Tag: Social Innovation Lab

Social Ventures

New SIL Director Aiming to Strengthen Baltimore’s Social Innovation…

New SIL Director Aiming to Strengthen Baltimore’s Social Innovation Scene


Alex Riehm
Since 2011, the Social Innovation Lab (SIL) has supported 72 mission-driven ventures that have impacted a quarter million lives. The reach of this program and the opportunity to work hands-on with talented social entrepreneurs drew Alex Riehm to SIL, where he assumed the role of director in November.

After earning a master’s degree in international affairs from The George Washington University in 2010, Riehm oversaw 65 social enterprises, nonprofits and university initiatives as a portfolio manager for USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures fund. Many of the ventures he supported operated overseas, so while they often grew and benefited society, the physical distance made it difficult to build strong personal connections.

“My priority was to find an opportunity where I could have direct and supportive relationships with changemakers,” Riehm says. “Connections like these enable me to better understand the individual social entrepreneurs, their motivations and what they hope to achieve. Ultimately, this means I can provide better support and make a greater impact.”

Darius Graham, who served as SIL director for nearly four years before transitioning to a new role in Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures as director of student ventures, cited Riehm’s experience, vision and desire to build personal relationships as key traits that will help him succeed in leading SIL.

“Alex stood out because he already knows what it takes to grow emerging ventures and how programs like the Social Innovation Lab can help ventures avoid common roadblocks,” Graham says. “Given his experience, Alex is poised to refine the Social Innovation Lab’s model of helping ventures set and meet critical milestones that accelerate their work and help them make a measurable impact.”

Alex Riehm (right)
with the 2017-2018 SIL cohort

Riehm’s first order of business: ensuring that the 10 ventures in the 2017-2018 cohort experienced the sense of support, camaraderie and shared experience that SIL intends to cultivate. He has already crossed this off his to-do list.

“I wanted to prioritize building a mutually supportive cohort, but I was lucky to find that Darius had already created this culture,” Riehm says, noting that this year’s 10 SIL teams have had dinners and other get-togethers. “This year’s SIL cohort is flexible, they know what they want to achieve and are willing to iterate their approaches to get there. This creativity and nimbleness is exactly what programs like the Social Innovation Lab need.”

With a supportive environment in place, Riehm has shifted his focus to identifying and consolidating the resources and opportunities available to social entrepreneurs from myriad local and regional sources.

“I want the Social Innovation Lab to be a greater part of the city’s conversation about social innovation,” Riehm says. “I hope to use Johns Hopkins’ resources to connect smart teams to good work and vice versa. There’s a lot we can do to add to each other’s work.”

Riehm moved to Baltimore from Washington, D.C. only three years ago, but he happily calls this city home. He is particularly enamored and inspired by the creativity and commitment to impact that drives the city’s social entrepreneurship scene.

“Baltimore is a city where people devote generations of time and energy,” Riehm says. “It seems like the people I’ve met have five projects going on and work for two nonprofits. People invest a lot of themselves in building something here.

“This city feels like my home. I’m looking forward to investing my time and energy here, too.”

Click here to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab!


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 Heob: 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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