An estimated 50 million people in the United States are at high risk of heart disease and/or stroke because they lack the most basic needs -; Access to healthy food, clean air and potable water, quality education, employment, housing and healthcare. Historically, people of color, including black and Hispanic/Latino people, have been at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) for these same reasons. Through the American Heart Association’s 2023 Empowered to Serve Business Accelerator™, three local social entrepreneurs have been awarded cash grants to continue innovative work to address health disparities at the community level nationwide. The American Heart Association, a global force for longer and healthier lives for all, recognized these individuals from a group of twelve finalists participating in the program.
Now in its seventh year, the Business Accelerator has engaged and celebrated the work of more than 100 individuals, nonprofits 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 are formally evaluated by the association’s professional science health metrics team and scored based on several criteria — health impact, innovation and scalability. From this group, twelve individuals were invited to participate in a six-week business accelerator “experience” and were challenged to identify and address a specific, measurable, health impact case study challenge. Responses to these case study challenges were evaluated and refined using design-thinking principles and data-driven customer discovery analytics. Finalists were challenged to blend their “moonshot” with practical business models taught as part of the program. Final grant recipients were ultimately selected by an independent panel that included technology entrepreneurs and small business investment experts and reviewed on October 19, 2023.
The following entrepreneurs were awarded three cash grants totaling $67,000 for their efforts:
1. $50,000 – Anna Lee, a fourth-year MD and Ph.D. Alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, founder and CEO of Corion Health. He is a patient and patient advocate who designed an electronic stethoscope for at-home heart and lung screening. Inspired by telemedicine visits that require patients to make an in-person doctor’s appointment after a telephone or virtual consultation, the stethoscope has a guided interface with a light to show where to place the stethoscope to capture accurate readings, thereby reducing the need for some patients. To travel to see a doctor.
2. $12,000 – Shavini Fernando, a web designer and developer specializing in video games and virtual reality, created Oxiware after suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension. Oxywear is the first ear-wearable pulse oximeter for continuous oxygen monitoring and low oxygen alert for risk of hypoxia, a condition in which insufficient oxygen is available at the tissue level to maintain adequate delivery.
3. $5,000 – Forty days before the closing ceremony, the “Fan Favorite” award went to Ashley Keys, executive chef at Center Helping Obesity in Children and Succeed (Choice), with the most votes by visitors on the event’s website. where she works with school children to create food crafts and help address food insecurity issues facing Atlanta families. The CHOICES Community Teaching Kitchen Project enables her to use her culinary skills and life experiences as she runs children’s summer camps, and hosts family cooking classes and mobile food pantries for the community.
The remaining nine finalists each received $1,000.
Since 2017, the American Heart Association, with the help of corporate sponsors, has awarded more than $1.1 million to social entrepreneurs and support organizations to help accelerate start-ups and address the social determinants of health in their communities. With the knowledge of the Empowered Serve for Business Accelerator, these local change makers can take the next step to improve health and wellness where they are needed most. We look forward to seeing innovative breakthroughs from this experience.”
Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association