Education / Events / Startups / Universities

6 student-led startups we met at Innov8MD’s Baltimore and Beyond Conference

From brain disease to diversity in cosmetics, here's a look at how university student entrepreneurs are solving problems with new products.

Student entrepreneurs at the 2019 Baltimore and Beyond conference. (Courtesy photo)
While attending classes and studying for degrees, students at local universities are finding time for entrepreneurship.

On a Friday night inside 1100 Wicomico, the focus was on these ventures as Innov8MD’s Baltimore and Beyond Conference provided space for the student founders to showcase their work and pick up tips on building and leading a business.

On the latter point, the Nov. 8 event featured a keynote from Evan Lutz, who started Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest while attending University of Maryland College Park.

“The first thing you need is a learning mindset,” he said.

At stations around the Pigtown event space, student entrepreneurs had a chance to talk about how they got started and let the 300 attendees take a look at their technology, consumer products and art.

It was the second edition of the conference organized by Innov8MD, an organization formed by university entrepreneurship centers from UMBC, Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland Baltimore, Towson University, University of Maryland College Park, Morgan State, University of Baltimore and MICA.

Programming expanded this year with more resources, and one of those was a crowd favorite award.

University of Maryland College Park’s Break Box Recycling was voted as the winner. Founded by Ryan Perpall, the venture makes Cullet Chains, which are necklaces made of recycled broken glass that are designed to remind people of their inner strength. It also has a glass-throwing trailer that allows people to throw containers against a “break wall.” The glass is then repurposed. Break Box won a $500 cash grant and $5,000 worth of in-kind support services.

Here are some other student-run ventures we met:

McCoy’s Kombucha

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Alina Pannone started McCoy’s Kombucha. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Alina Pannone told us about the customizable kombucha brand she is growing at Johns Hopkins. She said kombucha is a healthy alternative to soda, and she’s spreading the message with a variety of flavors that are made of natural ingredients. The university setting provides lots of chances to feedback from fellow students.

“I host my own workshops, I attend events like this and sometimes I like to do A/B taste tests,” she said. During an event, she’ll offer 10 different flavors, and see what folks like.

Deborah Weidman

Deborah Weidman (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Deborah Weidman. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

An undergraduate biomedical engineering student at Johns Hopkins, Weidman is also leading a team out of the Neuroplastic Surgery Lab at Bayview Hospital that is developing a new way to deliver medical treatment to the brain. Dr. Chad Gordon, a reconstructive surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medicine, performs procedures that reconstruct the skull and can be harnessed to help treat diseases like cancer.

Weidman described his thinking this way: “Instead of just putting in hollow cranial implants, what if we put in embedded functional technology like a medicine delivery system?”

The team is initially focusing on creating a device to treat glioblastoma.

Iced Out Cosmetics

Isha Kamara of Iced Out Cosmetics. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Isha Kamara of Iced Out Cosmetics. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Isha Kamara combined a passion for cosmetics and knowledge from both her business-owning parents and a minor in tech and entrepreneurship at University of Maryland College Park to start Iced Out Cosmetics.

“Doing my makeup gives me a reason to want to go out because I feel good, I look good. I would go into stores and see that there were not products that fit my skin complexion,” she said. And she also saw a lack of representation in companies among African Americans as well as men and transgendered people in companies that she admires.

She reinvested a refund check to start the brand with glitters and lashes, and has since expanded to eyeshadow palettes, lip products and highlighters. Next is foundations, concealers and blushes. She currently has an ecommerce store for distribution, as well as in-person sales, with an eye toward partnering with a retailer.


Team Synapto (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Team Synapto. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

At University of Maryland College Park, a team that includes Christopher Look, David Boegner, Anoop Patel and Daruv Patel is bringing machine learning to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. As freshmen, the bioengineers started to build software that are designed to make correlations between brainwave measurements in a patient and comparing those with healthy brainwaves. They want to move toward testing it on patients.

Paper, etc.

Paper, etc.

Ananya Mohan, Charlotte Russell and Olivia Schrecengost of Paper, etc.

MICA students Ananya Mohan, Charlotte Russell and Olivia Schrecengost want to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly art practice with a much-used item around the Baltimore arts college: sketchbooks.

“We get donations of old used-up sketchbooks and we recycle them to create new ones, which we give to fellow art-makers at discounted prices,” Mohan said.

They’re planning to install drop-off boxes where students can drop off used sketchbooks, then they want to partner with a recycling company to help create new sketchbooks. An app is also in the works.


Karotene was founded by Akshay Peshav

Karotene was founded by Akshay Peshav. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Growing out of Akshay Peshave’s Ph.D. research into how to teach machines to learn the way humans do, Karotene aims to bring new tools to research and the development of new ideas.

“You work on your ideas and we’ll discover all the resources you need to make those happen, automatically,” the UMBC graduate student said of the platform.

Karotene applies machine learning to help take a keyword to a description to an overall concept. He also wants to help students go deeper and broader in their research. This is all done through web interface where the researchers can collaborate in teams.

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) / University of Maryland, Baltimore / Johns Hopkins University / Maryland Institute College of Art / Morgan State University / Towson University / University of Baltimore / University of Maryland / University of Maryland College Park

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