Tag: Aquatas

FastForward U

4 Undergraduate-Led Startups Receive Grants from O’Connor Fund

4 Undergraduate-Led Startups Receive Grants from O’Connor Fund

(Courtesy FastForward U)

Four undergraduate-student-led startups will receive up to $10,000 in grant funding through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ FastFoward U to pursue their business ideas, which range from safer in-home dialysis and bottled bubble tea.

Aquatas, Goba Tea, Relavo and Straythink were recently named as awardees of The Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund, which supports undergraduate entrepreneurs. The startups also will have access to mentorship from investors and serial entrepreneurs and additional resources from FastForward U and JHTV.

FastForward U received 31 applications for the fund, made possible by a donation from John Hopkins alumnus Ralph S. O’Connor and his wife, Becky. Now in its fifth year, the O’Connor Fund has supported nearly two-dozen student teams.

“This was an extremely competitive funding cycle with numerous standout applications,” said Kerrie Carden, FastForward U’s director of student ventures. “We had more qualified teams than awards to give out, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our Hopkins undergrads.”

Kevin Carter, student venture coordinator for FastForward U, said the applications “highlight the breadth of innovation coming from Hopkins undergrads.”

“From medical devices to virtual reality to cryptocurrency to consumer goods, it’s all incredibly impressive,” he said.

Members of the 2018-2019 cohort met for an orientation dinner Nov. 29.


The team: Anish Mokha (KSAS ’20), Maya Foster (KSAS ’20), Varun Venkatesh (WSE ’20), Shivam Rastogi (WSE ’20), Zach Schmidt (WSE ’20) and Paarth Sharma (WSE ’20)

The product: An efficient and affordable water purification system for use in developing regions around the world.

Many water purification products on the market fail to filter out metal contaminants and salts, have low water output, require an external power source or are too expensive. Aquatas’ purification device is manually powered and can produce as much as a liter of water in three-and-a-half minutes. The device can be used by children or seniors, weighs 25 pounds and is the size of a small household trash can. It lasts up to 16 months and costs around $65 using readily available parts.

Aquatas’ prototype achieved a rejection rate of nearly 98 percent, and the company is working on pilot testing next spring in the hopes of making its first sales through a community center in Kenya.

Goba Tea

The team: Byron D’Mello (KSAS ’20), Noah Doris (Babson College)

The product: The first bottled bubble tea, infused with stress-reducing vitamins, for busy and stressed college students.

Self-described “bubble tea fanatics,” D’Mello and Doris fell in love with the drink as freshmen but saw fellow students driving up to a half-hour away for the tea, which must be sipped immediately.

D’Mello and Doris have been making their own bubble tea and selling it for a year-and-a-half at farmers’ markets and festivals. In the spring, they ran a two-month pilot program at Hopkins; after initially selling 270 bottles per week, they upped their supply to 350 bottles. Goba Tea is now available at 10 retail locations in Maryland, California, Florida and Massachusetts. Goba Tea signed contracts with four other universities over the summer and has received FDA approval for the beverage.

Goba Tea wants to do for bottled tea what Naked did for smoothies – bring the drink to the consumer rather than vice versa. The company is targeting universities and focusing sales at or near colleges, much like Insomnia Cookies.


The team: Sarah Lee (WSE ’19), James Qin (WSE ’19), Anna Bailey (WSE ’19), Tejasvi Desai (WSE ’21), Eugene Oh (WSE ’21) and Giang Hoang (WSE ’21)

The product: The PeritoneX, a disinfection device that reduces the risk of infection during home peritoneal dialysis treatment.

More than 600,000 Americans are living with kidney failure, most of whom rely on hemodialysis, where the blood is taken out of the body to be cleaned. But more patients – currently 9 percent and growing – use peritoneal dialysis, where the blood is cleaned nightly inside the body by a solution administered via a catheter through the lining of the abdomen. While PD has been found to give patients a better quality of life than blood dialysis, because patients administer the dialysis to themselves, there is a higher risk of contamination of the tube ends during setup. The resulting infection, called peritonitis, occurs in 1-in-4 patients, requires hospitalization 60 percent of the time and is a primary factor in 1-in-6 PD patient deaths.

The PeritoneX aims to reduce touch contamination by disinfecting potentially contaminated PD connection points after connections have been made but before the initiation of dialysis treatment. The PeritoneX is small, affordable and disposable.

Dr. Alicia Neu, chief of pediatric nephrology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, serves as Relavo’s clinical sponsor.


The team: Nikhil Baddam (KSAS ’21) and Owen Friesen (KSAS ’21)

The product: Haptic feedback gloves that make virtual reality more immersive.

Straythink wants to make touch come alive in what is often only an audiovisual virtual reality experience. VR gloves now in the marketplace use vibrations to stimulate the hand encountering an object. The glove being developed by Straythink, by contrast, uses selectiv stiffening rigidity, meaning the stiffness of the glove changes as the user “touches” objects.

More accurate touch in VR systems could be used by surgeons, soldiers and others who need to practice physically precise tasks.

Thanks in part to a Spark grant from FastForward U and a Digital daVinci Award from the Digital Media Center, Straythink was able to develop a single-finger prototyp, Straythink was able to develop a single-finger prototype of the glove earlier this year.

