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Washington DC Health Innovation QuickFire Challenge

Challenge ended

Up to $250,000 in total grant funding from WDCEP

Medical Devices
Digital Health



Mae Logo


Mae is a culturally competent digital health platform connecting Black expectant mothers with critical resources to drive positive pregnancy outcomes, including a network of doulas for in-person and virtual support, weekly health and symptom tracking, and curated, culturally-specific educational content to address the unique needs of Black women.



Mammha is a web-enabled application that takes care of maternal mental health screening, referral, and care coordination, so that healthcare providers can take care of moms, and moms can take care of themselves and their families.

Paradox Immunotherapeutics

Paradox Immunotherapeutics

Paradox Immunotherapeutics develops immunotherapies to combat protein misfolding diseases using a proven-successful antibody design platform. Their specialized antibodies selectively target and remove disease-causing forms of proteins that cause organ dysfunction.


Tiny Cargo

Tiny Cargo has innovated a highly efficient method of isolating pure non-immunogenic bovine milk exosomes capable of being loaded with therapeutic peptidic drugs, avoiding first pass metabolism and peptidase breakdown in the blood, the primary barriers to peptide therapeutic translation.

Vasculonics Inc

Vasculonics Inc

Vasculonics is a startup biotechnology company developing modulators of DDAH for the treatment of diabetic kidney disease, chronic kidney disease and acute kidney injury





In diverse cities like the District of Columbia, health inequities are driven by systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities.[1] Underserved communities, including neighborhoods where most residents are people of color or where income disparities exist, are unjustly burdened with disproportionate comorbidities, negative health outcomes and obstacles to accessing care. [2]

According to a recent Health Equity Report by the District of Columbia Department of Health, the District’s mortality rate caused by leading diseases such as chronic heart disease, cancer, and diabetes outranked the United States’ rate in 2015.[3] These rates were even higher in the District’s Black and Hispanic residents compared to its White residents.[2]

Johnson & Johnson Innovation together with Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, working with the Washington DC Economic Partnership, are proud to launch the Washington, DC Health Innovation QuickFire Challenge designed with the aim to help address the chronic healthcare and morbidity challenges similar to those faced in underserved communities within the District of Columbia, and develop ways to help achieve health equity.

Innovators from across the globe are invited to submit potential science and technology solutions aiming to address racial and socioeconomic disparities that impact health in communities like the District of Columbia. Potential solutions must include innovations that aim to transform patient outcomes in maternal mortality, cardiovascular diseases and systemic autoimmunity, and kidney diseases.

A total of up to $250,000 in grant funding will be awarded to up to four innovators with increments starting at a minimum of $50,000. Awardees will also receive an opportunity to reside at JLABS @ Washington, DC, a 32,000-square foot incubator located at the new Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus in NW DC, on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center Campus. Awardees will also receive access to mentorship, resources, and programming from the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. With Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS strategically located in Washington, DC, and on the new campus, resident companies can benefit from this innovative ecosystem, which includes Children’s National Research Institutes, Virginia Tech, with close proximity to federal research institutions and agencies, university and academic research centers, and a robust biohealth community.


[1]   202 Tolchin B, et al. J Med Ethics 2021;47:200–202. doi:10.1136/medethics-2020-106457 https://jme.bmj.com/content/medethics/47/3/200.full.pdf 

[2] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on Community-Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the United States; Baciu A, Negussie Y, Geller A, et al., editors. Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 11. 3, The Root Causes of Health Inequity. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425845/

[3] District of Columbia Department of Health. (February 2019). Health Equity Report.


