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. 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.
Three cash grants totaling $67,000 were awarded to the following entrepreneurs for their efforts:
1. $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.
2. $12,000 – Shavini Fernando, a web designer and developer 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.
3. $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.
Each of the nine remaining finalists received $1,000.
Since 2017, the American Heart Association, with the support of corporate sponsors, has awarded more than $1.1 million to help accelerate start-ups and provide needed assistance to social entrepreneurs and support organizations addressing the social determinants of health in their communities. With the knowledge gained in the EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator, these local change makers can take the next steps to improve health and wellness where they are needed most. We are eager to see the innovative breakthroughs that will come from this experience.”
Nancy Brown, chief executive officer, American Heart Association
American Heart Association