Author: Hanju Lee

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Student startup Atana seeks to boost scientific collaboration through…

Student startup Atana seeks to boost scientific collaboration through blockchain technology

 

Atana team
From left: Atana co-founder and CTO Kevin Joo, co-founder and CEO David Shi and COO Nam Nguyen pose for a photo.
 
If money is the ultimate motivator, why not use it to encourage people to be proactive about their health and contribute to biomedical research?
 
That’s the idea behind Atana, a startup led by co-founders and Johns Hopkins University seniors CEO David Shi, an economics major, and CTO Kevin Joo, a biomedical engineering and computer science major.
 
The company has developed a secure and scalable distributed ledger infrastructure to boost scientific collaboration. It permanently records transaction details and distributes them across sources to prevent malicious parties from acquiring protected information.
 
The team’s original idea focused on the creation of a new cryptocurrency used to pay patients for their health data, but it has since developed into something with the potential to be so much more, explained Joo.
 
Using the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies to create a health passport, patients will be able to securely own and ultimately sell their health data to researchers, decreasing the costs and time associated with collecting information for studies and allowing for diversity in research populations, Joo says.
 
“We wanted to use this technology as a way to advance the concept of data ownership, patient consent and privacy in health care and biomedical research,” Joo says.
 
Securing the data is critical to the success of their technology, says Joo. Researchers can upload credentials and documents through a distributed ledger, and once verified, they can recruit patients and access data through a search instead of waiting to access databases or electronic health records.
 
Meanwhile, patients get the ability to influence medical research while bettering their own health outcomes by linking up devices that track health habits like fitness trackers and smartwatches.
 
In November, Joo and Shi met Nam Nguyen during a late-night session at FastForward U East, an innovation hub that provides registered Johns Hopkins University students with 24/7 access to co-working space, meeting rooms and workstations. After bonding over discussions of emerging blockchain-based technologies, Nguyen joined the Atana team as COO.
 
Shortly after, the team started developing “a more cohesive business model,” says Joo.
 
“A lot of new blockchain-related companies rush to launch their token sale and figure the rest out later,” Joo says. “We’re being diligent about both. At the end of the day we also want to have an actual product with a business model that makes sense.”
Under this newer model, Atana is focusing on licensing their technology to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical technology and health care companies.
 
They have also established partnerships with health artificial intelligence companies, health systems, contract research organizations, DNA sequencing labs and pharmaceutical firms to test the technology’s potential through pilot studies—including working with partners to test whether cryptographic protocols can be used to search millions of protected patient data points during the patient recruitment process while maintaining patient privacy.
 
Atana also received financial support this year from the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund, which supports Johns Hopkins students aiming to solve challenges through entrepreneurship. Members of each year’s cohort receive up to $10,000 as a grant, mentorship from investors and serial entrepreneurs, and additional resources from FastForward U, a group within Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures that provides extracurricular training and resources to enable students curious about or committed to becoming an innovator or entrepreneur.
 
Joo said the company’s business model and specifics were flushed out through long nights and odd hours at FastForward U’s innovation hubs.
 
Looking ahead, Atana is working toward hiring employees on a salaried basis and readying to close a seed round within the next few weeks, gearing the company up for a token generation event in coming months, Joo says.
 
“When we started it was about blockchain’s potential, not what can it do right now,” says Joo. “We spent a lot of nights ironing things out into something we could really sell. I don’t think that without such a space provided to us that [Atana] would have been possible.”
 

Get more information about FastForward U here!

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jenny Owens helps hosts help families

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jenny Owens helps hosts help families

 

Founded by Jenny Owens, Hosts for Humanity connects families and friends of patients traveling to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes. Owens is part of the 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort.
 
Within hours of the birth of Jenny Owens’ son Maximus in 2016, the newborn (now 2) was diagnosed with a rare health condition that required extensive care, surgeries and time in the hospital.
 
