Category: Startups

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jenny Owens hosts families seeking medical…

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.
 

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: ClearMask is Improving Doctor-Patient Communication

Meet the Entrepreneur: ClearMask is Improving Doctor-Patient Communication

 

 
Inspired by a negative pre-surgery experience, Allysa Dittmar co-founded ClearMask to improve doctor-patient communication. Whereas traditional surgical masks hide doctors’ facial expressions and prevent the ability to read lips, the ClearMask provides a fully functional mask with full-face visibility.

As the company grows, it will look back at April 24 as a defining moment. That evening, the ClearMask team split into two to attend two pitch competitions, winning them both and $40,000. Within hours of collecting a $25,000 prize at the Social Innovation Lab’s Impact+Innovation Forum, it won $15,000 at Village Capital’s pitch competition at Gallaudet University. The funds will help the company move toward an NIH clinical trial, FDA approval, and product launch in 2019.

Below, members of ClearMask’s team — Dittmar (a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences alumnus), Aaron Hsu (a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine research assistant and alumnus of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences), Elyse Heob (Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business, Bloomberg School of Public Health, MBA/MPH candidate) and Inez Lam (Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering, Ph.D. candidate) — discuss their venture and the support it has received.
 

In a few words, what does your company do?

ClearMask: making healthcare more human.
 

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Elyse Heob: Our goal is to improve as many lives as possible with the masks. In 2018, we will finalize our mask design with Harbor Designs & Manufacturing in Baltimore and apply for FDA approval with mdPACE under TEDCO. Next step is selling the ClearMask on the market and getting our masks into hospitals everywhere!
 

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

Aaron Hsu: We are excited to be developing the ClearMask in Baltimore. Baltimore is realizing its potential to be a major biotechnology and entrepreneurship hub, where there are vast amounts of Baltimore-centric resources and people dedicated to giving back and strengthening the community.

What’s truly unique is the intimate focus — with the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Maryland, TEDCO, and Harbor Designs and Manufacturing. We have taken advantage of opportunities to work closely with key individuals and expand our idea through an extremely supportive entrepreneurship community that is passionate for social change.
 

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

Elyse Heob: We believe that finding the right team of people is essential. You can have the best idea in the world, but the execution all comes down to the team’s leadership and management. It’s quite difficult to do everything on your own, and having a like-minded, trustworthy and reliable team is a tremendous asset. It helps to ensure that the team has its best interest at heart and that everyone works well together – clear communication is key!
 

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

Allysa Dittmar: Any innovator who embraces the concept of universal design. We need more products that are accessible to everyone, regardless of their age, ability or status. I particularly love Selwyn Goldsmith’s work, who was a pioneer in universal design and created the dropped curb, a feature that’s now widespread in our built environment and benefits everyone. Similarly, the ClearMask benefits many people, not just deaf and hard of hearing individuals. We all use facial expressions, language markers, and emotions when communicating with others.
 

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

Allysa Dittmar: We’re usually together after hours and on the weekends as a team, and we love to go to Mt. Vernon Marketplace!
 

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

Allysa Dittmar: My favorite is to ride the water taxi on the Inner Harbor and visit the local farmers market on the weekends.

Aaron Hsu: I love to try new food and restaurants.

Elyse Heob: Baltimore Free Yoga!

Inez Lam: Attending local events (e.g. Artscape) and exploring new places!
 

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