Category: Student Ventures

Student Ventures

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort Aiming to Commercialize Disruptive…

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort Aiming to Commercialize Disruptive Ideas


Ralph S. O’Connor and his wife, Becky

They’ve identified major challenges, now five ventures led by Johns Hopkins students have the opportunity to develop innovative solutions with support from FastForward U’s Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund.

The fund — founded by Ralph O’Connor, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences alumnus, and his wife, Becky — will provide each member a $5,000 non-dilutive grant, an opportunity to earn $5,000 more and mentorship from FastForward U.

“Where some see only problems, this group of precocious student entrepreneurs sees opportunities to drive change through innovation” says Darius Graham, director of student ventures. “We believe that our 2017-2018 cohort possesses transformative ideas and the skills and tenacity to bring them to life.

“We hope that, like in years past, the teams use the resources the O’Connor Fund provides to reach their full potential.”

Over the past four years, the O’Connor Fund has supported 17 teams of Johns Hopkins student entrepreneurs. Already, a number of these have begun disrupting industries. Take, for example, Fractal Tech, a cybersecurity startup acquired by Sunayu last summer. Or, consider Proscia, a startup that has raised over $1 million to develop its digital pathology platform.

Due in part to the successes of these peers, interest in the O’Connor Fund has spiked. Over the past two years, the O’Connor Fund has received a total of 71 applications, compared to a total of 29 for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 cohorts.

“Demand for programs like the O’Connor Fun has surged,” Graham says. “Through FastForward U, we hope to empower students to pursue innovation and entrepreneurship while in school or at some point in their professional careers.”

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort


Venture: Atana
Lead: David Shi (Senior, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences)
Description: Atana is creating secure and scalable distributed ledger infrastructure for collaborative research and development networks.

“We are hoping that the O’Connor Fund will help us secure additional strategic partnerships and accelerate our current pilot studies,” says Shi, the founder and CEO of Atana.

Venture: OtoGlobal Health
Lead: Aseem Jain (Senior, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: OtoScreen is an affordable, smartphone-based Otoacoustic Emissions device that is designed to penetrate the developing world health care market and establish the standard of care for pediatric hearing screening in developing countries.

“We look forward to working with FastForward U to achieve business goals and hope to leverage their connections to find Johns Hopkins professors who can help us improve our technology,” says Sanjay Elangovan, OtoGlobal Health’s COO. “Although our device is ready for testing, until now, we’ve lacked the necessary funding. The O’Connor Fund will help us obtain better hardware for our technology, and will enable us to validate our idea.”

Venture: Treyetech
Lead: Eric Chiang (Senior, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: Treyetech is a business-to-business venture that facilitates corneal transplants with a new device and disruptive workflow, improving patients’ vision beyond the current standard of care.

“The Treyetech team is thrilled to be a part of the 2017-2018 Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund cohort, and we look forward to JHTV’s guidance and support as we navigate manufacturing and testing for our device,” says Stephanie Cai, a co-founder of Treyetech and a senior biomedical engineering major. “The O’Connor fund will provide us the resources necessary to conduct important pre-clinical studies and push forward with commercialization in the coming year.”

Venture: VersaMaker
Lead: Travis Chan (Sophomore, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: VersaMaker is a maker device with modular tool heads so that the users can change its functionality from 3-D printing to CNC routing to laser engraving to liquid printing and more — all from a single, versatile machine.

“The O’Connor Fund’s monetary award will allow me to prototype and reiterate my product much faster. I will use the $10,000 and additional funding, towards prototyping, conferences, customer research, and possibly towards creating a crowdfunding campaign,” says Chan, the founder of VersaMaker. “However, the O’Connor Fund offers more than just money. FastForward U sets up each company with an experienced mentor from their Mentor-In-Residence program and I hope to get some advice and connections from this opportunity. In addition, FastForward U offers accounting/tax resources and legal support which will definitely come in handy for me around tax season and when I patent aspects of my product.”

Venture: Weel
Lead: Eyan Goldman (Sophomore, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: On a mission to connect friends through commerce, Weel is creating a digital platform which introduces the social aspects of retail shopping to the rising world of ecommerce.

“The capital provided by the O’Connor Fund will enable Weel to accelerate its timetables by expanding our development capabilities, ultimately enabling us to have an earlier beta release,” says Goldman. “The resources the O’Connor Fund provides are especially exciting. As an early stage startup, we use all resources available to us. Being part of the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures ecosystem is something that we really look forward to.”


Click here to learn more about the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund!


Student Ventures

FastForward U: Revamped Support System to Catalyze Student Innovation

FastForward U: Revamped Support System to Catalyze Student Innovation


Student entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins is surging, and the amount of interest in Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ (JHTV) FastForward programming is proof.

From 2016 to 2017, applications to the Ralph S. O’Connor Fund and Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award more than doubled (35 to 75). Furthermore, 2,300 students attended Johns Hopkins entrepreneurial events during the 2016-2017 academic year.

