Va. Startups In Nationwide InnovateHer Biz Challenge

By Tara Bozick
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

Two local woman-led startups are competing for a chance to win $30,000 in a nationwide InnovateHer women business innovation contest launched in March by the Small Business Administration.

An app-based caregiver resource and service Care Keepers Inc. based in Newport News and medical device startup Tympanogen in Norfolk were both selected by judges in local InnovateHer competitions to move onto the next round.

SBA officials will next select 10 finalists from entrepreneurs selected by local judges across the country.
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Those finalists will pitch their ideas to judges in Washington, D.C., on May 8 to compete for $30,000 in prize money from Microsoft, according to an SBA news release. Judging is based on a product or service having a measurable impact on women and their families, filling a need in the marketplace and the potential for commercialization.

“InnovateHer — I think it’s a very positive thing for women, and for it to be focused on businesses that are geared to help women,” said Jaynee Sasso, the founder of Care Keepers. “I think it’s good to focus on the social cause of a business idea rather than just the financial gain.”

Sasso pitched with three other startups at the Hampton InnovateHer hosted by the Peninsula Technology Incubator on March 16. Care Keepers aims to help provide a break to caregivers by running errands like picking up paperwork, checking in on loved ones or even buying groceries.

“The clients I have are all women,” Sasso said. “It’s helping them to balance all of their responsibilities so they are not in it alone.”

Jesse Ranney, Tympanogen chief medical officer, filled in for wife and Tympanogen President and CEO Elaine Horn-Ranney to pitch Thursday at the Women’s Business Center at Old Dominion University Business Gateway.

Tympanogen is developing a gel patch therapy that can repair perforations — holes or tears — in children’s ear drums that result from middle ear infections or the tubes used to treat the infections, said Ranney, also a pediatrician. The gel substance falls into the perforation and is cured with a blue light into a patch that allows the cells to regrow while the gel degrades away.

The in-clinic procedure is less invasive and less expensive than the surgery needed to repair the ear drum, Ranney said. It also reduces stress on children and their parents.

Tympanogen entered InnovateHer not only for the chance to win money but also to get the word out about what it can do and to establish contacts that could help grow the business, he said.

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