Diversity & Inclusion
Accelerators / DEI / Startups / Universities

Gallaudet University and Village Capital helped startups get investor-ready

Eight deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs took part in the program, which ended with a pitch competition.

ClearMask's Aaron Hsu and Deborah Nathanson won $15K at the Gallaudet/Village Capital pitch competition. (Courtesy photo)
This post was updated at 4:15 p.m. on 5/7/18.

Gallaudet University and Village Capital helped startups prepare to approach investors  during the spring semester, culminating in an April pitch night where a startup developing a transparent surgical mask won $15,000.

Over 13 weeks, the program offered guidance to eight startups founded by deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs from the university and D.C. community, said Village Capital Marketing Manager Ben Wrobel.

The Gallaudet Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute partnered with the D.C.–based VC firm and received support from the Sorenson Impact Center to launch the program. It featured a series of workshops and mentorship from deaf and hard of hearing entrepreneurs, with Village Capital alumnus Jim Atwater, CEO of InReturn Strategies, serving as the facilitator. Village Capital teamed with Gallaudet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director Ryan Maliszewski and Program Coordinator Keith Doane.

“The programming was focused on helping the startups get closer to ‘investment-ready.’ The curriculum was based around Village Capital’s VIRAL Pathways, which is a common language for entrepreneurs and investors, and helps entrepreneurs their strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of an investor,” Wrobel said.

At the April 24 pitch competition, ClearMask was selected as the recipient of $15,000 in funding. As our sister site Technical.ly Baltimore reported, the startup grew out of cofounder and President Allysa Dittmar’s experience struggling to understand doctors during final prep for surgery when an interpreter did not show up. The company is developing a surgical mask that shows the full face, allowing deaf and hard of hearing patients to lip-read, as well as better communication for all patients. On the night of the pitch competition, CEO Aaron Hsu and CDO Deborah Nathanson pitched at the Village Capital competition, while Dittmar, Inez Lam and Elyse Heob received $25,000 from the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab following a pitch in Baltimore.

Here’s a look at all of the companies who pitched, with info from Village Capital:

MunXe: A food delivery service for college students delivering from on-campus dining services and restaurants led by Matt Sherman and Logan Waldo. The company came in second place, winning $8,000.

PhenomWorks: A production company creating academic and testimonial videos founded by Andy Tao and Andrew St. Cyr. The company earned $4,000 with a third place finish.

Raw Caffe: Brandon Williams founded a platform simplifying the process of finding coffee, tea and chocolate from producers all over the world. Williams won the $500 Judge’s Choice.

FEEL Magazine: A magazine celebrating Deaf, Deaf+, and HOH artists created by Nikolya Sereda.

Eventida: Lisi Whitworth and Lee Whitworth created a platform seeking to make events more inclusive and accessible for underserved audiences.

CorpsTHAT: Sachiko Bixler and Emma Flores cofounded a startup that promotes ASL Inclusion Crews in Conservation Corps, and provides inclusion and interpreter training in outdoor settings.

PahRooms: A platform creating inclusive and deaf-friendly room and event bookings founded by Pinky Collie.


Companies: Gallaudet University / Village Capital

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