Author: Brian Conlin


10 Social Ventures Present Visions for a Better World,…

10 Social Ventures Present Visions for a Better World, The PAC Wins $25,000

Ten social ventures. One $25,000 award. Thousands of people benefiting from emerging social ventures.

Those numbers only begin to summarize Tuesday evening’s Impact+Innovation Forum, the Social Innovation Lab’s (SIL) culminating event for its 2016-2017 cohort of nonprofit and mission-driven businesses.

“The ventures in this cohort started out strong, having made it through a competitive selection process with 53 applicants,” says SIL Director Darius Graham. “Throughout the six-month program, these teams worked hard, learned a great deal and, in some cases, pivoted their approach.

“The forum was our way of publicly sharing their vision for a better Baltimore and world with our larger community of supporters.”

Though each of the SIL ventures has made strides in providing a measurable impact to communities in Baltimore and beyond, The Portable Alternative Crib (PAC) received a $25,000 award to accelerate its mission of lowering the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome across Maryland. The organization’s founder, Shantell Roberts, provides families with young children information and resources, including a certified sleeping space, that keep babies safe.

“Parenthood is one of those weird spaces for which you could never truly be prepared,” Roberts said during her presentation, noting that new parents often receive well-intentioned advice. “But what if the information they gave you was unsafe? Or it didn’t work? Or led you to create an unsafe environment for your baby?”

In 2011, Roberts’ 1-year-old daughter was one of the more than 100 infant deaths that occur in Baltimore each year. Because of this tragedy, Roberts endeavored to ensure no other family had to endure the loss of a child.

Roberts, a safe sleep coordinator for Baltimore who joined SIL as a community member with no affiliation to Johns Hopkins, says the city has had six unsafe sleeping deaths of babies in the first quarter of 2017 alone. The PAC’s solution—a rectangular box only a couple of feet long—provides a certified, comfortable and safe sleeping space for babies.

For the immediate future, Roberts has set The PAC on a 100 box initiative. By selling 100 of the $150 boxes, which include maternal self-care and infant care items, she will have funding to send 100 additional boxes to organizations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The $25,000 award she received from the Social Innovation Lab will go a long way in helping her achieve that goal.The PAC received the reward based on peer evaluations within SIL’s 2016-2017 cohort. Four times from January through April, each venture rated their peers on a four-point scale across seven categories:

Compelling spokesperson – A palpable passion, enthusiasm or commitment to their venture
Vision for impact – A reasonably ambitious vision for making an impact in a substantial way
Vision for venture – A reasonably ambitious vision for their venture’s future size, scale, impact and profile
Resilience – Acknowledgement of challenges and dedication to overcome them
Empathy – An extensive understanding of and empathy for the beneficiary of the venture
Progress – Demonstrated growth or development of the venture during the program
Generosity – Offering time, contacts or ideas to help others in the cohort

“We were inspired to create this peer review process for the award based on the work that Village Capital has done via their Peer Selected Investment Model,” Graham says. “Having such a process where the cohort provides ongoing feedback to each other and where that feedback determines the winner of the award helps us identify the team that best exemplifies what we look for in entrepreneurs.”

Though PAC received top honors at the event, the nine other nonprofits and mission-driven businesses have benefited communities in Baltimore and around the world.

Click here to watch the SIL ventures present at the Impact+Innovation Forum.


Using dirt bike culture as a platform to repair and build relationships in the community, provide a pathway to career opportunities and unite the community.

Presenter: Brittany Young, founder

Inspiration: Became an engineer despite being told she couldn’t because of her race, the community in which she grew up and the fact her parents lacked degrees
Key fact: Children as young as 5 either ride dirt bikes or want to be dirt bike riders
Quote: “Riders, regardless of where they come from, deserve a safe place.”

Beacon Tech

A mobile app for anonymous, text-based, group therapy that uses artificial intelligence.

