FastForward U

In March, FastForward U — Johns Hopkins’ hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation — dispersed its first set of microgrants to 10 teams of student entrepreneurs. The funds, which range between $500 and $1,000, are designed to enable students to test their ideas, build prototypes or launch pilot projects.

These Spark Grants provide relatively small amounts of funding that could pay huge dividends as the six undergraduate and four graduate student recipients aspire to increase access to clean water, provide better medical care, introduce a stress-relieving beverage to the marketplace and more.

“Student interest in innovation and entrepreneurship is multiples of where it was just a few years ago,” says Darius Graham, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ director of student ventures and head of FastForward U. “These microgrants, along with the mentorship and space FastForward U provides, enable these students to pursue their passion, learn about business and, hopefully, change the world in a meaningful way.”

FastForward U has a rolling monthly deadline for students to apply for a Spark Grant, and decisions are made the following month. To apply, students must attend FastForward U’s “Intro to Entrepreneurship: Where and How to Begin” workshop.

The first call for applications in February attracted 20 applications. Of the 10 awards totaling $6,950, six went to Whiting School of Engineering students, two to Krieger School of Arts and Sciences students and one each to the Carey Business School and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Often times great ideas are left on the whiteboard due to a lack of support and funding,” says Paarth Sharma, a sophomore biomedical engineering major leading Aquatas. “Unlike large competitions which require a refined business plan and product, Spark Grants support ventures at even the ideation stage. Without requiring extensive groundwork from the entrepreneur, the grants provide a necessary financial foundation when innovators might not have many other avenues available.”

Graham says he anticipates a similar number of applications, if not more, each month, and hopes to have representation from all of the university’s schools. Graham and his team will meet with each recipient at least monthly to discuss progress and challenges as well as connect them to the myriad resources available at Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore area.

“At Hopkins, we are fortunate to be surrounded by many smart, talented people who have the skills to start and grow a successful business,” says Andy Craig, a graduate student in the Carey Business School and founder of HiTech HIPAA. “However, even the leanest businesses eventually run into expenses. Spark Grants allow students to push past these bumps in the road to be able to test and implement their ideas in a meaningful way.”

The amount of funding each team received was based on how much it requested and an evaluation of its prospective budget. Applicants not selected to receive a Spark Grant are provided feedback and may apply again.

“I’m incredibly excited to see the strides Hopkins has made in supporting budding entrepreneurs through programs like Spark Grants,” says Michael Brooks, a primary benefactor of the funding who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the Whiting School of Engineering in 2012. “I love being able to contribute to their missions, but more importantly I love being able to build the greater sense of entrepreneurship and community for the next generation at Johns Hopkins University.”

Meet the first recipients of the FastForward U Spark Grants:

Aquatas (Awarded $1,000)
Paarth Sharma (WSE, undergraduate student)

Aquatas aims to address the ever-growing problem of clean water shortages that plague developing regions. It aims to provide an efficient and affordable water purification system that promotes the health and societal well-being of low income individuals around the world.

Braegen (Awarded $500)
Victor Dadfar (WSE, undergraduate student)

Braegen is a medical device startup company focused on advancing drug delivery techniques for brain disease patients with the greatest unmet need.

Efficompass (Awarded $500)
Zheying Mao (Public Health, graduate student)

Efficompass aspires to help patients with chronic diseases find the best care management tools and services.

EntriFeed (Awarded $750)
Annabeth Rodriguez (WSE, undergraduate student)

EntriFeed aims to design a new type of enteral feeding tube that minimizes dislodgement and reduces patient readmission for replacement procedures.

GOBA Tea (Awarded $1,000)
Byron D’Mello (KSAS, undergraduate student)

GOBA solves your thirst and your stress through a refreshing fruit-flavored decaffeinated tea, made with bursting-edible fruit balls infused with stress relieving vitamins and minerals.

HiTech HIPAA (Awarded $700)
Andy Craig (Carey Business School, graduate student)

HiTech HIPAA is a software tool for HIPAA compliance management.

ProgKnowsis (Awarded $500)
Arjun Vachhani (WSE, undergraduate student)

ProgKnowsis is developing medical prediction algorithms to mitigate respiratory failure.

Quira (Awarded $500)
Rutvi Shah (WSE, graduate student)

Quira is an online community designed to help people find the right fashion for any occasion at an affordable price.

Rume (Awarded $1,000)
James Shamul (WSE, graduate student)

Rume uses motion sensing hardware and a mobile application to maximize space utilization on campus, providing real-time information to help students find an open study or meeting room.

Shepherd (Awarded $500)
Sung kyu Kim (KSAS, undergraduate student)

Shepherd delivers tailored, evidence-based strategies that are designed to help users manage depression through their smartphones.

FastForward U will award Spark Grants twice more in the spring semester. The application deadlines are March 31 and April 30. In order to apply, students must attend an “Intro to Entrepreneurship: Where and How to Begin” workshop, which will be held on March 28 and April 10.

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