The following was originally published in the Hub.
Two promising startups launched by Johns Hopkins University students will receive significant funding from the university as winners of the inaugural President’s Venture Fellowships, support designed to allow these fledgling ventures to grow and thrive in Baltimore.
Aptabridge Therapeutics, which is pursuing novel cancer treatments, and CurveAssure, which is using technology to combat chronic back pain, will each receive $100,000 to fund their endeavors. Additionally, the leads of each biotech venture will get a $40,000 salary stipend for the next year.
The President’s Venture Fellowship, the largest award for student entrepreneurship ever offered by the university, was launched this year to encourage startup creators to put down roots in Baltimore and become part of the city’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem. The fellowship, funded by the Office of the President along with generous philanthropic alumni support, is open to any full-time Hopkins student who wants to continue pursuing a business venture in Baltimore after graduation.
“Students across Johns Hopkins are translating their research into novel solutions that will make a meaningful impact in Baltimore and in our world,” said President Ron Daniels. “We are thrilled to help bring their ideas to fruition and to see our students grow their businesses in the heart of Baltimore in ways that support all—our patients, our neighbors, and our communities.”
In addition to the financial support, fellows receive mentoring from university leaders and alumni who have launched successful business ventures, and teams will have access to co-working space at the university’s FastForward U student innovation hub.
Eight startups applied in all, including teams representing the Whiting School of Engineering and the Carey Business School. Winners were selected by a panel of judges including FastForward U and Technology Ventures staff, JHU alumni, and Baltimore-based entrepreneurs.
More on this year’s winners:
Aptabridge Therapeutics is developing aptamer immune cell engagers, or ACEs, to treat B-cell lymphoma. ACEs are nucleic acid molecules that can help bridge the connection between immune cells and cancer cells, guiding the immune system to find and eliminate diseased cells more effectively. Headed by Taylor Cottle, a PhD candidate in biochemistry and biophysics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Aptabridge team has a goal of building accessible therapies that can eventually treat multiple cancers.
As president of the Hopkins Biotech Network, Cottle established relationships with local organizations and has built a biotech and entrepreneurship community for students and student founders. He also founded the Nucleate Baltimore chapter, an accelerator program for students at Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, to develop their ventures and connect with fellow entrepreneurs. Aptabridge recently won the cohort prize at the FastForward U Fuel Incubator Demo Day.
“The fellowship award is huge for Aptabridge Therapeutics because it gives us the runway to finish key R&D steps so we can bring a safer and more accessible cancer immunotherapy to patients who desperately need it,” Cottle said. “I’m looking forward to working more with the Hopkins FastForward U community and setting up our official Aptabridge lab right here in Baltimore.”
CurveAssure aims to combat chronic back pain with a three-part system that combines wearable sensor technology, deep learning, and an integrated clinical report to provide comprehensive spinal insights that can improve treatment plans. Spinal surgeons often lack vital information about their patients’ spinal function outside of the clinic; that data gap leads to more than 250,000 patients per year receiving unnecessary spinal fusion surgeries. With CurveAssure’s technology, clinicians can make more informed decisions about their patients’ treatment, including surgical and non-surgical paths.
Led by chief executive officer and co-founder Evan Haas, who graduated with a master’s degree in bioengineering innovation and design in 2022, the CurveAssure team includes several Hopkins students—chief technology officer and co-founder Antony Fuleihan, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in bioengineering innovation and design; head of business strategy Graham Zolkowski, who is pursuing an MBA degree in the Carey Business School; and head hardware engineer Ariel Slepyan, who is a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering. The CurveAssure team graduated from the FastForward U Fuel accelerator in the fall and won the top prize at the Fuel Demo Day event earlier this year.
“Over the last two years, thanks to the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design program, our clinical mentors, FastForward U, and countless other amazing partnerships we have found through Johns Hopkins, our team has honed in on a critical unmet need and a device that has the potential to revolutionize the spine space,” Haas said. “The Presidential Venture Fellowship is a game changer.”