FastForward U

FastForward U awarded nearly $170,000 last month to more than a dozen student startups as part of its second annual Innovation & Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The I&E Challenge gives students a streamlined process to apply for multiple funding opportunities that enable them to make progress on their ventures over the summer without having to balance a job or internship. All awards include money to pay for room and board, co-working space at FastForward U and access to mentors and advisers.

The amount of funding almost doubled compared to last year thanks to generous donors increasing the number of awards handed out. The gift from Harry’s and Warby Parker founder Jeff Raider (KSAS ’03, SAIS ’04) and his wife, Laura (KSAS ’03), for the Summer Undergraduate Award was expanded from one recipient to three with support from Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union. A gift from Neuralert CEO Karthik Seshan (WSE ’10, ’11) for the Summer MedTech Award inspired two other donors to fund two additional awards – Kevin Keenahan (WSE ’13, ’14) of Tissue Analytics and Hu Foundation, led by John Rongxiang Hu, father of Richard Hu (KSAS ’24).

A new funding opportunity open only to alumni, the Alumni Venture Award, was created by venture capitalist and StepStone partner John Avirett (KSAS ’05) and is for Johns Hopkins graduates building ventures in Baltimore.

More than 50 student startups from across all schools at Johns Hopkins applied for at least one award. The applications were reviewed by FastForward U student staff, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures staff and alumni judges from a variety of industries.

The Bisciotti Foundation Prize for Student Entrepreneurship is a nondilutive grant (meaning the entrepreneurs do not have to give up any equity in the company) designed to help student startups scale their businesses as they graduate from FastForward U student entrepreneurship programs on campus, with the goal of retaining them in Baltimore. Recipients previously have received grant or venture funding or started generating revenue and are planning to stay in Baltimore. Ventures are led by at least one current Johns Hopkins student (undergraduate, graduate or postdoc) or someone who graduated between 2019 and 2021.

The first-place grant of $30,000 went to Eyedea Medical, a medtech social enterprise working to alleviate the burden of corneal blindness around the world. The company started first-in-human trials of one of its products this spring.

The second-place grant of $20,000 went to Sequoia Neurovitality, which aims to slow cognitive decline in older adults by enhancing deep sleep with acoustic stimulation through a smart headband.

The Summer MedTech Award gives $10,000 to Johns Hopkins student-led startups working on medical technology to make significant progress over the summer. This year’s winners are:

  • Drūl, which is developing a compact, at-home diagnostic device that analyzes saliva samples to detect the early onset of oral disease<
  • NurseTech, which is developing devices to help nurses safely and more efficiently organize medical tubes and cords
  • Visilant, a digital health venture spun out of Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design (CBID) and the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute that seeks to leverage telemedicine and artificial intelligence to eliminate avoidable blindness globally

The Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award supports undergraduate-level startups with grant funding of $10,000. This year’s recipients are:

  • DioTeX, which is developing a fast, accessible and accurate internal hemorrhagic diagnostic tool
  • Paths, a social networking app where users can share and discover career journeys, advice and mentorship through audio snippets
  • StetPulse, which is developing a novel UVC lightbox to disinfect medical equipment

The Alumni Venture Award is $20,000 in funding for alumni building their startup in Baltimore. This year’s recipient is Common Treat, which has created mushroom powders and capsules that aim to combat cognitive decline and support mental health.

The Thalheimer Graduate Student Awardsupports Johns Hopkins graduate students aiming to solve major challenges through entrepreneurship. Each of this year’s four recipients received $10,000:

  • Class Equity is an online platform helping students in grades K-12 build financial literacy and positive social behaviors
  • Leaders of Africa makes upskilling experiences in research, data science and technology accessible to future and present leaders and develops edtech tools to display the competencies of learners and shift narratives about Africa’s impact on global innovation
  • OvuBrush offers real-time and seamless menstrual cycle tracking through a smart toothbrush
  • Sia Precision Education is using artificial intelligence to optimize educational programs for incarcerated students.