Social Innovation Lab Supports Innovations to Help Baltimore
A plan to build Baltimore’s first commercial hydroponic farm; a digital platform for Baltimore residents to call attention to neighborhood issues; a tool to help Internet novices, especially the elderly, stay connected with their communities and families—what do these have in common?
All were developed by participants of The Johns Hopkins University’s Social Innovation Lab, an early-stage incubator for innovative nonprofits and mission-driven companies whose technologies address pressing social issues in Baltimore and beyond. The program, which just completed its fourth year, held its annual Impact and Innovation Forum Demo Day on April 27. This year’s cohort of emerging social enterprises addressed challenges in the areas of medicine, food, community and technology.
“The Social Innovation Lab is a place where positive ideas for making Baltimore and the world a better place can take root and grow,” says Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to the president of The Johns Hopkins University.
“Now more than ever, we know we need to address the challenges we face right here in our own backyard, and many in this year’s Social Innovation Lab cohort are tackling these issues head on,” Wyskiel says.
For example, the Neighborhood Watch app, developed in the lab this year by undergraduate students Elana Stroud, a computer science major, and Camilla Dohlman, a public health studies major, aims to provide Baltimore residents with a way to bring attention to issues plaguing their communities. App users might, for example, propose ways in which to revitalize a vacant lot, says Darius Graham, the lab’s director.
The students behind Urban Pastoral, another project this year, hope to create the first commercial-scale, urban hydroponic farm to supply Baltimore schools with fresh produce and Baltimore residents with green jobs, Graham says. In the process, the students hope to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of large-scale industrial farming, eliminate the need for pesticide use, increase the ability to buy locally and provide job opportunities in the Baltimore community.
This year’s cohort of emerging social ventures included:
- Urban Pastoral (Julie Buisson and Mark Verdecia, graduate students at Carey Business School, and J. Reidy, who earned his master’s degree in business administration in 2015 from Carey): Building Baltimore’s first commercial-scale, urban hydroponic farm.
- Aezon (Neil Rens, Tatiana Rypinski, Ned Samson and Ryan Walter, undergraduate students at the Whiting School of Engineering, and team): Creating a device and companion smartphone app to test for multiple illnesses and conditions, from sleep apnea to diabetes, without the assistance of a physician.
- Mustard Seed Pillow (Anwesha Majumder, a graduate student at Bloomberg School of Public Health): Redesigning a centuries-old pillow to support proper infant skull development.
- RetinEye (Whiting School of Engineering graduate students Aaron Chang, Hanh Le and Allie Sibole and undergraduate student Monica Rex): Pairing traditional ophthalmic lenses with a smartphone app using new image technology to support low-cost glaucoma screenings where traditional screening machines aren’t easily accessible.
- ShapeU (Seal-Bin Han, Jordan Matelsky and Richard Shi, undergraduate students at the Whiting School of Engineering): Harnessing the power of teamwork and social networking to help individuals exercise more and meet their health goals.
- Wodagro (Justin Falcone, an archaeology undergraduate student at the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences): Developing a new type of green roof that aims to be more lightweight, energy-efficient and affordable than traditional green roof designs.
- WalkThrough (Rome Chopra, a finance graduate student at Carey Business School): Helping Internet novices, especially the elderly, stay connected with their communities and families via a digital tool that helps conduct basic functions such as email, online banking and social media.
- Neighborhood Watch App (Elana Stroud, a computer science undergraduate student at the Whiting School of Engineering, and Camilla Dohlman, a public health studies undergraduate student at the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences): Providing a digital platform for Baltimore residents to bring attention to issues in their neighborhoods.
- White River Medical Fellowship (Kevin Burns, a resident in the General Preventive Medicine Residency at the Bloomberg School of Public Health): Creating a pathway for new doctors to work and learn in hospitals serving rural and Native American communities.