Category: Startups

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Mera Kitchen Collective Cooks Up Opportunity…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Mera Kitchen Collective Cooks Up Opportunity in Baltimore

 
From 2000 to 2014, Baltimore saw its immigrant population more than double, reaching 45,000 (approximately 7 percent of the city’s population). This influx of foreign arrivals led the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program to call Baltimore a “reemerging gateway.”

Easing the transition for many of these refugees and immigrants is Mera Kitchen Collective. As a community-driven, food-based cooperative, Mera Kitchen Collective amplifies the skills and passions of Baltimore’s immigrants and refugees as well as ensures they have access to critical resources and opportunities.

To further the mission, Mera Kitchen Collective, a member of the Social Innovation Lab’s 2017-2018 cohort, hosts pop-up events at local restaurants and farmers’ markets and leads cooking classes to showcase the story and cuisine of different chefs who have come to Baltimore from places around the world.

Below, the founders of Mera Kitchen Collective (Emily Lerman, Brittany DeNovellis, Liliane Makole, Megan Murray, Iman Alshehab and Aishah AlFadhalah) share their thoughts about the cooperative’s mission, Baltimore and the best food in the city.
 

In a few words, what does Mera Kitchen Collective do?

We operate a worker-owned cooperative supporting refugees and immigrants.
 

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Our goal is to provide opportunities for entrepreneurism to refugee and immigrant women. We have been hosting pop-up events to test our business model, skills and capacity. We hope to be present at farmers’ markets for the upcoming season. Our end goal is a brick and mortar location that will serve not just as a restaurant, but also a community gathering place.
 

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

We love Baltimore! We are all Baltimore City residents, and we know a supportive, welcoming and talented pool of fellow-entrepreneurs live here. Of course we would choose Baltimore!
 

What opportunities make Baltimore a good place to grow a business?

The supportive small business community here in Baltimore has welcomed us with open arms. The city’s residents have consistently supported our events and our women. It’s the community in Baltimore that makes it special – we all came from other places and now call Baltimore home, so we know that this city is unique in its ability to provide support.
 

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

Baltimore’s concentration of top-level higher education paired with its size make it ideal for starting something innovative. Startups here have the resources of some of the country’s best colleges and universities, their faculty and their students…combined with a city that’s big enough to be impressive, but not so big that you can’t make waves with your idea. Baltimore is really ideal!
 

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

Connect more. We have been so lucky in the group that we have and the unique experiences and connections that we each bring to the table. These not only help us along the way, but they also inform so many of our decisions as a group.
 

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

We look up to other worker-owners and worker-owned cooperatives. The fine folks at the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED) and Red Emma’s have worked with us to help us form our business model and help us refine our decision making as a group. We look up to these groups because they have actively chosen equity; we admire those who put people first.
 

It’s after a long day of work. Where do you choose to eat dinner?

It’s so hard to choose among so many A+ options! We might grab a bite at Hersh’s in Federal Hill, or head to Clavel for incredible tacos…or Iman might have us over to her house and cook us a homemade meal. We are spoiled in our options!

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

​Each one of us had a different answer to this question. For some of us, the answer is spending time at Baltimore’s incredible museums; others of us love Baltimore’s innovative food scene. There’s so much love about Baltimore that it’s hard to choose just one thing among six unique people.
 

Meet the Social Innovation Lab’s other changemakers!

 

Awards

11 Startups with JHTV Ties Rank Among Baltimore’s Best

11 Startups with JHTV Ties Rank Among Baltimore’s Best

 
 
In the last six months, Personal Genome Diagnostics (PGDx) raised a $75 million series B, Harpoon Medical sold for $100 million and Sunayu acquired Fractal Technology. Which Baltimore startup is next?

According to Technical.ly, businesses associated with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) are leading the next generation of Baltimore startups. Last week, the publication released the realLIST to catalogue the city’s “top companies who have already shown promise.” The top six companies ranked and 11 of the 20 mentioned have ties to JHTV.
 
 

THE CRITERIA

 
Technical.ly selected a group of startups tackling diverse challenges related to manufacturing, education, health care, social issues and more. To determine “promise,” considerations included:
 

  • Boldness of idea
  • Talent levels of founders and team
  • Customer base and revenue
  • Investment capital
  • Potential impact
  • Office space

 

STARTUPS WITH JOHNS HOPKINS TIES

 
1. READY Robotics
 
The FastForward startup based in City Garage enables small- and medium-sized manufacturers to unlock the productivity and potential of robots. The company’s software, which it installs in pre-made manufacturing robots, allows manufacturers to change the tasks their robots perform in hours, instead of days or weeks.
 
 
2. Osmosis
 
A venture in the 2013-2014 Social Innovation Lab (SIL) cohort, Osmosis has created web- and mobile-based interactive learning experiences and an online community to help medical school students study. The startup co-founded by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine students recently expanded into print.
 
 
3. FactoryFour
 
FactoryFour is a solution that automates manufacturing processes for the production of orthotics, eyewear and footwear, reducing lead time and eliminating errors. Johns Hopkins University undergraduates Param Shah and Alex Mathews co-founded the company and used a number of JHTV resources. In addition to participating in SIL’s 2015-2016 cohort, the Mount Vernon-based startup received funding and mentorship through the Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award.
 
 
4. Intelehealth
 
Led by Johns Hopkins University graduate student Neha Goel, Intelehealth operates in the telemedicine space and is developing a mobile app that improves access to health care for remote and underserved communities. Intelehealth was a member of the 2016-2017 SIL cohort.
 
 
5. Proscia
 
Operating in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Proscia is ushering in an era of computational pathology. Proscia CEO David West, who founded the company with other Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering undergraduates, aims to give pathologists a quantitative view of cancer, enabling them to improve patient outcomes. Proscia received funding and mentorship from JHTV’s Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund.
 
 
6. b.Well
 
B.Well’s online platform puts people at the center of their health care by simplifying access to health data, insurance and on-demand health services. The startup participated in the M-1 Ventures accelerator where it grew its pipeline 300 percent and won one of two $25,000 awards.
 
 
8. B-360
 
B-360 is on a mission to end the cycle of poverty and build bridges in communities through a STEM education program and advocacy program centered on Baltimore’s dirt bike culture. B-360 participated in Social Innovation Lab as a member of its 2016-2017 cohort.
 
 

HONORABLE MENTION

Sunrise Health
 
Co-founded in 2016 by two Johns Hopkins University students, Sunrise Health is developing a mobile app for anonymous, text-based group therapy that increases mental health support for patients and maximizes health care providers’ efficiency. Sunrise Health participated in the 2016-2017 Social Innovation Lab cohort, received support from the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund and the Whiting Student Initiatives Fund.
 
 
BurnAlong
 
BurnAlong provides an online video fitness and wellness platform that enables users to work out with top instructors from across the country and their friends. After participating in M-1 Ventures, BurnAlong had 400 business partners and more than 3,000 members. The company also won $25,000 through M-1 Ventures.
 
 
Portable Alternative Crib
 
Shantell Roberts distributes safe sleep baby boxes and supplies to Baltimore families to reduce the rate of sudden infant death syndrome in the city. She was a member of the 2016-2017 SIL cohort, winning the $25,000 prize at the conclusion of the program.
 
 
PathoVax
 
A member of FastForward, PathoVax is developing a universal Human Papillomavirus vaccine. Co-founded by two Johns Hopkins University graduate students, the startup recently received two federal grants totaling $2.5 million that will help the company push its first product to clinical trials.
 

Click here to learn more about Johns Hopkins startups!

 

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