At Emory University’s The Hatchery, Students’ Imaginations Are Limitless
By Kelundra Smith
Anything is possible at The Hatchery, Center for Innovation at Emory University. The center opened in spring 2020 and supports student innovators and entrepreneurs as well as related programs across campus. When students come into The Hatchery with a project or startup, they receive support for all stages of innovation, including inspiration, purpose and learning.
To support student ventures, The Hatchery offers three programs: The Hatchery Discovery Incubator, where students receive an individualized idea-stage grant and coaching; The Hatchery Development Accelerator, a peer-to-peer accelerator and seed-funding program; and The Hatchery Founder Fellows Program, which offers a grant and mentorship to support business modeling and sustainability.
In these programs, students are encouraged to start where they are and to work on what motivates them. Shannon Clute, director of The Hatchery, says, “One of the most common student projects is starting a nonprofit, so human-centered design helps them empathize with the end-user’s need. Diversity, equity and inclusion are also top-of-mind for our student innovators, so we help apply DEI to their work.”
In addition, The Hatchery offers an array of skill-building and networking opportunities for students to learn about innovation and entrepreneurship from thought leaders in these areas. They also have the chance to connect with other innovators and entrepreneurs from across Emory and the City of Atlanta.
On March 24, The Hatchery held the first-annual Student Founder Showcase. During the evening event, 20 undergraduate and graduate student innovators had four minutes each to present their ideas and six minutes to take questions from attendees. At the event, Emory Provost Ravi Bellamkonda commended the students for having the courage to create.
“What’s powerful about the idea of creating something new is that it’s a leap of faith,” Bellamkonda says. “It requires a certain amount of optimism and tolerance for the possibility of it not working out…but I also believe the world is bendable. I don’t believe that the world is already created. Through creating a new app or business, you create the world.”
Meet nine of these student innovators—and their projects and ventures.
Ronald Allen, Candler School of Theology, Master of Divinity student focusing on 18th-century African American Christianity, Class of 2023
Project: POP Debate addresses the dearth of afterschool activities for middle-grade and high school students as well as declining youth participation in churches. The program combines spiritual content with critical thinking and debate skills to inspire confidence and pride in underserved youth. Students learn and engage with the techniques of competitive speech, devise and research their own resolutions, and finally perform exhibition debate tournaments. This project is supported by The Hatchery Discovery Incubator.
Inspiration: “I was always looking for a similar program structure and concept during my own childhood., to no avail,” Allen says. “I attended my first Black history community-based out-of-school-time program during the summer of sixth grade year. The program was hosted in the historic First Iconium Baptist Church basement, and the pride that program instilled into me is the motivation for mass-producing POP Debate for Black communities nationwide.”
Evidence: POP Debate completed a six-week pilot in summer 2021 at the Regional Youth
Detention Center (RYDC) under the direction of the Department of Juvenile Justice Chaplaincy program. Twenty-four RYDC youth attended two-hour POP Debate lessons for four weeks. RYDC staff and volunteers credit the program with reducing violent incidents and increasing civic and social participation by registered youth.
Adway Gopakumar, Emory College, neuroscience and behavioral biology, Class of 2023
Project: Liberation Through Education is a nonprofit that provides emergency funding for schools in the U.S. and abroad that are on the verge of closing because of structural damages and/or lack of funding for books and supplies. This project is supported by The Hatchery Founder Fellows Program and the Rotary Club of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Inspiration: “I think I speak for a lot of students whose parents emigrated to the States when I say we had opportunities because they took a leap of faith,” Gopakumar says. “Education can be used as an escape. When I go back to India, I’m reminded of the situations my parents grew up in. Their parents told them education is the single most important thing to secure yourself a good future.”
Evidence: Gopakumar’s first project was a Rotary Club-sponsored trip to a school in India. Liberation Through Education has since raised money to help six schools in four countries.
John Gulledge, Laney Graduate School, PhD candidate in Department of English, Class of 2023
Project: The Puck Project is a Shakespeare-performance ethics program for kids at Nicholas House, a long-term homeless shelter in Atlanta. Gulledge created The Puck Project with two peers, Kelly Duquette, a PhD student in English specializing in Shakespeare and early modern literature, and Mary Taylor Mann, a PhD student in English specializing in 18th and 19th century British literature. They hope to create a legacy fund for the program so future Laney students can continue engaging with the community. This project is supported by The Hatchery, the Jones Program in Ethics, the English department and a Mellon PhD Intervention Grant.
Inspiration: “The Puck Project is built on the idea of empathetic imagination, which we see as its own kind of literacy,” Gulledge says. “The project is meant to respond to the lack of community-engaged work and public scholarship in academia, and in graduate studies in particular.”
Evidence: Through performance, campers engage in building community, acknowledging and addressing the emotions of others, as well as attending to one’s own emotions. By the end of the summer program, they put on a play for parents and guardians.
Alison Hoover, Rollins School of Public Health, Master of Public Health, Class of 2021
Project: The Dignity Pack Project distributes hygiene, sexual health and personal protective equipment to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. Hoover and her collaborators, April Ballard — who is a PhD candidate in environmental health sciences — and Katie Leite, who is also pursuing a master’s degree at Rollins, take a “harm-reduction” approach to working with people experiencing homelessness. Emory volunteers go out almost every other weekend and set items out for kit recipients to take whatever they need. This project is supported by The Hatchery Discovery Incubator, Rollins School of Public Health, Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, PERIOD the menstrual movement, Georgia 55, Homeless Period Project Atlanta, Atlanta Track Club and EYP, Inc.
