Category: Meet the Entrepreneur

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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Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Andrew Ishizuka Aims to Help Patients…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Andrew Ishizuka Aims to Help Patients Fight Advanced Cancers

 
A disease to which seemingly everyone has a personal connection, cancer causes approximately 600,000 deaths in the United States annually.

Avidea Technologies intends to blunt cancer’s impact through the development of its proprietary nano-scaffold technology that may one day enable them to engineer safer and more effective immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer. Its approach may also have broader applications to infectious disease prevention.

The Maryland-based startup is currently developing this technology at FastForward 1812, where it keeps office and lab space. One of the company’s co-founders and its Chief Scientific Officer, Andrew Ishizuka discusses Avidea’s mission, Maryland’s startup support system and how entrepreneurs can adapt to an increasingly busy schedule.
 

In five words, what does your company do?

Applied immunology and drug delivery.
 

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Avidea’s main focus is the development of a personalized cancer vaccine for treating patients with advanced cancers. Avidea, with several academic collaborators, has developed a vaccine technology and process for generating cancer vaccines that are unique to each patient. The benefit of a personalized cancer vaccine is that it can teach the immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells without affecting normal, healthy cells.

We’ve carefully tested our approach in rigorous preclinical models over several years and are now poised to undertake clinical trials. To get there, we are currently completing a series of carefully regulated experiments for the FDA prior to starting the trial. Entry to the clinic will be a major milestone for our company.
 

What makes Maryland a good home for your startup and a good place for growing a business?

Maryland has all the resources to build and grow a biotech startup, including mentorship, pitch competitions, ready access to capital, and legal and consulting services. The real selling point, however, is the scientific community.

Avidea was founded by scientists who trained at Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health, and we continue to collaborate with labs in the area, including ones at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, NIH and University of Maryland. There will always be considerable competition in biotech. We strive to differentiate ourselves on the strength of our science, which is bolstered by our cooperation with Maryland universities.
 

What resources from Johns Hopkins have helped Avidea grow?

Avidea is based in the FastForward 1812 innovation hub managed by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. In addition to leveraging the facilities and broader Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ network, we also make use of the larger core facilities at the medical school on a regular basis. This gives us access to otherwise cost-prohibitive advanced instrumentation, accelerating our product development cycle.

Importantly, we also collaborate with Johns Hopkins investigators who contribute scientifically to our product development.
 

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

“Your schedule next month will not be lighter.”

Having the opportunity to build a company is a tremendous privilege, but the demands and diversity of activities required of co-founders increases with each stage of growth.

Every day, I’m excited about our work and inspired by its potential to improve human health. I’ve found that the most effective way to manage my time is to prioritize tasks based on their importance to the long-term growth of the company, remembering that maintaining a healthy work-life balance for myself is aligned with that goal. Building a company positioned to grow over the long term is a marathon, not a sprint.
 

What book are you currently reading?

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield is an accomplished astronaut perhaps best known for his captivating music video of him performing David Bowie’s Space Oddity aboard the International Space Station. I enjoy reading about people who have made significant contributions in their career to learn about how they managed different challenges. I suppose it helps with the ups and downs of managing a startup.
 

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

Jane Goodall. I admire that she – as a woman facing considerable entrenched biases – struck out into an entirely new field, and through her determined efforts changed the way people view animals.
 

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

I started sailing on the Chesapeake about five years ago and probably enjoy thinking about the physics of sailing about as much as relaxing out on the water.
 

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