inherently cool.

It’s after a long day of work, and you don’t feel like cooking. What is your go-to Baltimore restaurant?

The Bun Shop on Light Street. It’s like stepping in another world, from the bustle of downtown into a mellow, neo-renaissance feeling den with a regal yet subtle color scheme of gold and black. Good pastries, too.

What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Baltimore?

The aquarium and surrounding history ships. The research focus of the National Aquarium means you learn something every time you go. The animals themselves are beyond fascinating up-close, and a powerful reminder of the staggering diversity of life on Earth. The history ships are a cool portal into Baltimore’s nautical history. The USS Torsk is my favorite. It’s hard to fathom almost 12,000 dives from when its keel was laid down in 1944, even as you walk on it.

Click here to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab.

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