The following was originally published in The Hub.
Since the days of its founding, Johns Hopkins University has encouraged a spirit of innovation among its students and researchers. So it’s no surprise that many alumni go on to start their own companies.
Indeed, the launch of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures five years ago was driven in part by a recognition that the university could and should play a more intentional role in helping to foster an ecosystem for students, faculty, and alumni who aim to turn their discoveries into technologies, products, and services that benefit society.
“Following recent university investments in student entrepreneurship, alumni entrepreneurs now return to campus to find that we are doing much more to support students in the early days of their ventures,” JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said. “Through FastForward U, the university hub for student entrepreneurship, alumni are participating in the life of the university and our students in new ways—such as sponsorship of student grants and mentoring our exceptional young entrepreneurs. They are also discovering new opportunities to connect with each other and leverage their common roots at Hopkins as they forge a wide variety of entrepreneurial paths.”
To that end, the Hopkins Founders’ Pledge is a new initiative designed to engage company founders with Hopkins and one another. The entrepreneurs commit to give back to the university at the point of a liquidity event—that is, a company merger, acquisition, or initial public offering. The pledge is a mutual commitment between select entrepreneurs and Johns Hopkins that allows founders to give back in the form of promised time and money and for Johns Hopkins to provide support, networks, and campus resources for entrepreneurs.
“Through the Founders’ Pledge, Johns Hopkins University is celebrating entrepreneurs and bringing together an innovation community,” said Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the president and head of JHTV. “These individuals can utilize their talent, networks, and capital to support one another, our students and faculty, and the innovation ecosystem that starts in Baltimore and spans the world.”
That sense of community is what has already attracted a cohort of alumni entrepreneurs to the Founders’ Pledge. Jess Gartner, who graduated from the School of Education in 2011 and is now CEO of Allovue, was the first female entrepreneur to sign the Founders’ Pledge.
“I signed the Founders’ Pledge because I want the university to share in our company’s growth and success,” she said. “Hopkins has played an important role in my development as an educator and as an entrepreneur in Baltimore. I hope that my commitment to the university will contribute to innovative programs like the new Center for Safe and Healthy Schools at the School of Education.”
Since graduating, Gartner has remained deeply involved with the university, lending her expertise to support important initiatives at the School of Education. She also recently gathered with other alumni in New York City for a Founders’ Forum dinner, a collaboration between JHTV and the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association.
The first cohort of Founders’ Pledge members includes individuals from the schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Education who run companies in biotech, consumer goods, artificial intelligence, and financial technology. They each say they believe that Hopkins was critical to their career success and want to support the next generation of Hopkins entrepreneurs.
“My education at Johns Hopkins played a significant role in who I am today and has a stake in my professional career,” said Founders’ Pledge member Hank Nordhoff, who graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences in 1963.
Nordhoff, a successful serial biotech entrepreneur and currently the CEO and chairman of Banyan Biomarkers, is a Baltimore native with a deep passion for supporting the city.
“I owe the university a debt for [the person] it helped me become,” Nordhoff said.
With the launch of the Founders’ Pledge program, the university is bringing alumni into the growing Hopkins innovation ecosystem.
“I hope other startup founders will jump on board and continue the proud tradition of supporting their school,” said Chieh Huang, who graduated in 2003 and is now CEO of Boxed. “I wish we had a network like this when I was in Baltimore, and now is our chance to help build it for a future generation.”