ClearMask startup wins $25,000 prize from Hopkins' Social Innovation Lab


Local startup ClearMask has landed $25,000 in funding as the winner of this year's cohort prize for Johns Hopkins' Social Innovation Lab.

The Social Innovation Lab program supports ventures with a social mission through funding, mentorship, office space and workshops. The lab received 84 applications for this year and ClearMask, which is working to bring an entirely transparent surgical mask to market, was one of 10 selected to participate in the cohort.

The cohort award recipient is selected based on peer evaluations by the other members of the lab.

“Throughout their time...the ClearMask team has never hesitated to support other startups and members of the SIL cohort," Alex Riehm, director of the Social Innovation Lab, said in a statement.

On the same night, ClearMask also won first place and $15,000 at a Village Capital pitch competition at Gallaudet University.

ClearMask is working toward gaining clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its surgical mask product. It is designed to help improve in-surgery communication between patients and medical staff, especially in cases where a patient might be deaf or hard of hearing.

Allysa Dittmar, a ClearMask co-founder, is deaf and has personally experienced a surgical situation in which a difficulty communicating made her feel confused and dehumanized. She wanted to create the ClearMask to help others avoid those feelings.

ClearMask was also recently accepted into the Maryland Technology Development Corp.'s mdPACE program. The initiative, funded by a U.S. Department of Commerce grant, is aimed at helping companies get their medical devices FDA cleared. MdPACE will help ClearMask gain clearance in 12-18 months, less than the 36-42 months typically needed by an inexperienced, unguided team. 

Shantell Roberts won the $25,000 from Social Innovation Lab last year to help fund her "baby box" startup concept. Her venture focuses on distributing Portable Alternative Cribs, which encourage safe sleep for infants and help prevent sudden infant death syndrome.

The funding award was announced during the lab's annual Impact+Innovation Forum Tuesday evening.