Tag: Hosts for Humanity

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jenny Owens helps hosts help families

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jenny Owens helps hosts help families


Founded by Jenny Owens, Hosts for Humanity connects families and friends of patients traveling to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes. Owens is part of the 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort.
Within hours of the birth of Jenny Owens’ son Maximus in 2016, the newborn (now 2) was diagnosed with a rare health condition that required extensive care, surgeries and time in the hospital.
Owens, a University of Maryland, Baltimore faculty member and director of The Grid, lived near The Johns Hopkins Hospital, which allowed the family to travel easily to and from home. It was there that Owens realized other families were not so lucky.
“When we were staying at the hospital for one of Max’s surgeries, I ran into a grandmother of an infant patient in the family lounge,” says Owens. “During our conversation, she shared that she was visiting for two weeks and staying at a hotel. Her son and daughter were living in a tiny hospital room at the Children’s Hospital until either the Children’s House or Ronald McDonald’s house had an open room. They were from Tennessee and had traveled all the way to Baltimore for specialists that could care for their babies’ rare condition. Right then I realized how incredibly lucky we were to be in Baltimore and so close to such amazing hospitals. I thought about it and wondered – what if people living near hospitals could volunteer rooms in their homes to traveling with loved ones for care?”
The rest —as they say— is history.
Owens started Hosts for Humanity as part of the 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort to help fill the financial, emotional and supportive needs of families traveling for care. The nonprofit now connects families and friends of patients traveling to Baltimore to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes.
“We believe no family should be stressed about housing when they have a baby in the NICU, a grandparent having surgery, or a best friend undergoing chemo,” says Owens.
Below, she discusses Hosts for Humanity, Baltimore and the goals she has for the nonprofit.

In 5 words, what does your company do?

Support families through collective compassion.

What are your goals and how will you get there?

We believe no family should be stressed about housing when they have a baby in the NICU, a grandparent having surgery or a best friend undergoing chemo. We are currently piloting the service in Baltimore and are raising money to build a more sophisticated web platform that will match vetted hosts with vetted guests in a secure environment.
This will help Hosts for Humanity scale and serve other regions where patients are traveling to receive care.

Why have you chosen Baltimore as your startup’s home?

Growing up my father was in the Navy and we moved 14 times before I was in eighth grade. Although those moves made me a versatile person and are the foundation of who I am today, I never experienced a strong sense of community or togetherness.
I’ve chosen Baltimore as a place to raise my family, and be part of a groundswell of people who are committed to making Baltimore a great place to live, work and play for all.

What opportunities make it a good place for growing a business?

Baltimore is a place where people genuinely care. It’s large enough to provide a host of resources for start-ups, and small enough for people to remember your name.

In terms of startups and innovation, what’s one thing that separates Baltimore from other tech hotbeds?

Baltimore is the best-kept secret of the nation’s innovation scene. It consistently ranks among the 20 hottest cities for tech and top three cities for women in technology. Maryland as a whole was ranked third in Fast Company’s list of innovative states, and fourth in the number of startups per million residents.
There are more than 38 entrepreneurial support groups and co-working spaces throughout the city and a host of venture, angel and grant opportunities for startups. Baltimore is a city of makers, doers, creators and problem solvers and where I chose to grow and launch my start-up.
Baltimore is a city that faces great challenges but also a place where there are many opportunities to make a difference and to serve.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice for creating a startup, what would it be?

My advice to past Jenny would be when faced with adding something to your life it’s either a “hell yes” or a “no.” Focus your effort on what brings you joy and meaning. Forget or automate the rest.

What book are you currently reading?

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond
“100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez
“Life 3.0 – Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Max Tegmark

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

I admire Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore city’s health commissioner. Dr. Wen is a health care visionary, and I’m completely in awe of her energy and commitment to reducing health inequities in Baltimore. She’s my public health hero.

It’s after a long day of work, and you don’t feel like cooking. What is your go-to Baltimore restaurant?

There are so many! Ekiben in Fell’s is my new favorite, especially their catfish tackle box and tempura broccoli. Also love Mount Vernon Marketplace, Trinacria, and all vendors in Belvedere Square.

What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Baltimore?

As a new parent I’m seeing a whole new side of Baltimore. I love spending time with my husband and toddler on trails and parks in the city. I’m a big fan of the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium and the Rawlings Conservatory. I enjoy happy hours and brunches with friends and aspire to one day be a member of Baltimore’s Pottery Guild where I take intermittent classes and am a novice at best.

Find out more about the Social Innovation Lab here.

Social Ventures

ClearMask Wins $25,000 at Social Innovation Lab Impact+Innovation Forum

ClearMask Wins $25,000 at Social Innovation Lab Impact+Innovation Forum


As Allysa Dittmar looked up at her surgery team’s masked faces, she felt isolated. Though nobly intended to prevent the spread of bacteria, the masks acted as a different type of barrier for Dittmar, who is deaf. Unable to read her doctors’ lips or see their expressions, and thus unable to understand or communicate, she felt less than human, she says.