Up to four awardees can receive grant funding from a total of up to $250,000 from WDCEP at a minimum of $50,000
  • One year of residency at JLABS @ Washington, DC with the use of a bench, workstation and access to the JLABS @ Washington, DC community for one year
  • Mentorship from experts at the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies

Areas of Interest

Innovators from across the globe are invited to submit potential science and technology solutions aiming to help address racial and socioeconomic disparities that can impact health in communities like the District of Columbia. Potential solutions must include innovations that aim to transform patient outcomes in one or more of the following areas: 

  • Maternal mortality, aiming to address key causes of maternal mortality during, and after pregnancy
  • Cardiovascular diseases and systemic autoimmunity, with interest in
    • The IL-23 pathway in disease, with particular interest in real-world evidence platforms
    • Targets, pathways, and platforms that have the potential to transform the care of patients with cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney diseases, with interest in
    • Development of novel regulatory endpoints for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)/Lupus nephritis (LN) 
    • Mechanisms of actions that aim to slow or halt the progression of diabetic kidney disease, chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, polycystic kidney diseases, and rare kidney diseases
    • Technologies aiming to deliver molecules to various cell types in kidney disease

Application process

Potential solutions will be evaluated by a panel of reviewers and judges on their ability to meet the following criteria:

  • Uniqueness of the idea
  • Potential impact on human health, with a specific focus on innovations with the potential to demonstrate how their solution will have an impact on a healthcare area of significant need in DC
  • Feasibility of the idea
  • Thoroughness of approach
  • Identification of key resources and a plan to further the idea


Why this challenge matters to us

Socioeconomic status and income inequalities also pose significant health risks. District residents living in low-income neighborhoods are seven times more likely to report fair or poor health compared to residents with high income, while unemployed residents are 83% more likely to develop stress-related conditions and other diseases.[1]  These health disparities have been shown to impact the wellness of mothers as well as patients sufferings from cardiovascular and kidney disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) May 2019 Vital Signs Report, every year in the United States, approximately 50,000 mothers are severely injured and nearly 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications. Of these deaths, the CDC estimates that three in five are preventable and half the injuries could be avoided with proper care. In September 2020, the District of Columbia Department of Health released the Five-Year Maternal & Child Health Needs Assessment Summary 2021-2025 which showed that from 2005-2014 there was an average of 39 deaths among women per 100,000 live births from causes related to pregnancies - one of the highest rates in the U.S. This is more than twice the national average of 17, and far higher than non-Hispanic White mothers at 13 deaths per 100,000.  Seventy-five percent of the maternal deaths recorded in DC between 2014 and 2016 were Black women. While death and complication rates around the globe decrease, the United States faces increasing rates, making it the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth. Further, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women.

As reported by Harvard Health, “your ZIP code can be more important than your genetic code” when it comes to cardiovascular disease, which can be driven by socioeconomic factors preventing proper care and treatment. Despite the declines in cardiovascular mortality observed in the United States over the last three decades, many population subgroups defined by race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, educational level, or geography show striking, and often widening, disparities in cardiovascular health.[1]

Similarly, socioeconomic factors influence kidney disease, with lack of access to care increasing risk factors and later, often preventing proper treatment.[2] African American, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native adults are twice as likely as white adults to have diabetes, which is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease.[3]

It’s our goal to find new and innovative technologies that aim to provide solutions for patients from across the world. We especially encourage innovators from diverse backgrounds to participate. Working together, we can spark the next great idea that can potentially change the trajectory of health.


[1] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.cir.0000158134.24860.91

[2] Nicholas SB, Kalantar-Zadeh K, Norris KC. Socioeconomic disparities in chronic kidney disease. Adv Chronic Kidney Dis. 2015;22(1):6-15. doi:10.1053/j.ackd.2014.07.002

[3] https://www.dpcedcenter.org/news-events/news/kidney-health-disparities/


What if I’m having trouble accessing the portal/website?

Make sure your browser is up to date and accepting cookies. You can contact customer service at [email protected] if you are having technical difficulties as well.

Can I submit supporting documents (for example a video) as part of my application?

You will have the opportunity and are encouraged to upload supporting materials such as slide decks, research papers, and videos as part of your application. You may submit a video along with your typed responses. Maximum length is 2 minutes.


