Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 1, 2023

On Friday, up to $500,000 will be invested in new startups at a Johns Hopkins Innovation Factory summit. Selected entrepreneurs will present their ideas to a panel of judges who can award up to $100,000 to each group.

“Our goal is to connect innovative ideas with the right people to develop businesses quickly. Stay hungry. Stay foolish,” the Innovation Factory website reads.

Ph.D. candidate Kunal Parikh serves as the Research and Development Director for The Innovation Factory, a student-run startup incubator at the Carey Business School. The Innovation Factory provides support for entrepreneurs, startup businesses and individuals associated with the university.

“Our goal is to see business as a tool,” Parikh said. “There are always obstacles and external limits to deal with, and we help teams navigate those challenges to create a workable product.”

The Innovation Factory is one example of a recent push from the University to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. The most notable way in which Hopkins is pursuing this is through investing in startup accelerators and innovation labs. The programs provide money, support and resources to university associated teams. The goal is to turn innovative ideas into tangible business models with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship.

On Sept. 20, President Ron Daniels announced the appointment of Christy Wyskiel as his new senior advisor for enterprise development. Wyskiel will be working directly with three university affiliated startup incubators: FastForward, the Social Innovation Lab and the Innovation Factory. She will also oversee their funding.

“This is an exciting moment for innovation and entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins, with new initiatives under development on a number of fronts,” Daniels wrote in a recent e-mail to the Hopkins community.

Wyskiel is well versed in the business world; she was the managing director of Maverick Capital, a hedge fund in control of $12 billion and has co-founded two Baltimore-based startups, while overseeing many more.

FastForward aims to improve conditions for startups affiliated with Hopkins. Along with funding for these groups, FastForward offers affordable laboratory space, legal guidance and mentoring. Additionally, the incubator provides opportunities for University students, including a lecture series, paid internships and business plan competitions.

Conceptualized in the Whiting School of Engineering, Fastforward received its University charter in 2011, and quickly caught on in the Carey Business School, the Krieger School of Arts and Science and the School of Medicine. Supporting eight startups this past winter, the group received 38 applications for funding in recent weeks and it is unclear how many will be granted monetary support from the University.

“It all started with this idea that JHU could potentially be the economic engine for the state of Maryland... we want to create more jobs and innovation locally,” John Fini, director of intellectual property and technology commercialization for the Whiting School of Engineering and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said. “Our goal is to spread the technology to society. We want to benefit people, not just let great ideas and innovations sit on shelves to collect dust. Our mission is to take the stuff and deploy it into the markets.”

Before coming to Hopkins in 2008, Fini served as Vice President of Entrepreneurial Services for Baltimore based Emerging Technology Centers — a non-profit incubator program focused on technology and biotechnology. Now he oversees the Homewood Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Commercialization and the Whiting School’s Technology Advisory Board and has helped grow 125 start-ups in the last eight years.

The group shows a slight preference to companies that specialize in hardware rather than software.

“Our sweet spot is companies that are actually building things,” Fini said.

FastForward works very closely with the School of Medicine and plans to continue and grow its interdisciplinary work in the future.

Two or three of the current groups, Clear Guide Medical and Circulomics, will be ready for launch in early 2014.

“We have the cream of the crop of Hopkins. Some of the companies are involved in potentially billion dollar markets,” Fini said. “We are designed to deploy technologies at Hopkins. We want these companies to be profitable, independent.”

The Social Innovation Lab, founded in 2011, aims to help aspiring entrepreneurs create companies that will impact and improve the local Baltimore Area.

After joining the project in 2012, Parikh, who also serves as Executive Director, created a program to better foster the implementation of ideas.

After applications are accepted, teams spend a year with the lab, working closely with entrepreneurs and learning how to create a self-sufficient company. Parikh based his business model off those of Y Combinator and 500 Startups, two of the most successful startup incubators in the nation which have nearly $50 million worth of capital between the two.

Projects are funded directly by the University, and teams are granted up to $1,000 initially, with the option for greater support when merited. Of the eight companies that went through the incubator last year, all but one succeeded in becoming self-sustaining.

Before arriving in Baltimore, Parikh devoted himself to social entrepreneurship in a different way. After graduating high school, he moved to India to study the tenets of Jainism and had aspired to become a monk.

“I went there for a while, and I remember thinking afterward ‘If I’m in a material world, what am I going to do? What’s my mission?’” Parikh said.

A monk suggested that though they live in an increasingly commercial world, he could still inspire people to seek justice within it.

Upon his return to the United States, Parikh enrolled in The Ohio State University, majoring in chemical engineering. After graduation, he founded Dollars 4 Change, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for local non-profits, and was CEO of Core Quantum Technologies, a biotech startup.

When he moved to Baltimore, Parikh looked for ways to give back to his new community. The revamping of the Social Innovation Lab is his latest project.

“Social Entrepreneurs care about the entire community, not just a profit margin,” Parikh said. “If you pay 10 cents to make a product you sell for 20 bucks, you’re a good entrepreneur, right? But not if you're hurting the local economy or community to do it. You want to minimize negative impacts and maximize the positive.”

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