Drawing upon this experience, the Johns Hopkins alumnus (Krieger School of Arts and Sciences 2014, Bloomberg School of Public Health 2017) co-founded ClearMask. The venture is developing the first full-face transparent surgical mask to improve communication between health care providers and their patients — especially children, those not proficient in English and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

As the company moves toward an NIH clinical trial (early 2019), FDA approval (fall 2019) and a product launch (late 2019), April 24, 2018 may stand out as a transformative moment. On that day, ClearMask won $25,000 at the Social Innovation Lab’s Impact+Innovation Forum and $15,000 at Village Capital’s pitch competition at Gallaudet University.

Dittmar says the funding will help ClearMask get to market faster as it will enable them to refine its product and manufacturing methods to maximize efficiency as well as to facilitate meetings and participation at other events.

Photo courtesy of ClearMask
“We’ve missed out on a fair amount of opportunities because interpreters were unavailable or not provided,” Dittmar says. “We have two team members who are deaf and use sign language to communicate, including myself. With this funding, we will be able to better support our deaf members by providing sign language interpreters for ClearMask’s meetings and outreach.”

In October, the Social Innovation Lab accepted ClearMask into its 2017-2018 cohort featuring innovative nonprofits, mission-driven companies and disruptive technologies. For six months, with the support of SIL Director Alex Riehm, ClearMask and the nine other ventures received funding, mentorship, office space and workshops.

“Throughout their time with the Social Innovation Lab, the ClearMask team has never hesitated to support other startups and members of the SIL cohort,” Riehm says. “This environment is exactly what SIL does best, and I’m happy to have shared this with ClearMask.”

ClearMask received the award based on peer evaluations given throughout the six-month program whereby cohort members ranked their peers in seven categories, including empathy, progress, experimentation and generosity.

“The peer feedback process allows us to share concrete opportunities and suggestions among teams throughout the cohort period,” Riehm says. “By taking every opportunity for feedback and improvement, we can better support our SIL teams and give them a chance to identify the winning team among them.”

Though ClearMask claimed the Impact+Innovation award, the nine other SIL teams made significant strides building ventures that will impact communities in Baltimore and beyond.

The 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort
Bakku Technologies (formerly Active Bedsore Prevention System)
Challenge – Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, contribute to increased mortality rates and cost hospitals $11.5 billion annually.

Solution – This SIL team comprised of the winners of the 2017 Hopkins MedHacks competition and represented by Bloomberg School of Public Health master’s student Ruchee Shrestha is developing a medical device which senses and alleviates pressure to increase comfort and reduce the occurrence of bedsores and pressure ulcers.
BeeMore Cooperative
Challenge – In 2016, Maryland lost 56 percent of its bees as part of an ongoing pollinator collapse.

Solution – Led by Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, BeeMore is a beekeeping cooperative that engages community members with pollinators and healthy lifestyles, promotes urban beekeeping and creates new beekeepers in Baltimore.
Distribution Health
Challenge – Despite technological advances, health care requires a personal touch.

Solution – Led by Andrew York, Distribution Health combines cutting-edge health care technologies with compassionate personal care workers to provide individualized, high-quality care in the home.
The Growing Minds Initiative
Challenge – To provide sustainable access to education for orphaned and vulnerable children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Solution – Founded by Victoria Roberts, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences undergraduate student, The Growing Minds Initiative creates sustainable poultry and green vegetable farms to fund education and health care for orphaned and vulnerable children in that community.
ChallengeA recent study showed that LGBT youth are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than straight people.

Solution – Led by Ava Pipitone and Max Goodman, HostHome is developing an accessible home sharing platform that addresses housing instability in the LGBT community.
Hosts for Humanity
Challenge – In addition to medical bills, family members and caretakers often spend thousands for hotels as their loved ones receive treatment.

Solution – Founded by Jenny Owens — a University of Maryland, Baltimore faculty member and director of The Grid — Hosts for Humanity connects families and friends of patients traveling to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes.
Mera Kitchen Collective
Challenge – Policies and systems can create structural barriers that make it difficult for immigrant and refugee women to gain access to resources and opportunities.

Solution – The Mera Kitchen Collecitve is led by five worker-owners who represent and work with immigrant and refugee communitess in Baltimore, including a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health alumnus and a staff member at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. As a food cooperative, they share the exceptional cuisine and stories of Baltimore’s newest neighbors.
Neighbour, Neighbour
Challenge – Trinidad & Tobago has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Solution – Led by Zindzi Thompson, a graduate student in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Neighbour, Neighbour is developing a mobile platform that promotes in-person social interaction in environments characterized by high-levels of insecurity.
Challenge – For citizens returning from prison, reentry programs drop re-offense rates to under 10 percent. However, Baltimore has no women’s work release centers.

Solution – Led by Bridget Nistico and Emily Thompson, PIVOT is developing a cohort support model for women returning from incarceration, providing access to housing, transportation, mental health car, addiction treatment, job training and more. Its pilot will launch this summer.

Support SIL or one of its ventures!


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