Social startups develop innovative community health solutions

DALLAS — The American Heart Association is celebrating social entrepreneurs by empowering them to identify innovative health solutions to improve health and well-being in their communities.

Through a rigorous six-to-eight-week curriculum funded by the American Heart Association – the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives – entrepreneurs gained real-life knowledge in market positioning, brand development, fundraising and other functions to enhance their business models and demonstrate the viability of their projects.

“Improving the health of a community takes a village,” said Keith B. Churchwell, M.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s Health Equity Task Force and senior vice president/executive director at the Heart and Vascular Services and Transplantation and Medicine Service, Yale-New Haven Health. “What we hope to do with this program is inspire others to effect change in their own neighborhoods. The American Heart Association can only thrive by joining forces with volunteer ambassadors looking to make a difference.”

Participants of the EmPOWERED to Serve Urban Health Accelerator launched tailored business models to address socioeconomic health obstacles. The initiative, which on Oct. 16 awarded $90,000 in grants, monitored and evaluated entrepreneurs’ progress and local health impact.

Only 20 percent of a person’s health is shaped by access and quality of health care. However, the neighborhoods where people live – particularly their ZIP codes – could cost them upward of two decades of life. Factors, such as education, family income and access to healthy foods impact life expectancy for vulnerable populations across the United States.  

“We’re addressing social factors that have plagued our communities for decades,” said Leah Lizarondo, founder of 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh-based startup that prevents food waste and helps solve food insecurity. “It quickly became evident that we were unable to help our neighbors lead healthier lives without first attending the root of the problem.”

Lizarondo was among the eight qualifiers who completed the training curriculum and moved on to present their business cases before a panel of judges from the marketing, media and investment communities. Her organization, which was presented a $50,000 grant, partners with food retailers, nonprofit organizations and #FoodRescueHeroes to bring healthy food directly to those experiencing food insecurity. Francoise Marvel, MD, from Baltimore, Md., was awarded a $25,000 grant for developing Corrie Health, an app that helps heart attack patients with discharge and recovery solutions. The remaining qualifiers were each awarded $2,500 grants for their health-based solutions.

Anyone looking to drive solution-based changes in their neighborhood can start by becoming an EmPOWERED to Serve ambassador at empoweredtoserve.org.