Presenter: Ravi Shah, co-founder

Inspiration: Saw friend suffering from mental health illness, but she feared judgment in treatment
Key fact: One in five people in the United States suffer from a mental health illness
Quote: “That community and support [my friend who suffered mental illness received] was limited to just 90 minutes a week, but her depression wasn’t scheduled.” — Ravi Shah, co-founder, Beacon Tech

Bent Carrot

Empowering families to eat well by connecting them with essential kitchen tools and fostering a community brought together by a passion for improving its food environment.

Presenter: Mark Corser, founder, Bent Carrot

Inspiration: Lived in a Baltimore food desert with the nearest grocery store 20 blocks away
Key fact: 30 percent of children in Baltimore live in a food desert
Quote: “The Kitchen Kit allows families to prepare fresh, healthy foods in their own homes, on their own terms.”


A mobile app that improves access to comprehensive primary health care for remote and underserved communities through telemedicine.

Presenter: Neha Goel, CEO, Intelehealth

Inspiration: From India, Goel noticed existing telemedicine solutions inadequate for rural populations as they require high bandwidth or are specific to a single illness
Key fact: 400 million people around the world lack access to basic health care services
Quote: “They have to travel long distances and spend an inordinate amount of money to get the care that you and I take for granted.”


Providing supplies and support to breastfeeding moms at work.

Presenter: Meg Stoltzfus, founder, Lacstation

Inspiration: Manager of breastfeeding support program had to race to provide nursing mothers missing equipment
Key fact: Four in five mothers breastfeed when a baby is born, but that rate drops to two in five after three months
Quote: “Breastfeeding is one of the most valuable preventative health measures a mom can take.”

The Listening Lab

A music education program that teaches students concentration, awareness and listening skills through a series of classroom sessions and live orchestra concerts

Presenter: Rebecca Smithorn, founder, The Listening Lab

Inspiration: Education conductor of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
Key fact: Intentional listening allows people to lose themselves in music as they would a great movie or book
Quote: “A lot of our students face hurdles daily that infringe on their ability to sustain awareness.”

Project Charmify

Bringing small-scale investment to Baltimore communities in the form of vacant lot revitalization and community-driven programming

Presenter: Elyse Oliver, president & co-founder

Inspiration: Grew up in Biddeford, Maine, a town that hadn’t seen investment since the heyday of its textile mills in the 1960s
Key fact: Sixty-five percent of Baltimore’s 7,500 city-owned vacant spaces have no plans for future revitalization
Quote: “I was involved in the revitalization efforts of Biddeford’s downtown during my senior year of high school. That involvement dramatically changed my perception of the city.”


Connecting community members to play pickup sports, while generating revenue for community centers and recreation facilities.

Presenter: Nikhil Panu, founder

Inspiration: The captain of the Johns Hopkins basketball team, Panu has long had an interest in sports but struggled to find people to play with and places to do it
Key fact: In its initial launch in Baltimore, Squadz had 130 bookings of space at recreation centers over a period of weeks
Quote: “We see people from various neighborhoods coming together, and this is all through sports.”

The Whole Teacher

Increasing the health, happiness and retention of educators by streaming wellness programming into schools.

Presenter: Jenna Shaw, founder and CEO

Inspiration: Began teaching in Baltimore public schools nine years ago, and each year she saw fewer and fewer of her colleagues returning to the classroom
Key fact: At 35 percent, Baltimore’s turnover rates for teachers are twice the national average
Quote: “Schools don’t have the resources or knowledge they need to truly support our educators

Interested in learning more about SIL? Click here!


Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Amanda Allen Discusses emocha, Baltimore and…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Amanda Allen Discusses emocha, Baltimore and FastForward

Emocha Mobile Health was one of the first tenants at FastForward East when it opened in 2015. Two years later, it became one of the first startups to move into Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ newest innovation hub, FastForward 1812.

As a FastForward tenant, emocha has added clients from Baltimore to Australia for its mobile health platform that connects patients to health care providers and helps solve problems such as medication adherence, linkage to care and patient engagement.

