O’Connor Fund Showcases Entrepreneurial Spirit of JHU Undergrads
If interest in the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund is any indication, the spirit of entrepreneurship at The Johns Hopkins University is alive, well, growing and diversifying.
This year, 40 student teams applied for support from the O’Connor Fund, up from 22 in 2015 and seven in 2014. From this year’s applicant pool, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) advanced 19 teams to a pitch competition before selecting six winners.
“We heard a number of strong pitches over two days,” says Kasim Ahmad, JHTV’s student venture coordinator. “It was difficult to whittle the field down to six, but we believe the teams selected for this year’s cohort have the greatest opportunity to benefit from the program as they work to solve challenging problems.”
Launched in 2014-2015, the O’Connor Fund helps undergraduates’ fledgling startup ideas reach their potential. Founded by Ralph O’Connor, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences alumnus, and his wife, Becky, the program provides each cohort member a $5,000 non-dilutive grant, an opportunity to earn $5,000 more for reaching milestones, mentorship from entrepreneurs and investors, and other resources from JHTV.
The 2017 cohort features:
- Foragerone – A platform that streamlines and standardizes how students look for university-affiliated research opportunities
- Ansh Bhammar, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Sophomore
- Yash Jain, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Sophomore
- Fractal Tech – Scalable mobile app security for enterprise applications
- Alex Sharata, Whiting School of Engineering, Junior
- James Charles, Whiting School of Engineering, Senior
- Gaius – An online tool that utilizes college networks to source top technical talent for startups
- Ron Boger, Whiting School of Engineering, Senior
- Alex Owens, Whiting School of Engineering, Senior
- Kaleyedos – Telemedicine for the retinopathy of premature screening procedures
- Rebecca Miller, Whiting School of Engineering, Senior
- Erica Schwarz, Whiting School of Engineering, Senior
- Sami Messai, Whiting School of Engineering, Junior
- Seony Han, Whiting School of Engineering, Junior
- Squadz – A social activity platform to find, organize and reserve space for pickup sports and events
- Nikhil Panu, Whiting School of Engineering, Senior
- John Stanton, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Senior
- Tearn – An app to help college students connect with peers who can provide tutoring services
- Pava LaPere, Whiting School of Engineering, Sophomore
- Andrew Wong, Whiting School of Engineering, Sophomore
- Brian Cueto, Whiting School of Engineering, Sophomore
“We have a tremendously talented and diverse group,” Ahmad says. “This cohort has a mix of upper and underclassmen, projects at various stages and students representing different campus programs and organizations, including Hophacks, Medhacks, TCO Labs and the school’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design. We believe this group will build on the success of last year’s cohort.”
The students certainly seem intent on doing so. Gaius CEO Ron Boger says he hopes the O’Connor Fund program will enable him to gain traction and build relationships with the startups and universities that will benefit from his mission to connect elite students with the most impactful and talented companies.
“We applied to be part of the O’Connor Fund cohort to obtain the mentorship and support that will accelerate our growth,” says Gaius CEO Ron Boger. “I’m looking forward to gaining perspective from being around such ambitious companies in the program, as well as the mentorship provided by JHTV.”
The entrepreneurs in the 2017 cohort have grand visions for their startups and see the O’Connor Fund program as a way to plant the seeds for sustained success. Take senior Erica Schwarz of Kaleyedos, a company developing a retinal imaging device. For now, the Kaleyedos team is currently focusing on infant retinal imaging but aims to expand the device and software suite to address many retinal imaging needs.
“Long-term, we want to see our device disrupt the retinal imaging industry,” Schwarz says. “Shorter-term, we want to use the resources from the Ralph S. O’Connor Fund to further build connections with key stakeholders.”
The six teams in the last year’s cohort used support from the O’Connor Fund as a springboard to raise $1.2 million in follow-on funding, hire 14 paid employees, interview more than 650 users or customers and complete 84 percent of their milestones.
As the 2017 cohort aims to reach those lofty heights, they will move through a program modified to better enable them to succeed. Based on feedback from the 2016 cohort and the program’s mentors, this year will feature an increase in engagement between teams, greater access to mentors, more networking opportunities, in-person workshops and online assignments based on each team’s individual challenges.
“The O’Connor Fund has evolved and will continue to evolve as we find better ways to serve our student entrepreneurs,” Ahmad says. “JHTV is committed to providing students the avenues that will help them turn ideas into sustainable businesses. The O’Connor Fund goes a long way in helping us achieve that.”