Category: Startups

Social Ventures

ClearMask Wins $25,000 at Social Innovation Lab Impact+Innovation Forum

ClearMask Wins $25,000 at Social Innovation Lab Impact+Innovation Forum

 

 
As Allysa Dittmar looked up at her surgery team’s masked faces, she felt isolated. Though nobly intended to prevent the spread of bacteria, the masks acted as a different type of barrier for Dittmar, who is deaf. Unable to read her doctors’ lips or see their expressions, and thus unable to understand or communicate, she felt less than human, she says.

Drawing upon this experience, the Johns Hopkins alumnus (Krieger School of Arts and Sciences 2014, Bloomberg School of Public Health 2017) co-founded ClearMask. The venture is developing the first full-face transparent surgical mask to improve communication between health care providers and their patients — especially children, those not proficient in English and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

As the company moves toward an NIH clinical trial (early 2019), FDA approval (fall 2019) and a product launch (late 2019), April 24, 2018 may stand out as a transformative moment. On that day, ClearMask won $25,000 at the Social Innovation Lab’s Impact+Innovation Forum and $15,000 at Village Capital’s pitch competition at Gallaudet University.

Dittmar says the funding will help ClearMask get to market faster as it will enable them to refine its product and manufacturing methods to maximize efficiency as well as to facilitate meetings and participation at other events.

Photo courtesy of ClearMask
“We’ve missed out on a fair amount of opportunities because interpreters were unavailable or not provided,” Dittmar says. “We have two team members who are deaf and use sign language to communicate, including myself. With this funding, we will be able to better support our deaf members by providing sign language interpreters for ClearMask’s meetings and outreach.”

In October, the Social Innovation Lab accepted ClearMask into its 2017-2018 cohort featuring innovative nonprofits, mission-driven companies and disruptive technologies. For six months, with the support of SIL Director Alex Riehm, ClearMask and the nine other ventures received funding, mentorship, office space and workshops.

“Throughout their time with the Social Innovation Lab, the ClearMask team has never hesitated to support other startups and members of the SIL cohort,” Riehm says. “This environment is exactly what SIL does best, and I’m happy to have shared this with ClearMask.”

ClearMask received the award based on peer evaluations given throughout the six-month program whereby cohort members ranked their peers in seven categories, including empathy, progress, experimentation and generosity.

“The peer feedback process allows us to share concrete opportunities and suggestions among teams throughout the cohort period,” Riehm says. “By taking every opportunity for feedback and improvement, we can better support our SIL teams and give them a chance to identify the winning team among them.”

Though ClearMask claimed the Impact+Innovation award, the nine other SIL teams made significant strides building ventures that will impact communities in Baltimore and beyond.
 

The 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort
 
Bakku Technologies (formerly Active Bedsore Prevention System)
 
Challenge – Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, contribute to increased mortality rates and cost hospitals $11.5 billion annually.

Solution – This SIL team comprised of the winners of the 2017 Hopkins MedHacks competition and represented by Bloomberg School of Public Health master’s student Ruchee Shrestha is developing a medical device which senses and alleviates pressure to increase comfort and reduce the occurrence of bedsores and pressure ulcers.
 
BeeMore Cooperative
 
Challenge – In 2016, Maryland lost 56 percent of its bees as part of an ongoing pollinator collapse.

Solution – Led by Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, BeeMore is a beekeeping cooperative that engages community members with pollinators and healthy lifestyles, promotes urban beekeeping and creates new beekeepers in Baltimore.
 
Distribution Health
 
Challenge – Despite technological advances, health care requires a personal touch.

Solution – Led by Andrew York, Distribution Health combines cutting-edge health care technologies with compassionate personal care workers to provide individualized, high-quality care in the home.
 
The Growing Minds Initiative
 
Challenge – To provide sustainable access to education for orphaned and vulnerable children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Solution – Founded by Victoria Roberts, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences undergraduate student, The Growing Minds Initiative creates sustainable poultry and green vegetable farms to fund education and health care for orphaned and vulnerable children in that community.
 
HostHome
 
ChallengeA recent study showed that LGBT youth are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than straight people.

Solution – Led by Ava Pipitone and Max Goodman, HostHome is developing an accessible home sharing platform that addresses housing instability in the LGBT community.
 
Hosts for Humanity
 
Challenge – In addition to medical bills, family members and caretakers often spend thousands for hotels as their loved ones receive treatment.

Solution – Founded by Jenny Owens — a University of Maryland, Baltimore faculty member and director of The Grid — Hosts for Humanity connects families and friends of patients traveling to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes.
 
Mera Kitchen Collective
 
Challenge – Policies and systems can create structural barriers that make it difficult for immigrant and refugee women to gain access to resources and opportunities.

Solution – The Mera Kitchen Collecitve is led by five worker-owners who represent and work with immigrant and refugee communitess in Baltimore, including a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health alumnus and a staff member at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. As a food cooperative, they share the exceptional cuisine and stories of Baltimore’s newest neighbors.
 