It played a key role in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s monitoring of Ebola during the outbreak in 2015. This past August, emocha secured contracts for its medication adherence mobile application from three California counties that have some of the highest rates of latent tuberculosis in the country. They’re now using the same technology for hepatitis C and opioid addiction therapy.

Below, Amanda Allen, emocha’s design lead, discusses the startup’s mission, recent successes, support from FastForward and the strengths of Baltimore (which includes delicious pizza).

In five words, what does your company do?

Mobile health for public health.

If I had a few more words I’d say:

“We help public health resources go further. Using technology that strengthens patient-provider relationships, we reduce costs and improve health outcomes.”

What’s one success that emocha has had that you’re particularly proud of?

We started working with Puerto Rico’s Tuberculosis Control Program a few months ago, and their feedback has been extremely positive. I hung up a direct quote in our office: “This has been a god send and has changed the way we operate. You guys are at the forefront of how technology improves health care.”

For context, health departments have a mandate to watch patients take every dose of their TB medication. Every day, for a six- to nine-month period, health officials drive to patients, or ask patients to come into the clinic. This is called Directly Observed Therapy (DOT). While this method is highly effective, it’s extremely burdensome and expensive to scale.

Emocha offers a digital solution. A mobile app allows a patient to video themselves taking their medication at their convenience. Health care workers then log into emocha on their desktop and review videos at their convenience, dramatically reducing the time and money that is poured into observing each patient in-person. This solution is a big deal for Puerto Rico because 30 to 50 percent of their active TB population is unable to access care and dies each year. This situation is compounded by Puerto Rico’s debt, which is currently over $70 billion.

What are emocha’s goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Each product has a specific goal (increase medication adherence, monitor an outbreak, link more patients to care in less time), but at a high level, we aim to create technology that solves real problems in public health. We do this through a hybrid of research, design and engineering.

I think one of the reasons we’re successful is because we hold the user experience paramount. As design lead, I try to make sure every interface is easy to understand and enjoyable to use, regardless of a user’s age, location and technical savvy. We do this by engaging patients, healthcare workers and providers early on in the design process. One-on-one interviews, focus groups, direct observation and other interactive design exercises ensure we’re solving the right problem in the right way.

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

Baltimore is a mid-sized city that offers a diverse range of neighborhoods and people. I rarely want to leave, but when I do, I like having access to larger nearby cities. On top of this, cost of living is fairly inexpensive. Baltimore is a hidden gem, my only fear is that word gets out.

What has been the best part about the FastForward 1812 innovation hub so far?

Every product we develop has a clinical champion that guides our understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve. FastForward’s location within the medical campus allows us to meet more often with the world-renowned experts we work with in HIV, Hepatitis C and Tuberculosis.

I also enjoy the physical co-working space. I usually start my day in our office, but work in huddle spaces and phone booths the rest of the day for a change of scenery.

How has FastForward/Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures helped emocha grow?

Emocha was invented by clinicians and researchers at Johns Hopkins in 2008, and Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures helped us license the technology in 2013. They also provided access to the DreamIT Health Accelerator which was instrumental to our start.

Since then, they’ve continued to make introductions to customers and thought leaders in healthcare.

What book are you currently reading?

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

I think I’m most impressed by social entrepreneurs getting by through sheer will power, hustle. They’re usually determined to solve a problem their deeply connected to.

I’ve met two recently who are a part of FastForward’s Social Innovation Lab. Brittany Young is providing a pipeline from dirt biking to STEM jobs through her nonprofit B360, and Shantell Roberts is working to eliminate SIDS by providing an innovative safe sleep solution called a Portable Alternative Cribs (P.A.C.s). Watch out for them.

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

Lebanese Taverna. But if I’m extra lazy, I order chicken tiki marsala pizza from Charles Restaurant and Carry Out. Look it up. You’re welcome.

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

I joke that hobbies are for people who don’t like their jobs. But I do enjoy Baltimore’s vibrant bar scene. I like to bring everyone I love together at brunch as often as possible.

Want to learn more about FastForward 1812? Click here.


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