Shavini Fernando (GRD ’18) won $35,000 at the second annual Bark Tank, an event that awards funding to Georgetown students who pitch new business ventures, for her potentially lifesaving invention, O2Wear.
The Leonsis Family Entrepreneurship Prize granted a total of $100,000 at the McDonough School of Business to current and former Georgetown students with ideas and ventures that align with the Jesuit ideal of people for others. The Leonsis family donated $1 million to the MSB in 2016 for the purpose of encouraging entrepreneurship.
In addition to receiving $30,000 and the first place prize, which was awarded by a panel judges that included alumni and business experts, Fernando’s O2Wear also landed the People’s Choice Award of the night — an additional $5,000 that was awarded based on live-audience polling.
O2Wear, intended for those suffering from heart defects, attaches to a wearer’s ear like an earring and continuously monitors their oxygen level. If the level drops below a safe threshold, the device beeps and sends an alert to an app on the patient’s phone instructing them and a chosen emergency contact to call 911. In Fernando’s prototype, a patient can immediately dial emergency services without their phone by using a button on the device.
Fernando said she was inspired to develop O2Wear out of her personal experience with Eisenmenger’s Syndrome, a congenital heart defect that caused a hole to develop in Fernando’s heart. Fernando’s condition increased in severity throughout the course of her life, which has caused irreversible damage to her heart and lungs, meaning she will eventually need transplants.
Fernando said the dire outlook that came with her diagnosis at 33 motivated her to work harder on the project.
“All they said was, ‘You have two years to live,’” Fernando said. “I’m like a rebel. I like challenges; it was more like a challenge for me. I have so much on my bucket list.”
Three years later, Fernando says she is determined to prove her doctors wrong. Fernando’s near death experiences helped her develop her pitch, she said.
“Last year, when I was working at Georgetown, suddenly my friends started screaming that my face was turning blue,” Fernando said to the panel of judges. “It didn’t even take one minute: I couldn’t breathe, and my heart stopped and, clinically, I was dead for two minutes. Luckily, I was able to revive myself on my own, and because of that, today I am here.”
The panel of judges included the event’s founders, Ted Leonsis (CAS ’77), the former president and vice chairman of America Online, and his son, Zach Leonsis (MSB ’15), founder of Monumental Sports Network.
Each year, $100,000 of their donation is allocated for current Georgetown students and recent graduates through the Bark Tank prize.
“It is really great to see these entrepreneurs understand how they have a higher calling of developing mission-based companies that have a business model around service,” Leonsis said in a Nov. 29 news release. “We want students to go out and change the world using the power of entrepreneurship.”
Fernando, who is set to graduate this month from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a master’s degree in visual computing, plans to use the money to develop her technology. Her goal is to shrink the size of the device, bringing it one step closer to the earring that she first envisioned. Fernando said the prize money will enable faster development of the product.
Fernando has been developing the technology while pursuing her degree, with occasional help from her doctors at Johns Hopkins University.
“People would laugh. At home, I have a soldering machine. I have literally all the electronic equipment I need to make the device,” Fernando said. “My dining table is my workplace.”
The second-place prize of $20,000 went to Bluefoot, a company co-founded by Ramya Possett (GRD ’18) that aims to help companies to engage in better strategic decision making with the use of technology according to the Startup Hoyas website.
Third place of $15,000 went to Elenas, a digital direct-selling platform for Latin American women to sell beauty products and earn money founded by Zach Oschin (SFS ’20), the only undergraduate student to receive recognition from the judges.
In fourth place, receiving $10,000, was M’Panadas, an empanada company started by Margarita Womack (GRD ’19) that meshes food science and street food to create easy, portable meals.
The four other participants presented a range of business ventures, from an app that provides information on food trucks to a dynamic pricing algorithm that helps sellers to price their products. All received $5,000 for their participation in the event.
While ES is rare, similar heart defects affect an estimated 200,000 people in the United States per year, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. When including patients with cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,or those in recovery from a severe cardiac event, Fernando estimates that her device will help 50 million people in the U.S.
Fernando said she thinks she could help save the lives of people like her, who frequently die because they are unable to receive medical attention in time.
“One parent emailed me saying she lost two of her three sons due to this, and she lost her second son last year while he was sleeping,” Fernando said. “I just want to help everyone, so that no kid would die.”