Social Innovation Lab announces 13 winning proposals

A website that facilitates the purchase of American-made products, an SAT/ACT prep service for underresourced Baltimore youth, and a portable patient profile app for children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities are three of the Johns Hopkins student–led projects selected for the 2013–14 cohort of the Social Innovation Lab, an early-stage incubator founded in 2011 by Johns Hopkins students.

In September, the lab put out a call for applications aimed at Johns Hopkins entrepreneurs who had concepts to help their fellow man. The 13 winning proposals were selected from 45 submissions.

The SIL looks to support promising companies that target innovative solutions to local and global problems. The organization provides funding, mentorship, development workshops, media exposure, and other resources and services to transform ideas into mission-driven organizations with sustainable business models. The funds are made possible through the support of the Office of the President.

For the 2013–14 cohort, the SIL will seed the projects up to $1,000 per team, and provide a broad range of other resources and support.

President Ronald J. Daniels is scheduled to speak at the kickoff event for the new endeavors at 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, in the atrium of the Smith Building, 400 N. Broadway, East Baltimore. Attendees will be able to learn more about the projects and network with other socially motivated individuals.

Over the next six months, leaders of the projects will meet with SIL members and guest speakers in biweekly workshops, where they will refine their ideas, learn how to fundraise, develop a business plan, and possibly scale up the concepts to reach a wider audience.

Kunal Parikh, executive director of the Social Innovation Lab and a graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, says that the project teams are currently in different phases of development.

"Some have already moved forward and are doing work, whereas for others it's still just an idea with some research behind it," he says. "We were looking for proposals that attempted to solve something really important and worthwhile and had the potential to do great things. We're excited about this collection of ideas and where these students will take them."

The team behind Important Information About Me wants to solve a communication problem. Children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities often have very complex medical histories and long-term care needs. Without a guardian present, sharing their unique personal story may be difficult, owing to challenges in communication, cognition, or motor function. The project, a comprehensive patient portability profile app, was conceived as a standard tool to be used in a hospital setting and to assist transition of care from a pediatric facility to community providers.

The Buy American Pact is designed to enable participants to "do their part in building a stronger American future," according to the group's proposal. Users will commit to purchasing a chosen dollar amount of American-made goods each month. A website will act as a conduit to a curated selection of American-made goods available online, and also will feature Made in USA news and product information to assist in substituting purchases of goods typically foreign-made with ones that are American-made.

The SAT/ACT Prep for Under-Resourced Baltimore Youth project will be a Web and mobile platform designed to help students learn and retain information more efficiently. Hundreds of SAT/ACT practice questions will be freely accessible via both the osmosis.org site and a free mobile app that pushes questions.

To date, SIL has incubated 20 student-led projects across a range of sectors, from health care to medtech, and global health to employment re-entry. Startups include a nonprofit health clinic in East Baltimore (Charm City Clinic), a fruit delivery service (Froots & Co.), a mentorship project for teens with a desire and promise to become physicians (MERIT), and a website that allows people diagnosed with curable STDs to send anonymous emails to their partners to let them know they should get tested (So They Can Know).

The Social Innovation Lab takes a holistic approach to developing and scaling social enterprises, aiding in team recruitment, identifying mentors, providing a yearlong curriculum, and hosting networking opportunities, all culminating in an annual Pitch Day in May designed to showcase the work of each team and rally community support.

This year, SIL partnered with MICA's Master of Arts in Social Design Program to provide students with design expertise and additional leadership.

The full list of the projects can be found at http://thesocialinnovationlab.org.

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