Category: Startups

Social Ventures

Anyone an Innovator: A More Inclusive Approach to Social…

By Darius Graham, Director, Social Innovation Lab

Darius Graham - Social Innovation LabWhether in business or in the social impact sector, it is common to think of innovation as a breakthrough, disruptive idea rooted in new technology. Perhaps it brings to mind the Model T, the iPhone or a polio vaccine.

This view of innovation as the height of creativity, a stroke of genius or a state of brilliance to be sought and possessed by the best and brightest among us, provides only a limited view of what innovation is and who can claim it.

Recently in the social impact sector, conversations have moved from discussions of social innovation (creating solutions to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions) to inclusive innovation. This concept of inclusive innovation recognizes that innovation, especially in our sector, can come from anywhere and from anyone — not just those traditionally with access to funding or education, which is typically viewed as the pathway to innovation.

This inclusive approach to social innovation recognizes that an individual studying a particular issue may devise a creative solution to a problem, but also that a person suffering from that problem who may have no formal training on the issue but notably the lived experience, may also offer a creative solution.

Inclusive innovation recognizes as innovators both the individual who creates a smartphone app connecting people to rides in neighborhoods lacking reliable public transportation, as well as the individual who organizes a neighborhood carpool system to do the same.

When we use the language of innovation in a way that denotes only an ingenious breakthrough or eureka moment that happens in a lab or boardroom by people with certain credentials, we leave out many others who we may not see or who may not see themselves as innovators.

Thus the problem is twofold. First, the general language around social innovation has certain connotations of pedigree, education, and expertise. Second, those who are directly affected by an issue or are closer to the issue may not see themselves as having the credentials to offer a creative solution.

In a world where so many challenges exist and so many people are in need, we as a sector should be deliberate and thoughtful in the way we identify and celebrate social innovation and social innovators.

When we recognize something as a social innovation or someone as a social innovator, we are, deliberately or not, including some to the exclusion of others. I’ve witnessed how the language of social innovation can lead some to question whether they are in or out. When recruiting applicants for the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University, one of the most common questions I get is some version of, “Is my idea innovative enough?”

Ashoka’s slogan, “Everyone a changemaker” offers a model for how we can think about inclusive social innovation. Reflecting on this mission in a piece for the Innovations journal, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton wrote:

The millennia when only a tiny elite could cause change is coming to an end. A generation hence, probably 20 to 30 percent of the world’s people, and later 50 to 70 percent, not just today’s few percent, will be changemakers and entrepreneurs. That world will be fundamentally different and a far safer, happier, more equal, and more successful place.

“Anyone an innovator” should be the unifying mission of our sector. A mission that leads us to empower the innovation potential of individuals and invest in organizations like Hero Lab and Mission: Launch that actively engage and celebrate that potential. This mission can help us create a world where anyone feels empowered to use his or her experience and background — whether rooted in academic study, life experience, or some mix of both — to offer a new vision of how we address social challenges.

Want to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures? Click here!


Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Isaac Kinde of PapGene

Early detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers is key to saving thousands of lives each year.

PapGene, a startup based in the FastForward Homewood innovation hub, is advancing the early detection of curable cancers through the application of genetic cytology to routinely collected patient samples, such as those collected through Pap smears.

Founded by world-leading cancer researchers from Johns Hopkins, PapGene has seen tremendous success since it was started in 2014. In September, the venture received a Fast-Track Small Business Innovation Research contract from the National Institutes of Health with a potential value of $2.2 million.

PapGene’s chief scientific officer, Isaac Kinde, is a nationally recognized expert in molecular cancer diagnostics and the inventor of two core PapGene patents the company has licensed from The Johns Hopkins University.

Below, the graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (B.S. in biological sciences) and The Johns Hopkins University (M.D.) discusses PapGene’s startup journey, entrepreneurship, the value of Baltimore and more.

1. In five words, what does your company do?
PapGene commercializes tests for cancer.

2. What are your goals, and how will you get there?
From an early age, I have been passionate about improving public health through technology. I am now taking full advantage of my opportunity at PapGene to prevent deaths from cancer by identifying patients with early-stage, curable disease.

3. Why have you chosen Baltimore as your startup’s home?
Baltimore was a natural choice, given PapGene’s beneficial relationship with the Johns Hopkins community and the generous support provided by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

4. What opportunities make it a good place for growing a business?
In our field of clinical cancer diagnostics, our connection to the expertise and resources of Hopkins and nearby institutions is invaluable, giving PapGene a competitive edge.

5. In terms of startups and innovation, what’s one thing that separates Baltimore from other tech hotbeds?
Baltimore offers a favorable combination of investment to developing its local startup industry and an affordable cost of living.

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

7. How has PapGene benefited from working with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures?
FastForward provides the custom, state-of-the-art facilities we need to develop our technology at an affordable cost.

8. What book are you currently reading?
Built to Last, by Jim Collins

9. What innovator do you look up to? Why?
William Kamkwamba, a young, self-taught Malawian renewable energy developer who learned how to create a wind turbine to address a local power need through reading books available at his local library.

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

11. What’s your favorite nonwork-related thing to do in Baltimore?
Biking around the city and on its nearby trails.

Interested in learning more about FastForward as a sponsor or tenant? Click here!

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