Tag: Founders Forum


New Initiative Helps Johns Hopkins Entrepreneurs Pay Forward and…

New Initiative Helps Johns Hopkins Entrepreneurs Pay Forward and Give Back

July 31, 2019

The following was originally published in The Hub.

Since the days of its founding, Johns Hopkins University has encouraged a spirit of innovation among its students and researchers. So it’s no surprise that many alumni go on to start their own companies.

Indeed, the launch of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures five years ago was driven in part by a recognition that the university could and should play a more intentional role in helping to foster an ecosystem for students, faculty, and alumni who aim to turn their discoveries into technologies, products, and services that benefit society.

“Following recent university investments in student entrepreneurship, alumni entrepreneurs now return to campus to find that we are doing much more to support students in the early days of their ventures,” JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said. “Through FastForward U, the university hub for student entrepreneurship, alumni are participating in the life of the university and our students in new ways—such as sponsorship of student grants and mentoring our exceptional young entrepreneurs. They are also discovering new opportunities to connect with each other and leverage their common roots at Hopkins as they forge a wide variety of entrepreneurial paths.”

To that end, the Hopkins Founders’ Pledge is a new initiative designed to engage company founders with Hopkins and one another. The entrepreneurs commit to give back to the university at the point of a liquidity event—that is, a company merger, acquisition, or initial public offering. The pledge is a mutual commitment between select entrepreneurs and Johns Hopkins that allows founders to give back in the form of promised time and money and for Johns Hopkins to provide support, networks, and campus resources for entrepreneurs.

“Through the Founders’ Pledge, Johns Hopkins University is celebrating entrepreneurs and bringing together an innovation community,” said Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the president and head of JHTV. “These individuals can utilize their talent, networks, and capital to support one another, our students and faculty, and the innovation ecosystem that starts in Baltimore and spans the world.”

That sense of community is what has already attracted a cohort of alumni entrepreneurs to the Founders’ Pledge. Jess Gartner, who graduated from the School of Education in 2011 and is now CEO of Allovue, was the first female entrepreneur to sign the Founders’ Pledge.

“I signed the Founders’ Pledge because I want the university to share in our company’s growth and success,” she said. “Hopkins has played an important role in my development as an educator and as an entrepreneur in Baltimore. I hope that my commitment to the university will contribute to innovative programs like the new Center for Safe and Healthy Schools at the School of Education.”

Since graduating, Gartner has remained deeply involved with the university, lending her expertise to support important initiatives at the School of Education. She also recently gathered with other alumni in New York City for a Founders’ Forum dinner, a collaboration between JHTV and the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association.

The first cohort of Founders’ Pledge members includes individuals from the schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Education who run companies in biotech, consumer goods, artificial intelligence, and financial technology. They each say they believe that Hopkins was critical to their career success and want to support the next generation of Hopkins entrepreneurs.

“My education at Johns Hopkins played a significant role in who I am today and has a stake in my professional career,” said Founders’ Pledge member Hank Nordhoff, who graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences in 1963.

Nordhoff, a successful serial biotech entrepreneur and currently the CEO and chairman of Banyan Biomarkers, is a Baltimore native with a deep passion for supporting the city.

“I owe the university a debt for [the person] it helped me become,” Nordhoff said.

With the launch of the Founders’ Pledge program, the university is bringing alumni into the growing Hopkins innovation ecosystem.

“I hope other startup founders will jump on board and continue the proud tradition of supporting their school,” said Chieh Huang, who graduated in 2003 and is now CEO of Boxed. “I wish we had a network like this when I was in Baltimore, and now is our chance to help build it for a future generation.”


Entrepreneurs Connect, Talk Shop at Inaugural Founders’ Forum

Entrepreneurs Connect, Talk Shop at Inaugural Founders’ Forum

What jumped out to Alex Villa about Johns Hopkins’ inaugural Founders’ Forum for entrepreneurs last month in New York City was not the discussion as much as the participants themselves.

David West, CEO of Proscia, speaks last month in New York during Johns Hopkins’ inaugural Founders’ Forum as Logan Sugarman, left, CEO of Refresh Body Inc. and Alex Villa, chief operating officer of Healthify, listen. (Photo: Madeleine Stokes)

“The first thing I learned is there is a really strong set of companies that came out of Hopkins that most of my classmates didn’t know about,” said Villa, chief operating officer of Healthify, which helps health care organizations find community services and address patient social needs.

Villa was one of eight Johns Hopkins alumni and startup founders who gathered at the offices of Harry’s Inc. — founded by fellow alum Jeff Raider — to connect, commiserate and learn from one another’s startup ventures. The event was a collaboration between Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures and the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association.

To Villa’s surprise, four of the companies were, like Healthify, starting to raise Series B funding — the second round of financing for a startup.

“I severely underestimated the ecosystem,” said Villa.

Each participant — Jarrett Bauer (Carey Business School, ’12), CEO of Health Recovery Solutions; Kevin Callahan (Whiting School of Engineering, ’99), chief technology officer of Maggie Louise Confections; Michael Derby (Whiting School of Engineering, ’95), CEO of Castle Creek Pharmaceuticals; Jess Gartner (Whiting School of Engineering, ’11), CEO of Allovue; Jay Parkinson (Bloomberg School of Public Health, ’06), CEO of Sherpaa; Logan Sugarman (Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, ’00), CEO of Refresh Body Inc.; Villa (Whiting School of Engineering, ’12); and David West (Whiting School of Engineering, ’16), CEO of Proscia — was asked to bring a business topic to discuss with the group.

Discussion prompts included: “What is something you need help thinking through?” and “What keeps you up at night?” The participants were a mix of early-stage founders and leaders of more mature companies. Callahan, who also founded Map My Fitness, flew in from Texas just to support the early-stage founders.

The Founders’ Forum is an extension of Johns Hopkins’ recently launched Founders’ Pledge program, which is seeking company leaders to give back to the university at the point of a liquidity event. (Courtesy of Madeleine Stokes)

“The Founders’ Forum represents a highly targeted approach to alumni engagement, recognizing that founders are unique,” said Madeleine Stokes, director of innovation initiatives and corporate relations with Johns Hopkins. “Hopkins hosts tons of networking events, but for such busy startup founders, we wanted a really curated experience of true peers.”

Villa, who worked with Stokes to shape the event, said the Founders’ Forum was similar to events he has seen put on by some of Healthify’s investors. The practical advice and tips gleaned from such conversations are critical in helping startups on the path to sustainability.

“Something most of my classmates underestimate is having a cohort of peers to recognize the patterns of being a decision-maker,” he said.

Villa added he would participate in future Founders Forum’s events, particularly to pay it forward to future entrepreneurs in the Johns Hopkins ecosystem. Such events show Johns Hopkins does more than produce physicians, researchers and bankers, he said.

The Founders’ Forum is an extension of Johns Hopkins’ recently launched Founders’ Pledge program, which is seeking company leaders to give back to the university at the point of a liquidity event — that is, a company exit through merger, acquisition or initial public offering.

“It’s a mutual commitment — from the founder to the university in the form of promised time and money back to the institution and from the university to the founder in the form of support and access,” said Stokes. “Through the Founders’ Pledge and events like the Founders’ Forum, Johns Hopkins is recognizing risk-takers and bringing together a community of entrepreneurs.”

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