Category: Social Ventures

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.
 

Support SIL or one of its ventures!

 

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 that that population has 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!

 

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