Click here to learn more about the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund!

Student Ventures

FastForward U Awards First Microgrants to Spark Student Entrepreneurship

FastForward U Awards First Microgrants to Spark Student Entrepreneurship


In March, FastForward U — Johns Hopkins’ hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation — dispersed its first set of microgrants to 10 teams of student entrepreneurs. The funds, which range between $500 and $1,000, are designed to enable students to test their ideas, build prototypes or launch pilot projects.

These Spark Grants provide relatively small amounts of funding that could pay huge dividends as the six undergraduate and four graduate student recipients aspire to increase access to clean water, provide better medical care, introduce a stress-relieving beverage to the marketplace and more.

“Student interest in innovation and entrepreneurship is multiples of where it was just a few years ago,” says Darius Graham, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ director of student ventures and head of FastForward U. “These microgrants, along with the mentorship and space FastForward U provides, enable these students to pursue their passion, learn about business and, hopefully, change the world in a meaningful way.”

FastForward U has a rolling monthly deadline for students to apply for a Spark Grant, and decisions are made the following month. To apply, students must attend FastForward U’s “Intro to Entrepreneurship: Where and How to Begin” workshop.

The first call for applications in February attracted 20 applications. Of the 10 awards totaling $6,950, six went to Whiting School of Engineering students, two to Krieger School of Arts and Sciences students and one each to the Carey Business School and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Often times great ideas are left on the whiteboard due to a lack of support and funding,” says Paarth Sharma, a sophomore biomedical engineering major leading Aquatas. “Unlike large competitions which require a refined business plan and product, Spark Grants support ventures at even the ideation stage. Without requiring extensive groundwork from the entrepreneur, the grants provide a necessary financial foundation when innovators might not have many other avenues available.”

FFU’s Kevin Carter leading a student workshop
Graham says he anticipates a similar number of applications, if not more, each month, and hopes to have representation from all of the university’s schools. Graham and his team will meet with each recipient at least monthly to discuss progress and challenges as well as connect them to the myriad resources available at Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore area.

“At Hopkins, we are fortunate to be surrounded by many smart, talented people who have the skills to start and grow a successful business,” says Andy Craig, a graduate student in the Carey Business School and founder of HiTech HIPAA. “However, even the leanest businesses eventually run into expenses. Spark Grants allow students to push past these bumps in the road to be able to test and implement their ideas in a meaningful way.”

The amount of funding each team received was based on how much it requested and an evaluation of its prospective budget. Applicants not selected to receive a Spark Grant are provided feedback and may apply again.

“I’m incredibly excited to see the strides Hopkins has made in supporting budding entrepreneurs through programs like Spark Grants,” says Michael Brooks, a primary benefactor of the funding who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the Whiting School of Engineering in 2012. “I love being able to contribute to their missions, but more importantly I love being able to build the greater sense of entrepreneurship and community for the next generation at Johns Hopkins University.”

Meet the first recipients of the FastForward U Spark Grants:

Aquatas (Awarded $1,000)
Paarth Sharma (WSE, undergraduate student)

Aquatas aims to address the ever-growing problem of clean water shortages that plague developing regions. It aims to provide an efficient and affordable water purification system that promotes the health and societal well-being of low income individuals around the world.
Braegen (Awarded $500)
Victor Dadfar (WSE, undergraduate student)

Braegen is a medical device startup company focused on advancing drug delivery techniques for brain disease patients with the greatest unmet need.
Efficompass (Awarded $500)
Zheying Mao (Public Health, graduate student)

Efficompass aspires to help patients with chronic diseases find the best care management tools and services.
EntriFeed (Awarded $750)
Annabeth Rodriguez (WSE, undergraduate student)

EntriFeed aims to design a new type of enteral feeding tube that minimizes dislodgement and reduces patient readmission for replacement procedures.
GOBA Tea (Awarded $1,000)
Byron D’Mello (KSAS, undergraduate student)

GOBA solves your thirst and your stress through a refreshing fruit-flavored decaffeinated tea, made with bursting-edible fruit balls infused with stress relieving vitamins and minerals.
HiTech HIPAA (Awarded $700)
Andy Craig (Carey Business School, graduate student)

HiTech HIPAA is a software tool for HIPAA compliance management.
ProgKnowsis (Awarded $500)
Arjun Vachhani (WSE, undergraduate student)

ProgKnowsis is developing medical prediction algorithms to mitigate respiratory failure.
Quira (Awarded $500)
Rutvi Shah (WSE, graduate student)

Quira is an online community designed to help people find the right fashion for any occasion at an affordable price.
Rume (Awarded $1,000)
James Shamul (WSE, graduate student)

Rume uses motion sensing hardware and a mobile application to maximize space utilization on campus, providing real-time information to help students find an open study or meeting room.
Shepherd (Awarded $500)
Sung kyu Kim (KSAS, undergraduate student)

Shepherd delivers tailored, evidence-based strategies that are designed to help users manage depression through their smartphones.
FastForward U will award Spark Grants twice more in the spring semester. The application deadlines are March 31 and April 30. In order to apply, students must attend an “Intro to Entrepreneurship: Where and How to Begin” workshop, which will be held on March 28 and April 10.

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