The Social Innovation Lab (SIL) Autumn 2023 cohort is full of promise and potential. On Nov. 30, a launch event and dinner brought 40 staff, alumni and friends to Fast Forward U to meet the 10 founders chosen from among 120 applicants and hear about their companies. The innovations ranged from carbon neutral and environmentally responsible building materials to a hub that encourages future female STEM students in Baltimore.
Weekly programming for the cohort will begin in January, with additional monthly Saturday workshops. Over the next six months, SIL is dedicated to supporting a dynamic group of innovative social ventures in advancing their early-stage projects toward becoming sustainable startups, fostering a measurable impact within Baltimore’s communities.
Throughout the program, the teams will engage in a comprehensive educational experience, encompassing human-centered design strategies, the customer discovery process, techniques for measuring and scaling, and the development of sustainable business models. SIL’s hands-on workshops and training sessions will be offered in a hybrid format, with a significant number of events taking place in person.
In addition to gaining valuable experience and coaching, each participating team will receive a $5,000 grant. SIL ensures individual business support through its adviser and alumni network, technical assistance facilitated by FastForward, and training sessions led by experts from public, private and social sectors.
The program culminates in May with the SIL Accelerator Showcase, where the 10 founders will present their campaigns to a select audience of social entrepreneurs, investors, friends and many from the JHTV family. The showcase also distributes over $20,000 in additional prize money among the teams.
Beyond financial support, the cohort will tap into the extensive Johns Hopkins network and the vibrant local social innovation ecosystem in Baltimore, as highlighted by SIL’s director, Anthony Watters. He emphasizes the importance of the community built among cohort members, drawing from his own vital experience as an alumnus of the SIL program.
Watters underscores SIL’s commitment to creating an immersive experience that connects students and alumni with the Baltimore community and the Johns Hopkins ecosystem, fostering critical solutions for sustainable change in Baltimore City.
Open to Baltimore-area residents and Johns Hopkins University students, faculty and staff members, SIL’s application process attracted a diverse range of social initiatives. This year, from the 120 applications, the 10 teams selected underwent a rigorous selection based on the stage of their venture’s formation process, their focus on Baltimore and anticipated growth potential.
According to Watters, positive change in Baltimore relies on a communal effort involving local government, institutions and small businesses. SIL advocates for placing the community at the heart of the conversation.
Since its inception in 2012, SIL’s accelerator has supported over 110 ventures, with three-quarters of the active ventures based in Baltimore. The ventures have collectively raised over $85 million in funding through philanthropic and venture investment, providing full-time employment to nearly 400 people. In addition, SIL conducts skills-based bootcamps, offering short-term support for idea-stage social ventures to almost 600 individuals.
Watters expresses the hope that empowering Baltimore community members with tools and resources will stimulate job creation, economic growth and community revitalization through innovative approaches.
This year, most of the teams are led by founders of color, and eight of the 10 are led by female entrepreneurs, reflecting SIL’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
This year’s teams are:
- Backyard Basecamp/Project Healthy Communities
Mission: Drive positive change by mobilizing resources for under-resourced Baltimore communities.
Application: Elevate social determinants of health with a focus on black, indigenous or people of color.
- Divaneering Impact Lab
Mission: Catalyze inspiration, innovation and impact.
Application: Cultivate future female STEM leaders, fostering social change, by inviting them into a familiar and welcoming hub. Practical experience is gained by direct involvement in all that happens in startups, from inception to launch and beyond.
- JJ Innovative Materials
Mission: Develop a commercial application for environmentally responsible and carbon-negative construction materials.
Application/Technology: Proprietary hemp-based concrete (hempcrete)
- Metallic Luxury
Mission: Using modular container construction techniques, create a sustainable community development company with a mission to generate buy-in for generational families and businesses being priced out of conventional housing.
Application: Work toward a sustainable community through modular container construction techniques.
Mission: Empower teens in Baltimore to navigate mental well-being challenges.
Application: Provide access to mental health resources and foster a stigma-free community for ages 13–18.
- Next Generation Language Access
Mission: Youth Education/Workforce Development; train high school students as professional interpreters in community settings in Baltimore and beyond to assist in the understanding of health care systems, legal systems and more.
Application: Deliver Community Interpreter® training to eligible multilingual students, with a focus on Baltimore communities.
Mission: Combine reusability, sustainability, and affordability of menstrual cups with tampon convenience.
Application: Putting the user and the planet first, via reusability and convenience.
- Sacred House
Mission: Establish a holistic wellness and community hub in Baltimore communities that miss out on this kind of synergy.
Application: Offer comprehensive wellness services and foster a supportive, inclusive community focusing on community health and food insecurity.
- Sweet Bee Services
Mission: Address maternal mortality in the U.S.
Application: Offer continuous postpartum care at Salama Wellness Centers.
Mission: Convert brick-and-mortar retail into smart stores.
Application: Integrate 360 Matterport technology and e-commerce solutions to improve and elevate physical and digital shopping experiences in underserved communities.