Tag: Mera Kitchen Collective

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Mera Kitchen Collective Cooks Up Opportunity…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Mera Kitchen Collective Cooks Up Opportunity in Baltimore

From 2000 to 2014, Baltimore saw its immigrant population more than double, reaching 45,000 (approximately 7 percent of the city’s population). This influx of foreign arrivals led the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program to call Baltimore a “reemerging gateway.”

Easing the transition for many of these refugees and immigrants is Mera Kitchen Collective. As a community-driven, food-based cooperative, Mera Kitchen Collective amplifies the skills and passions of Baltimore’s immigrants and refugees as well as ensures they have access to critical resources and opportunities.

To further the mission, Mera Kitchen Collective, a member of the Social Innovation Lab’s 2017-2018 cohort, hosts pop-up events at local restaurants and farmers’ markets and leads cooking classes to showcase the story and cuisine of different chefs who have come to Baltimore from places around the world.

Below, the founders of Mera Kitchen Collective (Emily Lerman, Brittany DeNovellis, Liliane Makole, Megan Murray, Iman Alshehab and Aishah AlFadhalah) share their thoughts about the cooperative’s mission, Baltimore and the best food in the city.

In a few words, what does Mera Kitchen Collective do?

We operate a worker-owned cooperative supporting refugees and immigrants.

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Our goal is to provide opportunities for entrepreneurism to refugee and immigrant women. We have been hosting pop-up events to test our business model, skills and capacity. We hope to be present at farmers’ markets for the upcoming season. Our end goal is a brick and mortar location that will serve not just as a restaurant, but also a community gathering place.

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

We love Baltimore! We are all Baltimore City residents, and we know a supportive, welcoming and talented pool of fellow-entrepreneurs live here. Of course we would choose Baltimore!

What opportunities make Baltimore a good place to grow a business?

The supportive small business community here in Baltimore has welcomed us with open arms. The city’s residents have consistently supported our events and our women. It’s the community in Baltimore that makes it special – we all came from other places and now call Baltimore home, so we know that this city is unique in its ability to provide support.

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

Baltimore’s concentration of top-level higher education paired with its size make it ideal for starting something innovative. Startups here have the resources of some of the country’s best colleges and universities, their faculty and their students…combined with a city that’s big enough to be impressive, but not so big that you can’t make waves with your idea. Baltimore is really ideal!

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

Connect more. We have been so lucky in the group that we have and the unique experiences and connections that we each bring to the table. These not only help us along the way, but they also inform so many of our decisions as a group.

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

We look up to other worker-owners and worker-owned cooperatives. The fine folks at the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED) and Red Emma’s have worked with us to help us form our business model and help us refine our decision making as a group. We look up to these groups because they have actively chosen equity; we admire those who put people first.

It’s after a long day of work. Where do you choose to eat dinner?

It’s so hard to choose among so many A+ options! We might grab a bite at Hersh’s in Federal Hill, or head to Clavel for incredible tacos…or Iman might have us over to her house and cook us a homemade meal. We are spoiled in our options!

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

​Each one of us had a different answer to this question. For some of us, the answer is spending time at Baltimore’s incredible museums; others of us love Baltimore’s innovative food scene. There’s so much love about Baltimore that it’s hard to choose just one thing among six unique people.

Meet the Social Innovation Lab’s other changemakers!


Social Ventures

Social Innovation Lab Welcomes Its Newest Class of Changemakers

Social Innovation Lab Welcomes Its Newest Class of Changemakers


Optimism abounded at FastForward 1812 in late October as more than 100 people gathered to meet the 10 social ventures comprising the Social Innovation Lab’s (SIL) 2017-2018 cohort.

The program — which provides nonprofits and mission-driven for-profits with space, mentorship, networking opportunities and funding — empowers changemakers to accelerate and amplify their social impact. Within the cohort, eight ventures will focus on issues critical to Baltimore and the United States, while two focus on issues abroad.

The 10 ventures selected to take part in the six-month program faced stiff competition for a spot. SIL received 84 applications for its 2017-2018 cohort, up from the 53 it fielded for last year’s cohort.

Half of the 2017-2018 SIL ventures are led by Baltimore residents with no affiliation to Johns Hopkins. The remaining ventures are led by current Johns Hopkins University students or an alumnus, with representation from the Whiting School of Engineering, Bloomberg School of Public Health, School of Medicine, Carey Business School, Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and School of Advanced International Studies.

