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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.”

Awards

Founders of 2 Hopkins Startups Named to Forbes’ 30…

Founders of 2 Hopkins Startups Named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30

 
For the third consecutive year, Forbes has recognized innovators and entrepreneurs with ties to Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures on its exclusive 30 Under 30 list. Receiving the honor this year were the co-founders of Healthify — Manik Bhat, Eric Conner, Dan Levenson and Alex Villa — and Osmosis co-founder Shiv Gaglani.

The seventh annual edition of the Forbes list showcased 30 honorees for each of 20 categories. This year, Forbes received more than 15,000 nominations for its 600 slots, meaning fewer than 4 percent of nominees were recognized for their achievements.

Healthify

 

 
Over sixty percent of health is determined by social needs like access to food, jobs, childcare and housing. For Healthify’s work to ensure health care organizations address the root cause of many health issues, Forbes named the startup’s four co-founders to its 30 Under 30 for Healthcare.

Manik Bhat, Eric Conner, Dan Levenson and Alex Villa co-founded Healthify as Johns Hopkins undergraduates, and now its technology connects 4 million Medicaid recipients to the social services they need to live a healthy life.

“[Healthify believes] there is more to health than healthcare and we’re fundamentally rethinking how healthcare organizations and communities work together to help people thrive,” according to the company’s website. “We came from a background of working with vulnerable populations in Baltimore and are focused on building next generation technology to move the needle on healthcare outcomes and cost for these populations.”

Now based in New York, Healthify relied on resources provided by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) to progress from its earliest stages. The Healthify team participated in the 2013-2014 Social Innovation Lab cohort and took advantage of resources the university provided to student entrepreneurs. Forbes reports that Healthify has raised $9.6 million to date and that it works with some of the nation’s largest insurers.

Shiv Gaglani

 

 
What started as a side project to help classmates has landed Shiv Gaglani on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for Education. Through Osmosis, Gaglani is developing a personalized platform available on the web and as an iPhone app to help students who aspire to become health professionals. The platform serves those studying medicine, nursing, dentistry and other health professional fields perform better in the classroom, on board exams and in the clinic.

The inspiration for Osmosis, a member of the 2013-2014 Social Innovation Lab cohort and now a FastForward startup, came in 2011 when Gaglani and co-founder Ryan Haynes were studying to become doctors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Each saw an opportunity to improve upon the “cram-and-forget” cycles that negatively impact students’ long-term retention. The pair created an online platform to help their classmates study and saw the impact that peer collaboration could have on each student’s performance.

“Medical school is based on the ‘sage on the stage’ model, where knowledge is handed down from professors to students,” Gaglani said in an interview with Johns Hopkins’ Fundamentals. “But in every class, there is a handful of students who are natural teachers themselves, and will probably end up being professors one day. Osmosis lets other students benefit from these natural teachers because it enables knowledge to diffuse (hence ‘Osmosis’) between students, as well as from the professors to the students.”

Other Hopkins honorees

 
Forbes also honored four other Johns Hopkins alumni: Elizabeth Galbut in the Venture Capital category, Luke Lee and Leah Siberner in the Healthcare category and Liang Wu in the Science category.

Galbut, who graduated with her MBA from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in 2015, is the managing partner of SoGal Ventures, a firm she co-founded to invest in ventures from the United States and Asia that have diverse teams. Through the New York-based firm, Galbut has invested in at least 50 companies, including FastForward startups, and has had two exits. In 2015, prior to SoGal Ventures, she co-founded A-Level Capital — a student-led venture capital firm that supports Johns Hopkins students and young alumni pursuing entrepreneurship.

Lee received his bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology from The Johns Hopkins University in 2011. Siberner received her Johns Hopkins degree in biophysics in 2013. They were part of a team that co-founded 3T Biosciences. The Silicon Valley-based company is using machine learning to predict the chemicals present in cancer cells but not normal ones.

Wu, who earned his master’s in physics and Ph.D. in condensed matter and materials physics, received recognition for his studies related to topological materials, an area of interest for building the next generation of quantum computers. He received an award from the American Physical Society for his research on the electrodynamics of topological insulators.

History of success

 
Healthify’s co-founders and Gaglani are just the latest to be honored on a Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

Last year, Fusiform co-founders Param Shah and Alex Mathews were named to the publication’s 30 Under 30 for Manufacturing and Industry. Shah and Mathews, who co-founded Fusiform as Johns Hopkins undergraduates, received the award for their work to improve the process by which custom orthotics are made.

Since receiving the award, Shah and Mathews have expanded the technology’s scope, improving efficiencies for all manufacturers involved in digital manufacturing. The pivot resulted in a new name for the company, FactoryFour, but orthopaedics will operate under the Fusiform brand. Since co-founding their company, Shah and Mathews have raised close to $1 million.

As undergraduates, Shah and Mathews participated in the 2015-2016 Social Innovation Lab cohort.

In 2016, Forbes named David Narrow to its 30 Under 30 for Pharma and Healthcare for his work as the CEO of Sonavex. The startup has raised more than $4.2 million to develop a technology that improves outcomes for surgical patients. Sonavex uses imaging technology that allows clinicians to find blood clots before they cause problems.

Narrow, who earned his master’s degree in biomedical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University in 2013, grew Sonavex in a FastForward innovation hub before moving the company to its own space in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood.
 

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