“Demand is multiples of where it was a couple years ago,” JHTV head Christy Wyskiel recently told CNBC in July.

In response to this increasing interest, Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, Provost Sunil Kumar, deans from each of the schools and senior leadership at JHTV coordinated with student leadership to enhance the university’s support system for students interested in entrepreneurship and innovation. The work relied heavily on focus groups comprised of Johns Hopkins students already involved with the university’s existing programming.

The result is FastForward U, a collaborative, cross-disciplinary environment that acts as a resource for any undergraduate, graduate student or post-doc with a desire to experiment, innovate or start a business.

“Johns Hopkins students are going to start something someday,” Wyskiel says. “FastForward U provides experiential learning opportunities that empower students in their future endeavors — whether that’s starting a small business, technology company, non-profit organization or maybe even, a political campaign.”
Strategic direction
In August, Darius Graham, formerly the director of the Social Innovation Lab, became JHTV’s first-ever director of student ventures. He will have support from Kevin Carter, JHTV’s new student ventures coordinator and a Venture for America fellow. Together, they will build upon the groundwork established by Kasim Ahmad, another Venture for America fellow who served as JHTV’s first student ventures coordinator before taking a position with the Hopkins student-led startup FactoryFour.

“I’ve had the chance to meet undergraduate and graduate students from different programs working on an array of potentially transformative innovations,” Graham says, calling out an African bakery concept, a transportation app and a wireless sensor for monitoring air quality among others. “It’s really exciting to have the opportunity to encourage and catalyze students’ work.”

Before FastForward U, JHTV’s student outreach primarily focused on introducing students to the resources that FastForward provided them. Now, in addition to helping students navigate the opportunities at Johns Hopkins, FastForward U is developing longer term strategies that will enhance the university’s innovation ecosystem.

“One of the first things I am focusing on is how we can engage different schools and different programs and root this idea of innovation and entrepreneurship in all students,” Graham says.

With engineering students, opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship may be fairly obvious. But what about the school of education, for example? Graham wants to empower these students to connect their research to technologies or programs that will help students learn or that increase teacher performance.

“No matter the school or department, I want to help students make connections between what they’re studying and the opportunity for entrepreneurship and innovation to solve challenges,” Graham says.
FastForward U resources
At the core of FastForward U will be the ample programming that JHTV and student groups across the university have organized, including Medhacks, 3 Day Startup, Pizza and Pitches, HopHacks and I-Corps.

These coordinated seminars, workshops and networking events have offerings for student innovators and entrepreneurs of all experience levels. As part of the learning experience, students will also receive mentorship and direction from the student venture coordinator, mentors-in-residence, alumni entrepreneurs and other advisors.

“These one-to-one interactions are immensely valuable. Students receive answers to specific questions, make connections within the Hopkins ecosystem and receive help identifying key external resources,” Graham says.

“FastForward U’s programming and mentorship give students ample opportunity to fully pursue the development of their innovative ideas.”

Just as FastForward U offers student-specific programming, it will have student-dedicated innovation hubs. In fact, many students and faculty have already begun seeing the recent additions of two student-dedicated innovation hubs.

In April, FastForward U opened its first student-dedicated space, FastForward U – Homewood, at the Wyman Building as a temporary student innovation hub on the Homewood campus. It provides student entrepreneurs with conference, co-working, and private meeting space. In 2018, this space will move to a building on the 300 block of West 29th Street, located across from R. House in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood.

The new space will feature 9,000 square feet dedicated for student entrepreneurs to build their startups. The innovation hub will have conference rooms, co-working desks, open spaces for events and presentations as well as a maker space run by the Whiting School of Engineering.

For those studying on or near Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore campus, FastForward U – East is now open. This innovation hub located in the Rangos Building near Johns Hopkins’ schools of medicine, nursing and public health will feature 3,200 square feet of office space, including co-working desks, private offices and a conference room.

“Both FastForward U – East and the future home of FastForward U – Homewood in Remington will be located near FastForward 1812 and FastForward R. House, providing opportunities for collisions with more established entrepreneurs that could benefit our students and their promising ventures,” Graham says

Much like the library or student union, these innovation hubs are open to all Johns Hopkins students during daytime hours. In the evening, when official staffing is no longer in place, the hubs will be open to students who have registered with FastForward U.

“As they balance coursework and a budding passion for innovation, it’s important for our student entrepreneurs to have spaces where they can go at any time,” Graham says.
Creating a culture of innovation
JHTV doesn’t see student interest in entrepreneurship as an aberration. In her interview with CNBC, Wyskiel said, “(Students) understand it’s more likely they’ll create their own job than have a job from someone else for a long period of time.”

Graham intends to meet the needs of the growing number of students considering becoming entrepreneurs, helping them build a sustainable business or at least provide the fundamental understanding of how to do so in the future.

“I want students to know that Johns Hopkins wants to help them succeed as innovators and entrepreneurs,” Graham says. “My job is to create a culture among our student body that encourages them to boldly pursue their ideas for creating a better world.”

Click here to learn more about FastForward U!


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