Is it ok if some of the information I submit is confidential?

Do not submit confidential information. Only non-confidential information should be submitted and anything you submit will be treated as non-confidential.

What happens with IP (Intellectual Property)?

As this is a no strings attached arrangement, JLABS does not acquire any IP.  Any IP creation and/or protection remains the sole responsibility of the inventors.

Is a patent required to apply?

No, a patent is not required to apply.  However, you should not submit any information that you wish to keep confidential or that may negatively impact upon the future patentability of your invention.

What kind of science / technology is appropriate for the Challenges?

We encourage all to apply. Find out more about what areas we desire to explore here: https://www.jnjinnovation.com/partnering

Who is eligible to apply?

Each Challenge has its own terms & conditions that can be found prior to filling out the application.

What are the specific criteria for application?

Potential solutions will be evaluated by a panel of reviewers and judges on their ability to meet the following criteria:

  • Uniqueness of the idea
  • Potential impact on human health, with a specific focus on innovations with the potential to demonstrate how their solution will have an impact on a healthcare area of significant need in DC
  • Feasibility of the idea
  • Thoroughness of approach
  • Identification of key resources and a plan to further the idea

Who can I contact if I have questions about the Challenge or the application process?

Please contact [email protected] with any questions.

Where do I apply? And do I have to complete the application in one sitting?

Go to https://jnjquickfire.secure-platform.com to learn more. From there you will be directed to set up an account.


May 6, 2021
Applications open
June 11, 2021
Submission deadline
September 2021
Award Announcement

About Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC focuses on accelerating all stages of innovation worldwide and forming collaborations between entrepreneurs and Johnson & Johnson’s global healthcare businesses. Johnson & Johnson Innovation provides scientists, entrepreneurs and emerging companies with one-stop access to science and technology experts who can facilitate collaborations across the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer companies of Johnson & Johnson. Under the Johnson & Johnson Innovation umbrella of businesses, we connect with innovators through our regional Innovation Centers; Johnson & Johnson Innovation -JLABS; JJDC, Inc.; and our business development teams to create customized deals and novel collaborations that speed development of innovations to solve unmet needs in patients. JLABS provides the laboratories, expertise, education, tools and resources needed to help life science startups thrive, all with no strings attached. A Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center (CDI @ TMC) has been established to accelerate the development of medical devices. For more information about Johnson & Johnson Innovation, please visit:www.jnjinnovation.com.

About Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS

Johnson & Johnson InnovationJLABS (JLABS) is a global network of open innovation ecosystems, enabling and empowering innovators across a broad healthcare spectrum including pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health tech sectors to create and accelerate the delivery of life-saving, life-enhancing health and wellness solutions to patients around the world. JLABS achieves this by providing the optimal environment for emerging companies to catalyze growth and optimize their research and development by opening them to vital industry connections, delivering entrepreneurial programs and providing a capital-efficient, flexible platform where they can transform the scientific discoveries of today into the breakthrough healthcare solutions of tomorrow. At JLABS, we value great ideas and are passionate about removing obstacles to success to help innovators unleash the potential of their early scientific discoveries. JLABS is a no-strings-attached model, which means entrepreneurs are free to develop their science while holding on to their intellectual property. JLABS also produces campaigns to seek out the best science called QuickFire Challenges. For more information, visitwww.jlabs.jnjinnovation.comor follow @JLABS.

1 DMPED-logo Mayor Office

About The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) assists the Mayor in the coordination, planning, supervision, and execution of economic development efforts in the District of Columbia with the goal of creating and preserving affordable housing, creating jobs, and increasing tax revenue. DMPED pursues policies and programs that create strong neighborhoods, expand and diversify the local economy, and provide residents with pathways to the middle class.

About the Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP)

The Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP) is a non-profit, public-private organization that drives inclusive economic growth and job creation, supports business and promotes Washington, DC as a leading global city.