Tag: Social Innovation Lab

Social Ventures

SIL Bootcamp Inspires Budding Social Entrepreneurs to Move Forward

SIL Bootcamp Inspires Budding Social Entrepreneurs to Move Forward

James Shamul’s idea for bringing positive change to Baltimore grew out of shaggy hair and a lack of options for a quick, reasonably priced clip. A member of The Johns Hopkins University’s class of 2017, Shamul noticed many of his peers had similar feelings about the inconvenient walk, bus ride or Uber to an off-campus barber that charged $20 or more for a haircut.

University student enterprise regulations made an on-campus barber shop a near impossibility, Shamul learned, but a vehicle outfitted with chairs, scissors, clippers and licensed talent could provide a convenient solution. Furthermore, it could have a nonprofit component where it provides Baltimore’s homeless with haircuts and access to other support, such as employment opportunities.

With the idea set, a name (BarberFleet) and partners (Jamie Chen, a freshman at The Johns Hopkins University, and Louis DeRidder, a Johns Hopkins visiting student), Shamul was off to a great start, but he had little idea about next steps.

On April 29, he, along with about 20 others interested in developing a social venture, attended the Social Innovation Lab’s (SIL) Bootcamp. The event condensed SIL’s six-month curriculum into a single day to show participants how to lead change as a social entrepreneur, develop an idea into an actionable plan and identify and secure funding.

SIL’s Bootcamp helped social entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

Shamul says some of the best lessons covered “small details that could end up making a big difference,” such as identifying funding sources and learning how to ask questions, address challenges and forecast future problems. However, the camaraderie between the like-minded attendees also proved beneficial.

“Being around others who are undergoing the same challenges or who have similar questions as I do made me feel better about where I was,” Shamul says. “It also made me a lot more passionate about what we’re doing.”

SIL Director Darius Graham designed this year’s Bootcamp, about a quarter the size of the first, to provide more one-on-one feedback and to help attendees cultivate relationships.

“We created this Bootcamp to help very early-stage changemakers gain skills and to think strategically about launching their social venture,” Graham says. “Our first Bootcamp in October 2016 served about 100 Baltimore area residents, but we intentionally made this one smaller so attendees could connect more with each other and develop relationships to help carry their work forward.”

Sabrina Dépestre, an educator and writer with Technical.ly Baltimore, attended the Bootcamp to move forward an idea she says she hasn’t fully fleshed out. She envisions building a venture that connects the area’s movers, shakers and policy makers in the health and wellness space.

“I want to bring together all the faces of health and wellness in Baltimore to see what they’re working on and to create this blueprint of collaboration other cities can use to strengthen their cities,” Dépestre says.

With such an ambitious idea, Dépestre was unsure of where to start, especially considering the early stage of her venture. After only a few hours at the Bootcamp, though, that uncertainty disappeared. Dépestre says she has a better idea for how she and her business partner, Karlene Graham, a Johns Hopkins University alumnus, can move forward.

“What the Bootcamp provided me was the momentum to keep going. I realized I wasn’t alone in this very infant state of my idea,” Dépestre says. “Darius was able to provide very specific action plans and action items that I could take home and run with.”

With a clearer path to create a successful social venture, both Shamul and Dépestre are eager to put their ideas into motion but understand they may need help along the way. Over the next few months, each intends to take action based on information from the Bootcamp and will seek further support by applying to SIL’s 2017-2018 cohort in August.

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10 Social Ventures Present Visions for a Better World,…

10 Social Ventures Present Visions for a Better World, The PAC Wins $25,000

Ten social ventures. One $25,000 award. Thousands of people benefiting from emerging social ventures.

Those numbers only begin to summarize Tuesday evening’s Impact+Innovation Forum, the Social Innovation Lab’s (SIL) culminating event for its 2016-2017 cohort of nonprofit and mission-driven businesses.

“The ventures in this cohort started out strong, having made it through a competitive selection process with 53 applicants,” says SIL Director Darius Graham. “Throughout the six-month program, these teams worked hard, learned a great deal and, in some cases, pivoted their approach.

“The forum was our way of publicly sharing their vision for a better Baltimore and world with our larger community of supporters.”

Though each of the SIL ventures has made strides in providing a measurable impact to communities in Baltimore and beyond, The Portable Alternative Crib (PAC) received a $25,000 award to accelerate its mission of lowering the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome across Maryland. The organization’s founder, Shantell Roberts, provides families with young children information and resources, including a certified sleeping space, that keep babies safe.

“Parenthood is one of those weird spaces for which you could never truly be prepared,” Roberts said during her presentation, noting that new parents often receive well-intentioned advice. “But what if the information they gave you was unsafe? Or it didn’t work? Or led you to create an unsafe environment for your baby?”

In 2011, Roberts’ 1-year-old daughter was one of the more than 100 infant deaths that occur in Baltimore each year. Because of this tragedy, Roberts endeavored to ensure no other family had to endure the loss of a child.

Roberts, a safe sleep coordinator for Baltimore who joined SIL as a community member with no affiliation to Johns Hopkins, says the city has had six unsafe sleeping deaths of babies in the first quarter of 2017 alone. The PAC’s solution—a rectangular box only a couple of feet long—provides a certified, comfortable and safe sleeping space for babies.

