ClearMask Wins $25,000 at Social Innovation Lab Impact+Innovation Forum
As Allysa Dittmar looked up at her surgery team’s masked faces, she felt isolated. Though nobly intended to prevent the spread of bacteria, the masks acted as a different type of barrier for Dittmar, who is deaf. Unable to read her doctors’ lips or see their expressions, and thus unable to understand or communicate, she felt less than human, she says.
Drawing upon this experience, the Johns Hopkins alumnus (Krieger School of Arts and Sciences 2014, Bloomberg School of Public Health 2017) co-founded ClearMask. The venture is developing the first full-face transparent surgical mask to improve communication between health care providers and their patients — especially children, those not proficient in English and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
As the company moves toward an NIH clinical trial (early 2019), FDA approval (fall 2019) and a product launch (late 2019), April 24, 2018 may stand out as a transformative moment. On that day, ClearMask won $25,000 at the Social Innovation Lab’s Impact+Innovation Forum and $15,000 at Village Capital’s pitch competition at Gallaudet University.
Dittmar says the funding will help ClearMask get to market faster as it will enable them to refine its product and manufacturing methods to maximize efficiency as well as to facilitate meetings and participation at other events.
“We’ve missed out on a fair amount of opportunities because interpreters were unavailable or not provided,” Dittmar says. “We have two team members who are deaf and use sign language to communicate, including myself. With this funding, we will be able to better support our deaf members by providing sign language interpreters for ClearMask’s meetings and outreach.”
In October, the Social Innovation Lab accepted ClearMask into its 2017-2018 cohort featuring innovative nonprofits, mission-driven companies and disruptive technologies. For six months, with the support of SIL Director Alex Riehm, ClearMask and the nine other ventures received funding, mentorship, office space and workshops.
“Throughout their time with the Social Innovation Lab, the ClearMask team has never hesitated to support other startups and members of the SIL cohort,” Riehm says. “This environment is exactly what SIL does best, and I’m happy to have shared this with ClearMask.”
ClearMask received the award based on peer evaluations given throughout the six-month program whereby cohort members ranked their peers in seven categories, including empathy, progress, experimentation and generosity.
“The peer feedback process allows us to share concrete opportunities and suggestions among teams throughout the cohort period,” Riehm says. “By taking every opportunity for feedback and improvement, we can better support our SIL teams and give them a chance to identify the winning team among them.”
Though ClearMask claimed the Impact+Innovation award, the nine other SIL teams made significant strides building ventures that will impact communities in Baltimore and beyond.
The 2017-2018 Social Innovation Lab cohort:
Bakku Technologies (formerly Active Bedsore Prevention System)
Challenge – Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, contribute to increased mortality rates and cost hospitals $11.5 billion annually.
Solution – This SIL team comprised of the winners of the 2017 Hopkins MedHacks competition and represented by Bloomberg School of Public Health master’s student Ruchee Shrestha is developing a medical device which senses and alleviates pressure to increase comfort and reduce the occurrence of bedsores and pressure ulcers.
Challenge – In 2016, Maryland lost 56 percent of its bees as part of an ongoing pollinator collapse.
Solution – Led by Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, BeeMore is a beekeeping cooperative that engages community members with pollinators and healthy lifestyles, promotes urban beekeeping and creates new beekeepers in Baltimore.
Challenge – Despite technological advances, health care requires a personal touch.
Solution – Led by Andrew York, Distribution Health combines cutting-edge health care technologies with compassionate personal care workers to provide individualized, high-quality care in the home.
The Growing Minds Initiative
Challenge – To provide sustainable access to education for orphaned and vulnerable children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Solution – Founded by Victoria Roberts, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences undergraduate student, The Growing Minds Initiative creates sustainable poultry and green vegetable farms to fund education and health care for orphaned and vulnerable children in that community.
Challenge – A recent study showed that LGBT youth are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than straight people.
Solution – Led by Ava Pipitone and Max Goodman, HostHome is developing an accessible home sharing platform that addresses housing instability in the LGBT community.
Hosts for Humanity
Challenge – In addition to medical bills, family members and caretakers often spend thousands for hotels as their loved ones receive treatment.
Solution – Founded by Jenny Owens — a University of Maryland, Baltimore faculty member and director of The Grid — Hosts for Humanity connects families and friends of patients traveling to receive medical care with volunteer hosts who provide accommodations in their own homes.
Mera Kitchen Collective
Challenge – Policies and systems can create structural barriers that make it difficult for immigrant and refugee women to gain access to resources and opportunities.
Solution – The Mera Kitchen Collecitve is led by five worker-owners who represent and work with immigrant and refugee communitess in Baltimore, including a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health alumnus and a staff member at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. As a food cooperative, they share the exceptional cuisine and stories of Baltimore’s newest neighbors.
Challenge – Trinidad & Tobago has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Solution – Led by Zindzi Thompson, a graduate student in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Neighbour, Neighbour is developing a mobile platform that promotes in-person social interaction in environments characterized by high-levels of insecurity.
Challenge – For citizens returning from prison, reentry programs drop re-offense rates to under 10 percent. However, Baltimore has no women’s work release centers.
Solution – Led by Bridget Nistico and Emily Thompson, PIVOT is developing a cohort support model for women returning from incarceration, providing access to housing, transportation, mental health car, addiction treatment, job training and more. Its pilot will launch this summer.