O’Connor Fund Offers Grants to Support Undergrad Entrepreneurs

O’Connor Fund Offers Grants to Support Undergrad Entrepreneurs

Ralph O’Connor

Undergraduate Johns Hopkins University students with ideas for startups have a new source of funds to which they may apply for capital to enter the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

These funds have been made possible by a generous gift from Ralph O’Connor, a Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences alumnus.

O’Connor’s gift established the Ralph O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneur Fund, which became available at the beginning of this year, says Seth Zonies, O’Connor Fund manager, senior technology analyst for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) and program manager for Johns Hopkins’ Commercialization Academy, a student internship program in which students work with JHTV to learn about how new technologies are assessed for commercial potential.

“O’Connor wanted to make sure that in these new efforts to develop resources and programs for faculty to begin startup companies for technologies they have developed, there were also programs for students,” Zonies says. The fund will act as an “engagement mechanism and a way to coordinate all of our resources so that student projects and talents get the proper mentorship and guidance,” he adds.

Grants from the O’Connor Fund are between $2,000 and $10,000. To be considered for a grant, a team of applicants must be composed of and led by Johns Hopkins University undergraduates, and the team must have both a clear commercial or entrepreneurial focus and a defined project. The team must know what materials and technologies are needed to develop its entrepreneurial idea, and it must have a set budget, Zonies explains. A team “doesn’t need to be a startup” or already have funding, but the fund is a way “to move these projects along the development spectrum,” he adds.

The application process begins with an intake meeting between an applying team and JHTV staff members, who offer the team advice on how to develop its application to be as competitive as possible, Zonies says. Then, proposals are presented to an advisory committee consisting of Christy Wyskiel, special advisor for enterprise development to Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, and entrepreneurs with a track record of success. The committee makes the final decisions about which projects receive funding, he says.

So far, Zonies has received applications from several teams, one of which—Aezon—has received a grant already. Aezon is developing a personalized diagnostic tool to be used in a clinical setting, and the team was awarded $10,000 from the O’Connor Fund to develop its project further. Aezon is a finalist for the $10 million Tricorder Prize, a global competition for the development of consumer-focused diagnostic devices.

In the future, Zonies and the advisory committee may follow a cohort approach, in which a year’s applicants will apply at the same time and selected teams will develop their projects simultaneously, with access to a mentor and other resources, Zonies says.

Visit the O’Connor Fund website for more information. To apply for a grant from the O’Connor Fund, send an email to oconnorgrants@jhu.edu. Application steps are listed on the website.