Paul Davidson, assistant director of student ventures, speaks with ForagerOne executives Michael Ashmead and Yash Jain during the networking event.

The following was written by Joseph Choy, FastForward U’s communications intern.

Earlier this spring, the Johns Hopkins Department of Computer Science joined FastForward U to present an inaugural joint networking event. Bringing together students, faculty members and startup founders, this event highlighted the successes of ventures launched from the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) FastForward (student center for entrepreneurship), provided opportunities for mentorship and forged connections across a broad diversity of students.

JHU-founded startup ForagerOne’s Yash Jain, co-CEO, and Michael Ashmead, chief product officer, were the event’s keynote speakers. ForagerOne is a unified research networking platform aiming to defragment the academic research community by connecting undergraduate students with research faculty members. The platform has been adopted by a multitude of research-intensive institutions including The Johns Hopkins University, Brandeis University and Drexel University.

Early-stage founders and investors in the Johns Hopkins community also reflected on their experience at the event.

 Belle To (2023 Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, M.B.A.), founder of The Impact Stylist, shared how the diversity of thought had a great effect on her venture.

“There were a lot of good conversations at the event, and I was nearly able to conduct mini focus groups with those I met,” To says. “Being able to talk about the challenges of the first solutions we generated with an audience focused on user experience was extremely helpful, because usually my perspective is from the fashion sector.”

The Impact Stylist is an Artificial Intelligence-driven sustainable fashion platform with the goal of flipping consumerism and creating more meaningful value from garments by and make choosing and buying clothes simpler. It is recruiting marketing and data science team members — anyone who is interested is encouraged to contact the startup.

“The event was an amazing example of the cascading network effect, where we were able to forge lasting connections with engineers and computer scientists,” says Joshua Blair, Co-founder of Eden Therapeutics (formerly Sequoia Neurovitality). “We found that there was a variety of different backgrounds and interests within the field, ranging across finance and technical focuses, which gave us great insight into how we plan to hire and recruit in the future.” The company develops technology to slow cognitive decline using deep-sleep modalities.

Yazeed Al-Katteb (M.S. Biotechnology ’24), managing partner of HopStone Capital, a student-led venture capital fund, says the fund’s associates got an “on the ground” view at the networking event of founders in action.

“Being at FastForward U and meeting new founders in an environment where they are constantly pitching, showing data and having discussions allowed us to evaluate their ventures in a comprehensive way that would never happen in a one-on-one setting,” Al-Katteb says. “It was also a great experience for our junior associates to go to an event with the mindset of a venture capitalist and be able to dig deep into the process of evaluating founders and their ventures.”

Paul Davidson, assistant director of student ventures at JHU, says the event catalyzed opportunities for students as both founders and tech leads.

ForagerOne executives Yash Jain and Michael Ashmead

“One of the biggest challenges that ventures face is securing technical talent,” Davidson says. “At the same time, 2023 has presented students a changing landscape for securing roles in big tech after the COVID-fueled boom, so there are many students who did not have the lucrative offers in 2021 and 2022. This night also helped those students identify opportunities right here in Baltimore and at JHU. Over 60 individuals attended the networking event, and after the event, several have reported they’ve interviewed with Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures. This event model is something I am excited to continue and replicate in future semesters to meet various needs and goals of students and existing ventures.”

Those interested in partnering with FastForward U for future events, including Johns Hopkins affiliated departments and institutes, can send an email to [email protected].