Neighbour, Neighbour
 
Challenge – Trinidad & Tobago has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Solution – Led by Zindzi Thompson, a graduate student in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Neighbour, Neighbour is developing a mobile platform that promotes in-person social interaction in environments characterized by high-levels of insecurity.
 
PIVOT
 
Challenge – For citizens returning from prison, reentry programs drop re-offense rates to under 10 percent. However, Baltimore has no women’s work release centers.

Solution – Led by Bridget Nistico and Emily Thompson, PIVOT is developing a cohort support model for women returning from incarceration, providing access to housing, transportation, mental health car, addiction treatment, job training and more. Its pilot will launch this summer.
 

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Awards

Summer Award Winner: Weel Working to Solve Major E-Commerce…

Summer Award Winner: Weel May Solve Major E-Commerce Conundrum

 
Mobile users accounted for more than half of Internet traffic in 2017, yet retail purchases from mobile devices resulted in less than 25 percent of e-commerce spend. So, why are consumers reluctant to buy on their smartphones and tablets? Eyan Goldman has answers.

“Most e-commerce vendors don’t want to spend the money to develop and maintain an app which people may not adopt,” the rising sophomore at Johns Hopkins University says. “Additionally, e-commerce hasn’t yet integrated a social experience like what is traditionally found in retail shopping.”

The solution, Goldman believes, is a social platform known as Weel that transforms how shoppers interact with websites and enables them to easily connect with friends. Weel’s progress and potential earned it FastForward U’s third-ever Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award.

“Eyan and the Weel team demonstrated uncommon dedication, as well as a comprehensive understanding of their product’s marketability and the next steps in its development,” says Darius Graham, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ director of student ventures. “We’re excited to see how much progress the team will make over the summer.”

Weel’s platform — which Goldman, a computer science major, is developing with Cal Lavicka, a high school friend currently studying at Carnegie Mellon University, and Johns Hopkins classmates — uses an intelligent layout system that simplifies the user interface of e-commerce webpages to make browsing, shopping and purchasing on websites much simpler.

A social component of Weel enables shoppers to elicit peer feedback simply by pressing and swiping the image of a product to a Facebook friend. This action seamlessly sends all of the product’s data to the friend who can weigh in before a user makes a purchase.

“Our platform transforms the way users interact with retail websites,” Goldman says. “Weel is designed to work on any website instantaneously as our technology does not require the consent of the host website.”

Weel plans to roll out a beta of its platform for iPhones this summer and to have a full launch in early 2019. (Those interested in participating in the beta can contact Weel at beta@joinweel.com.)

To monetize the platform, Goldman plans to engage brands and provide them opportunities to show Weel users products similar to what they share with friends. When a user purchases one of the suggested products, Weel would receive a portion of each sale.

“With Weel, brands don’t have to fear being hurt by having an online ad placed on a website with which they’d prefer not to associate,” Goldman says of his platform’s advantage. “Additionally, brands also have the opportunity to advertise directly to someone who they know is interested in a similar product.”

The Summer Award, funded by an anonymous Johns Hopkins University alumnus, provides Weel with $10,000, a space to work for the summer and mentorship from the FastForward U team and the Summer Award donor.

Weel will use the funding to cover Lavicka’s rent in Baltimore as well as bring on two interns who can develop the platform’s user interface. Without the award, Goldman says, the team would have had trouble making progress in June, July and August. Goldman and Lavicka live in New York City, but the city would have made getting space and talent cost-prohibitive.

The value and opportunity of the Summer Award has made it highly sought after among Johns Hopkins’ student ventures. This year, 14 highly qualified teams applied for the award.

“We were really impressed with the applicant pool for this year’s Summer Award as it represented the most advanced undergraduate startups at Hopkins,” Graham says.

Receiving the Summer Award is just the latest support Weel has received from FastForward U. Last fall, the group filled out FastForward U’s general interest form to better understand the resources and support it could provide. Shortly thereafter, Weel was named to the 2017-2018 Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund cohort and received additional mentorship and guidance.

“FastForward U has been unbelievably helpful,” Goldman says. “We definitely wouldn’t be as far along as we are today without them.”

Weel is the third team to win the Summer Award. The first two teams, FactoryFour and MoTrack Therapy, have used the funding and mentorship the award provides to advance their companies.

FactoryFour, known as Fusiform when they received the award in 2016, has moved into its own space in Mount Vernon, added clients and was recently named to Technical.ly Baltimore’s realLIST as it develops a solution for digital fabrication.
 
MoTrack Therapy, last year’s Summer Award winner currently developing a platform for better at-home injury rehabilitation, was recently recognized as a finalist at Baylor University’s New Venture Competition and won $1,500.

Goldman believes Weel can follow in the footsteps of those two budding ventures.

“My dream for Weel is to have it become a really popular and useful resource for people,” Goldman says. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think that there was at least a shot at that.”
 

Learn more about FastForward U!

 

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