For the immediate future, Roberts has set The PAC on a 100 box initiative. By selling 100 of the $150 boxes, which include maternal self-care and infant care items, she will have funding to send 100 additional boxes to organizations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The $25,000 award she received from the Social Innovation Lab will go a long way in helping her achieve that goal.The PAC received the reward based on peer evaluations within SIL’s 2016-2017 cohort. Four times from January through April, each venture rated their peers on a four-point scale across seven categories:

Compelling spokesperson – A palpable passion, enthusiasm or commitment to their venture
Vision for impact – A reasonably ambitious vision for making an impact in a substantial way
Vision for venture – A reasonably ambitious vision for their venture’s future size, scale, impact and profile
Resilience – Acknowledgement of challenges and dedication to overcome them
Empathy – An extensive understanding of and empathy for the beneficiary of the venture
Progress – Demonstrated growth or development of the venture during the program
Generosity – Offering time, contacts or ideas to help others in the cohort

“We were inspired to create this peer review process for the award based on the work that Village Capital has done via their Peer Selected Investment Model,” Graham says. “Having such a process where the cohort provides ongoing feedback to each other and where that feedback determines the winner of the award helps us identify the team that best exemplifies what we look for in entrepreneurs.”

Though PAC received top honors at the event, the nine other nonprofits and mission-driven businesses have benefited communities in Baltimore and around the world.

Click here to watch the SIL ventures present at the Impact+Innovation Forum.


Using dirt bike culture as a platform to repair and build relationships in the community, provide a pathway to career opportunities and unite the community.

Presenter: Brittany Young, founder

Inspiration: Became an engineer despite being told she couldn’t because of her race, the community in which she grew up and the fact her parents lacked degrees
Key fact: Children as young as 5 either ride dirt bikes or want to be dirt bike riders
Quote: “Riders, regardless of where they come from, deserve a safe place.”

Beacon Tech

A mobile app for anonymous, text-based, group therapy that uses artificial intelligence.

Presenter: Ravi Shah, co-founder

Inspiration: Saw friend suffering from mental health illness, but she feared judgment in treatment
Key fact: One in five people in the United States suffer from a mental health illness
Quote: “That community and support [my friend who suffered mental illness received] was limited to just 90 minutes a week, but her depression wasn’t scheduled.” — Ravi Shah, co-founder, Beacon Tech

Bent Carrot

Empowering families to eat well by connecting them with essential kitchen tools and fostering a community brought together by a passion for improving its food environment.

Presenter: Mark Corser, founder, Bent Carrot

Inspiration: Lived in a Baltimore food desert with the nearest grocery store 20 blocks away
Key fact: 30 percent of children in Baltimore live in a food desert
Quote: “The Kitchen Kit allows families to prepare fresh, healthy foods in their own homes, on their own terms.”


A mobile app that improves access to comprehensive primary health care for remote and underserved communities through telemedicine.

Presenter: Neha Goel, CEO, Intelehealth

Inspiration: From India, Goel noticed existing telemedicine solutions inadequate for rural populations as they require high bandwidth or are specific to a single illness
Key fact: 400 million people around the world lack access to basic health care services
Quote: “They have to travel long distances and spend an inordinate amount of money to get the care that you and I take for granted.”


Providing supplies and support to breastfeeding moms at work.

Presenter: Meg Stoltzfus, founder, Lacstation

Inspiration: Manager of breastfeeding support program had to race to provide nursing mothers missing equipment
Key fact: Four in five mothers breastfeed when a baby is born, but that rate drops to two in five after three months
Quote: “Breastfeeding is one of the most valuable preventative health measures a mom can take.”

The Listening Lab

A music education program that teaches students concentration, awareness and listening skills through a series of classroom sessions and live orchestra concerts

Presenter: Rebecca Smithorn, founder, The Listening Lab

Inspiration: Education conductor of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
Key fact: Intentional listening allows people to lose themselves in music as they would a great movie or book
Quote: “A lot of our students face hurdles daily that infringe on their ability to sustain awareness.”

Project Charmify

Bringing small-scale investment to Baltimore communities in the form of vacant lot revitalization and community-driven programming

Presenter: Elyse Oliver, president & co-founder

Inspiration: Grew up in Biddeford, Maine, a town that hadn’t seen investment since the heyday of its textile mills in the 1960s
Key fact: Sixty-five percent of Baltimore’s 7,500 city-owned vacant spaces have no plans for future revitalization
Quote: “I was involved in the revitalization efforts of Biddeford’s downtown during my senior year of high school. That involvement dramatically changed my perception of the city.”


Connecting community members to play pickup sports, while generating revenue for community centers and recreation facilities.

Presenter: Nikhil Panu, founder

Inspiration: The captain of the Johns Hopkins basketball team, Panu has long had an interest in sports but struggled to find people to play with and places to do it
Key fact: In its initial launch in Baltimore, Squadz had 130 bookings of space at recreation centers over a period of weeks
Quote: “We see people from various neighborhoods coming together, and this is all through sports.”

The Whole Teacher

Increasing the health, happiness and retention of educators by streaming wellness programming into schools.

Presenter: Jenna Shaw, founder and CEO

Inspiration: Began teaching in Baltimore public schools nine years ago, and each year she saw fewer and fewer of her colleagues returning to the classroom
Key fact: At 35 percent, Baltimore’s turnover rates for teachers are twice the national average
Quote: “Schools don’t have the resources or knowledge they need to truly support our educators

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