Inspiration: “Initial COVID-19 protection guidance — wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your distance — required access to a face mask, soap and water and the privilege of being able to keep your distance, none of which is a given for people experiencing homelessness,” Hoover says. “At the same time that the need for soap and water became imperative, access to it became even more constricted, with shelters limiting service or closing altogether. Our goal was to fill in those gaps and provide access to the supplies people needed to stay clean, healthy and dignified.”
Goals: The initial funding for The Dignity Pack Project was intended to last six weeks, but with support from various entities and people purchasing items on their Amazon wish list, they have been able to distribute more than 1,500 kits in the past 18 months. Hoover says they hope to work with other service providers in Atlanta to make these products available on demand as services and shelters scale back up.
Katie Kartchner, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Master of Nursing, Class of 2021
Project: Clear Health is an artificial intelligence-powered mobile app that can instantly and easily guide a patient and their provider through their insurance coverage in order to avoid surprise medical bills. This project is supported by The Hatchery Discovery Incubator and The Hatchery Founder Fellows Program.
Inspiration: Kartchner encountered surprise medical bills after the birth of her first son. During the time she wanted to bond with her baby, she had to mine her insurance policy to get bills paid for services that were already a part of her coverage. As a nursing student, she discovered many of her patients were facing similar situations and wanted to help.
Goals: “My professors always reminded us that a nurse’s role is to advocate for their patients,” Kartchner says. “I never want a patient to be scared of getting the help they need. I want patients to be able to weigh all the true costs and benefits of care, be empowered, be able to feel in control of their care and ultimately be healthier and happier.”
Simran Modi, Emory School of Law, Class of 2022
Project: InvestRE is an app that will allow users to make micro investments in real estate just as they would in the stock market. They plan to partner with holding companies and owners of long-term rental properties that need investment outside of a traditional business loan. This project is supported by The Hatchery Development Accelerator and the Emory Entrepreneurship Summit Pitch Competition hosted by Goizueta Business School.
Inspiration: “It’s hard for someone without a lot of capital or investment experience to invest in real estate,” Modi says. “Nowadays, you pay a minimum of $200k for a condo way outside of Atlanta. People don’t have that kind of money, but they want to put money into investments that will give them a good rate of return.”
Goals: Once the app is fully developed, Modi wants to expand across the U.S. so that people can invest in their communities and have a diverse portfolio. She also wants to add an educational component, so users learn how to grow their money, prepare for retirement and reach their financial goals.
Rae Hunter, Laney Graduate School, PhD candidate in the cancer biology program, Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Class of 2022
Project: The Celia R. Rowland Cancer Research Program will help close the diversity gap in cancer research. This diversity gap exists not only in STEM occupations but in patient clinical data as well. The program aims to provide continued support, mentorship and research experiences for minority middle and high school students interested in this area.
Inspiration: Hunter says that in college she did not believe she was smart enough to pursue a PhD in cancer research, mainly because she had never seen anyone who looks like her do it before. Now, in her PhD program at Emory, she sees the absence of people of color in the field and wants to create more inclusion.
Lessons: “The Hatchery has taught me that my vision is attainable, and it can be fully realized,” Hunter says. “I have learned not to place limits on myself but to dream in vibrant color without boundaries. I have also learned invaluable tools to develop my cancer research program and run a nonprofit.”
Pratisth Pandey, Emory College and Goizueta School of Business, pre-finance and political science, Class of 2024
Project: Vicinity is a web browser extension designed to remove bias from news consumption while also providing readers with a broader perspective. Once a person visits any article, the extension will allow them to view a summary of the article using an artificial intelligence tool. The summary generated by AI will save users time and hopefully eliminate bias from the way people comprehend the news. The extension will also provide a broader perspective to users by showcasing multiple news sources for a given story.
Inspiration: During the 2016 presidential election, the polls projected Hillary Clinton to be the winner, but Donald Trump won. Pandey realized “something was broken in how we poll or how the news was reported.” He then started researching news bias and how people consume news, which led him to realize that most people don’t view a lot of different political news sources. He hopes Vicinity will give people a more balanced news diet that emphasizes facts more than political divisions.
Lessons: “The first iteration was for a mobile app, and what we realized is that apps are hard to create,” Pandey says. ”A web-browser approach is easier for where we are now. A man from Microsoft [came to the showcase] and he basically walked us through what we should do. Meeting people like that who want to see me succeed and prosper is really helpful.”
Jordyn Turner, Emory College and Goizueta School of Business, sociology and business administration, Class of 2022
Project: Ed(you) is a platform that offers targeted tutoring and personalized resources for K-12 students. It is an extension of Turner’s business, A+ Academic Services, where Emory students tutor kids in DeKalb and Fulton counties. This project is supported by the Center for Entrepreneurship at Goizueta, The Hatchery Discovery Incubator, The Hatchery Development Accelerator and The Hatchery Founder Fellows Program.
Inspiration: After running A+ Academic Services, Turner realized that students want education that is inclusive and individualized. However, most public schools map curriculum to standardized testing and collegiate standards. As a result, public school students experience critical learning gaps that limit their choices. Ed(you) is designed to put students in the driver’s seat, so that those who feel underestimated learn what they are good at and have the confidence to pursue it.
Lessons: “The Hatchery reconceptualized innovation for me,” Turner says. “Innovative ideas come from all disciplines and from some of the most unassuming people. Being involved with The Hatchery helped me gain a deeper appreciation for individual thought. Brilliance is truly all around us. Moreover, everyone is a leader. It just takes the right environment and resources to bring it out of them.”