Social entrepreneurs are recognized nationally for their innovative local business solutions addressing health inequities
ARLINGTON, VA, NOVEMBER 15, 2023 – Approximately 50 million people in the United States are at higher risk for heart disease and/or stroke because they lack the most basic needs — healthy food, clean air and drinking water, quality education, employment, housing and access to health care. Historically, people of color — including Black and Hispanic/Latino people, are at even higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) for these same reasons.¹ Through the American Heart Association’s 2023 EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator™, three local social entrepreneurs have been awarded cash grants to continue the innovative work they are doing to address health inequities at the community level nationwide. The American Heart Association, a global force for longer healthier lives for all, has recognized these individuals from a group of twelve finalists who participated in the program.
Now in its seventh year, the Business Accelerator has engaged and celebrated the work of more than 100 individuals, non-profits and for-profits who are developing innovative ways to impact the health of the communities where they live, work and play. This year, the top 20 applications out of more than 200 were selected based on the strength of their existing business models as well as their ability to measurably impact health equity barriers. The finalists were then formally evaluated by the Association’s professional science health metrics team and scored based on a variety of criteria — health impact, innovation and scalability.
From this group, twelve individuals were then invited to participate in the six-week Business Accelerator “experience” and were challenged to identify and address a specific, measurable, health impact case study challenge. Responses to this case study challenge were evaluated and refined using design-thinking principles and data-driven customer discovery analyses. Finalist candidates were challenged to blend their “moonshots” with the practical business models taught as part of the program. Final grant recipients were ultimately selected by an independent panel that included tech entrepreneurs and small business investment experts and reviewed on October 19, 2023.
The grants recipients include:
- $50,000 – Anna Li, a fourth-year M.D. and Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, is the founder and CEO of Korion Health. She is a patient and patient advocate who has designed an electronic stethoscope for people to perform heart and lung screenings at home. Inspired by telemedicine visits that required patients to make in-person doctor’s appointments following a telephone or virtual consultation, the stethoscope includes a guided interface with a light to show where to put the stethoscope to capture the correct reading, thereby reducing the need for some patients to travel to visit a doctor.
- $12,000 – Shavini Fernando, a web designer and developer based in Arlington, Virginia, who specializes in video games and virtual reality, created OxiWear after being diagnosed with severe pulmonary hypertension. OxiWear is the first ear-wearable pulse oximeter for continuous oxygen monitoring and low oxygen warning for those at risk of hypoxia, a condition in which oxygen is not available in sufficient amounts at the tissue level to maintain adequate delivery.
- $5,000 – Receiving the most votes by visitors to the event website in the fourteen days prior to the finale, the “fan favorite” grant went to Ashley Keyes, executive chef at the Center Helping Obesity In Children End Successfully (C.H.O.I.C.E.S.). where she works with children in schools to make food art and helps solve food insecurity issues facing Atlanta families. The C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Community Teaching Kitchen Project enables her to use her culinary expertise and life experiences while she conducts children’s summer camps, and family cooking classes and hosts mobile food pantries for communities.
“Through the EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator, we’re equipping social entrepreneurs across the nation with the resources and knowledge to make a lasting impact in their communities,” said Soula Antoniou, Executive Director of the American Heart Association, Greater Washington Region. “We are thrilled to recognize Shavini as a local grant recipient in the Greater Washington Region and applaud her innovative approach to breaking down barriers to health and well-being.”
About the Business Accelerator
The application process ran from May through June 2023 and selected candidates participated in six weeks of intensive, online business training immediately following their selection into the Accelerator. The program’s core curriculum offers formal instruction on design thinking, customer discovery, market positioning, brand development, fundraising, and other essential business functions to help entrepreneurs enhance their business models and demonstrate the viability of projects.
Participant plans and presentations were judged by a panel of experts in the business, community and health sectors including Jason Barnett, senior vice president at Invest with Detroit, Courtney Couch, strategic advisor for Path Water & the VP of Marketing at Interscope Geffen Records, and Colby Takeda, MPH, MBA, co-founder, and chief executive officer of Pear Suite.
The finale was emceed by ShantaQuilette Carter Williams, an entrepreneur, inspirational and motivational speaker, and social media creator. For over twenty years, Ms. Carter Williams has used beauty, fashion and lifestyle to engage, entertain and inspire women from all walks of life.
View the full list of participants and details about the EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator here.
United Way ALICE: The Consequences of Insufficient Income 2017 Report