The 2017-2018 SIL Cohort:

Active Bed Sore Prevention System

Eliminating bedsores would decrease patient mortality rates and health care costs. Active Bed Sore Prevention System is developing a patient bed cover with embedded pressure sensors that monitor areas of high pressure on a patient’s body. The technology uses a feedback mechanism to alleviate the pressure at target locations by inflating pockets within the bed cover.

Core team members:

  • Ruchee Shrestha: Bloomberg School of Public Health, master’s candidate
  • Joe Amoah: Bloomberg School of Public Health, master’s candidate
  • Vinithra Varadarajan: Bloomberg School of Public Health, master’s candidate
  • Muskaan Khosla: Bloomberg School of Public Health, master’s candidate
  • Andrew Nagal: community member
  • Mitch Gaines: community member

BeeMore Cooperative

As bee populations decline, BeeMore Cooperative aims to organize, educate and cultivate new beekeepers in Baltimore through a community cooperative. The venture has a tool-sharing model that reduces the $500 to $1,500 startup cost associated with becoming a beekeeper.

Core team member:

  • Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth: community member


Typical face masks prevent patients, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing, from receiving facial expressions and visual cues that are essential to communication.

ClearMask is developing the first full-face transparent facemask that can help reduce medical errors due to miscommunication and increase hospital compliance and patient satisfaction.

Core team members:

  • Aaron Hsu: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, research assistant; Bloomberg School of Public Health and Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences, alumnus
  • Allysa Dittmar: Bloomberg School of Public Health and Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences, alumnus
  • Inez Lam: Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering, Ph.D. candidate
  • Elyse Hoeb: Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business, Bloomberg School of Public Health, MBA/MPH candidate

Distribution Health

Distribution Health creates and trains a technology-empowered community health workforce that provides care in the home for those who need it most. Its initial focus will be developing a workforce that can provide care to Baltimore’s high-need older populations.

Core team member:

  • Andrew York: community member

The Growing Minds Initiative

The Growing Minds Initiative’s mission is to provide sustainable access to education for orphaned and vulnerable children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The creation of poultry and vegetable farms will provide sustainable funding to accomplish this program’s goals.

The Growing Minds Initiative hopes to become totally sustainable in 18 months.

Core team member:

  • Victoria Roberts: Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate student


Each night, 8,000 people in Baltimore go to sleep without adequate housing. HostHome provides donor-sponsored peer-to-peer housing for people experiencing homelessness with an emphasis on LGBT referrals from local, regional and state infrastructure, including other non-profits and public agencies.

Core team members:

  • Ava Pipitone: community member
  • Max Goodman: community member

Hosts for Humanity

In addition to extensive medical bills, family members and caretakers often spend thousands of dollars for hotels as their loved one receives treatment. Hosts for Humanity connects the families and friends of patients traveling to receive medical care with volunteer hosts offering accommodations in their homes, providing a refuge when people need it most.

Core team member:

  • Jenny Owens: community member

Mera Kitchen Collective

Baltimore’s first and only worker-owned food cooperative operated by newly resettled refugees and immigrants. In addition to sharing the exceptional cuisine and stories of the city’s newest neighbors, Mera Kitchen Collective aims to empower its members.

The collective already offers catering, classes and has pop-up shops. With help from SIL, Mera Kitchen Collective hopes to open its own commercial kitchen.

Core team members:

  • Emily Lerman: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, alumnus
  • Liliane Makole: community member
  • Brittany DeNovellis: community member
  • Iman Alshehab: community member
  • Megan Murray: community member
  • Aishah Alfadhalah: staff, Kennedy Krieger Institute

Neighbour, Neighbour

Trinidad & Tobago has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Neighbour, Neighbour aspires to improve safety and peace of mind by empowering people to make more informed personal security decisions with technology that enables neighbors to alert others of nearby violent incidents.

Core team member:

  • Zindzi Thompson: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, graduate student


Sixty percent of the women leaving Maryland prisons return to Baltimore City. PIVOT is a workforce development training program that aims to reduce recidivism by educating, empowering and equipping women who are reentering society.

Core team member:

  • Bridget Nistico: community Member


Click here to support a SIL or FastForward venture!


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