Author: Brian Conlin

Student Ventures

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort Aiming to Commercialize Disruptive…

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort Aiming to Commercialize Disruptive Ideas


Ralph S. O’Connor and his wife, Becky

They’ve identified major challenges, now five ventures led by Johns Hopkins students have the opportunity to develop innovative solutions with support from FastForward U’s Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund.

The fund — founded by Ralph O’Connor, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences alumnus, and his wife, Becky — will provide each member a $5,000 non-dilutive grant, an opportunity to earn $5,000 more and mentorship from FastForward U.

“Where some see only problems, this group of precocious student entrepreneurs sees opportunities to drive change through innovation” says Darius Graham, director of student ventures. “We believe that our 2017-2018 cohort possesses transformative ideas and the skills and tenacity to bring them to life.

“We hope that, like in years past, the teams use the resources the O’Connor Fund provides to reach their full potential.”

Over the past four years, the O’Connor Fund has supported 17 teams of Johns Hopkins student entrepreneurs. Already, a number of these have begun disrupting industries. Take, for example, Fractal Tech, a cybersecurity startup acquired by Sunayu last summer. Or, consider Proscia, a startup that has raised over $1 million to develop its digital pathology platform.

Due in part to the successes of these peers, interest in the O’Connor Fund has spiked. Over the past two years, the O’Connor Fund has received a total of 71 applications, compared to a total of 29 for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 cohorts.

“Demand for programs like the O’Connor Fun has surged,” Graham says. “Through FastForward U, we hope to empower students to pursue innovation and entrepreneurship while in school or at some point in their professional careers.”

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort


Venture: Atana
Lead: David Shi (Senior, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences)
Description: Atana is creating secure and scalable distributed ledger infrastructure for collaborative research and development networks.

“We are hoping that the O’Connor Fund will help us secure additional strategic partnerships and accelerate our current pilot studies,” says Shi, the founder and CEO of Atana.

Venture: OtoGlobal Health
Lead: Aseem Jain (Senior, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: OtoScreen is an affordable, smartphone-based Otoacoustic Emissions device that is designed to penetrate the developing world health care market and establish the standard of care for pediatric hearing screening in developing countries.

“We look forward to working with FastForward U to achieve business goals and hope to leverage their connections to find Johns Hopkins professors who can help us improve our technology,” says Sanjay Elangovan, OtoGlobal Health’s COO. “Although our device is ready for testing, until now, we’ve lacked the necessary funding. The O’Connor Fund will help us obtain better hardware for our technology, and will enable us to validate our idea.”

Venture: Treyetech
Lead: Eric Chiang (Senior, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: Treyetech is a business-to-business venture that facilitates corneal transplants with a new device and disruptive workflow, improving patients’ vision beyond the current standard of care.

“The Treyetech team is thrilled to be a part of the 2017-2018 Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund cohort, and we look forward to JHTV’s guidance and support as we navigate manufacturing and testing for our device,” says Stephanie Cai, a co-founder of Treyetech and a senior biomedical engineering major. “The O’Connor fund will provide us the resources necessary to conduct important pre-clinical studies and push forward with commercialization in the coming year.”

Venture: VersaMaker
Lead: Travis Chan (Sophomore, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: VersaMaker is a maker device with modular tool heads so that the users can change its functionality from 3-D printing to CNC routing to laser engraving to liquid printing and more — all from a single, versatile machine.

“The O’Connor Fund’s monetary award will allow me to prototype and reiterate my product much faster. I will use the $10,000 and additional funding, towards prototyping, conferences, customer research, and possibly towards creating a crowdfunding campaign,” says Chan, the founder of VersaMaker. “However, the O’Connor Fund offers more than just money. FastForward U sets up each company with an experienced mentor from their Mentor-In-Residence program and I hope to get some advice and connections from this opportunity. In addition, FastForward U offers accounting/tax resources and legal support which will definitely come in handy for me around tax season and when I patent aspects of my product.”

Venture: Weel
Lead: Eyan Goldman (Sophomore, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: On a mission to connect friends through commerce, Weel is creating a digital platform which introduces the social aspects of retail shopping to the rising world of ecommerce.

“The capital provided by the O’Connor Fund will enable Weel to accelerate its timetables by expanding our development capabilities, ultimately enabling us to have an earlier beta release,” says Goldman. “The resources the O’Connor Fund provides are especially exciting. As an early stage startup, we use all resources available to us. Being part of the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures ecosystem is something that we really look forward to.”


Click here to learn more about the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund!


Corporate Collaborations

Collaboration is Key: Johnson & Johnson Innovation Looking to…

Collaboration is Key: Johnson & Johnson Innovation Looking to Support Early-Stage Research


Tenacity, innovation and business savvy tend to go only so far when striving to commercialize early-stage research. Moving technology from lab to marketplace is more efficient with a collaborator who has complementary expertise.

The value of such a collaboration was on display on Nov. 2 as 100 researchers, scientists and innovation ecosystem builders streamed into Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) to hear Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JJI) discuss the many ways it accelerates innovation and facilitates collaborations between entrepreneurs and Johnson & Johnson’s global health care businesses.

The half-day event showcased JJI’s business development, venture investment, incubation and R&D resources — which they designed to more quickly move promising health care innovations to those who need them. They also discussed best practices for collaborating with Johnson & Johnson Innovation and held one-on-one meetings to discuss opportunities with select attendees after the presentation.

“Collaboration is such a crucial component to the commercialization of innovations,” says FastForward program manager Megan Wahler. “The many ways Johnson & Johnson Innovation supports early-stage researchers ensures more promising health care technologies make it to the marketplace where they can improve quality of life.”

The promising early-stage science being developed at Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and across the region was a key reason that JJI presented at JHTV, says Eric Schaeffer Johnson & Johnson’s Senior Director of Scientific Innovation and Neuroscience. JJI typically holds between five and 10 of these events each year in locations with major research universities and emerging biotech communities.

Through these events, JJI’s diverse team of science and transaction experts find high-potential early-stage innovations that fit Johnson & Johnson’s strategic mission and create customized deal structures to help accelerate the science to the patient. Typically in the days and weeks following the event, JJI sees a large uptick in emails and LinkedIn messages from scientists at the institutions and regions where they present, Schaeffer says.

“Our goals with these presentations are to increase recognition of who we are and what we do as well as to connect with entrepreneurs both in small companies and academic hubs who may have interesting ideas for companies or products,” Schaeffer says.

In fact, Schaeffer said that the individual meetings after the presentation led to promising conversations with innovators in his focus area of neuroscience.

“We connected with a number of scientists and entrepreneurs performing interesting research,” he says. “If even one of these meetings leads to a potential collaboration, it makes the whole trip worthwhile.”

Among the attendees at JJI’s presentation at JHTV were representatives from the Maryland Department of Commerce. In addition to better understanding how to collaborate with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the event afforded them the opportunity to meet JJI representatives who specialize in areas where the Department of Commerce wants to make connections, says Bret Schreiber, senior director of the Maryland Department of Commerce’s Office of BioHealth and Life Sciences.

Aside from the many pathways for collaboration that the event opened, Schreiber saw a positive from Johnson & Johnson Innovation coming to Johns Hopkins. It signals, he says, that the Johns Hopkins, Baltimore and Maryland innovation ecosystems are growing stronger.

“Johnson & Johnson is one of the world’s preeminent companies. From an innovation standpoint, their initiatives have been incredible,” Schreiber says. “To have an entity like Johnson & Johnson Innovation come to Johns Hopkins really signals to me that Maryland is moving from an emerging innovation ecosystem to an established one.”

Click here to learn more about Johns Hopkins collaborations!


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