Owens, a University of Maryland, Baltimore faculty member and director of The Grid, lived near The Johns Hopkins Hospital, which allowed the family to travel easily to and from home. It was there that Owens realized other families were not so lucky.
 
“When we were staying at the hospital for one of Max’s surgeries, I ran into a grandmother of an infant patient in the family lounge,” says Owens. “During our conversation, she shared that she was visiting for two weeks and staying at a hotel. Her son and daughter were living in a tiny hospital room at the Children’s Hospital until either the Children’s House or Ronald McDonald’s house had an open room. They were from Tennessee and had traveled all the way to Baltimore for specialists that could care for their babies’ rare condition. Right then I realized how incredibly lucky we were to be in Baltimore and so close to such amazing hospitals. I thought about it and wondered – what if people living near hospitals could volunteer rooms in their homes to traveling with loved ones for care?”
 
The rest —as they say— is history.
 
Owens started Hosts for Humanity as part of the 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort to help fill the financial, emotional and supportive needs of families traveling for care. The nonprofit now connects families and friends of patients traveling to Baltimore to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes.
 
“We believe no family should be stressed about housing when they have a baby in the NICU, a grandparent having surgery, or a best friend undergoing chemo,” says Owens.
 
Below, she discusses Hosts for Humanity, Baltimore and the goals she has for the nonprofit.
 

In 5 words, what does your company do?

Support families through collective compassion.
 

What are your goals and how will you get there?

We believe no family should be stressed about housing when they have a baby in the NICU, a grandparent having surgery or a best friend undergoing chemo. We are currently piloting the service in Baltimore and are raising money to build a more sophisticated web platform that will match vetted hosts with vetted guests in a secure environment.
 
This will help Hosts for Humanity scale and serve other regions where patients are traveling to receive care.
 

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

Growing up my father was in the Navy and we moved 14 times before I was in eighth grade. Although those moves made me a versatile person and are the foundation of who I am today, I never experienced a strong sense of community or togetherness.
 
I’ve chosen Baltimore as a place to raise my family, and be part of a groundswell of people who are committed to making Baltimore a great place to live, work and play for all.
 

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

Baltimore is a place where people genuinely care. It’s large enough to provide a host of resources for start-ups, and small enough for people to remember your name.
 

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

Baltimore is the best-kept secret of the nation’s innovation scene. It consistently ranks among the 20 hottest cities for tech and top three cities for women in technology. Maryland as a whole was ranked third in Fast Company’s list of innovative states, and fourth in the number of startups per million residents.
 
There are more than 38 entrepreneurial support groups and co-working spaces throughout the city and a host of venture, angel and grant opportunities for startups. Baltimore is a city of makers, doers, creators and problem solvers and where I chose to grow and launch my start-up.
 
Baltimore is a city that faces great challenges but also a place where there are many opportunities to make a difference and to serve.
 

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

My advice to past Jenny would be when faced with adding something to your life it’s either a “hell yes” or a “no.” Focus your effort on what brings you joy and meaning. Forget or automate the rest.
 

What book are you currently reading?

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond
“100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez
“Life 3.0 – Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Max Tegmark
 

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

I admire Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore city’s health commissioner. Dr. Wen is a health care visionary, and I’m completely in awe of her energy and commitment to reducing health inequities in Baltimore. She’s my public health hero.
 

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

There are so many! Ekiben in Fell’s is my new favorite, especially their catfish tackle box and tempura broccoli. Also love Mount Vernon Marketplace, Trinacria, and all vendors in Belvedere Square.
 

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

As a new parent I’m seeing a whole new side of Baltimore. I love spending time with my husband and toddler on trails and parks in the city. I’m a big fan of the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium and the Rawlings Conservatory. I enjoy happy hours and brunches with friends and aspire to one day be a member of Baltimore’s Pottery Guild where I take intermittent classes and am a novice at best.
 

Find out more about the Social Innovation Lab here.
 

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