Funding Opportunities for Innovative Autism Startups

Investments in research, products and services remain fragmented and often redundant. But serious investors are jump-starting early stage ideas that help people with autism live great lives. They’re aggressively investing in life science breakthroughs and therapeutics, digital health and innovative service companies. Concentrating capital, expertise, and community to accelerate advances in autism.

We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity and have access to technologies that can unravel the most complex problems. Yet autism affects 1 in 54 American children.

Entrepreneurs are doing their part as well — driving innovation in autism through amazing companies that return real value to others.

Together they’re accelerating autism solutions and rewriting the impact investing equation, overlaying financial discipline and proven business strategies to improve the status quo for individuals with autism.

December 3rd’s free panel on Back 2 Biz focused on these amazing founders, CEOs and investors who are redefining what returning value means — everyday.

We sat down with CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, and a Silicon Valley VC for a session moderated by Dan Feshbach, CEO and Co-founder of Blue Umbrella and part of the Organizing Team of the Autism Impact Fund— to explore the current state of funding and discover how entrepreneurs are building companies that leverage the unique strengths and talents in the autism community!

We recorded a live conversation moderated by Dan Feshbach with:

  • Harish Bikmal | CEO, Zenaviv — bringing the artistic talents of autistic artists to life
  • Dan Feshbach | CEO and Co-Founder, Blue Umbrella | Organizing Team, Autism Impact Fund (PowerPoint slide deck)
  • Vanessa Castañeda Gill | CEO, Social Cipher — changing the game for social learning
  • Jamil Karriem | CEO, Hiki — friendship / social app for the autism community

Join us to discover how investors and entrepreneurs are changing lives and accelerating autism solutions!

Event Media

Blue Umbrella PowerPoint Slide Deck (9MB)

Free Zoom Backgrounds from Autistic Artists

Here are works by four artists who have been able to enrich their lives and the lives of others through art. Please feel free to download these images.

Clicking on any image will show the image in full scale and it may then be downloaded.

Anusha Iyer
Abstract Scratches

Abstract Scratches

Erick began painting as a teenager. After took his first painting class at a community college and soon came to love painting and found his inner voice. Sales of his art has given him a huge sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose. Every year he paints holiday cards and gives them as gifts.

Himal Bikmal
Himal Bikmal
A View From My Patio

A View From My Patio

Despite severe autism and cognitive delays, Himal has learned to paint. Art has been therapeutic to Himal and helps him focus. Recognition of his art has significantly boosted his self-esteem and has given hope for a better future. Zenaviv was started to bring about similar transformation in others like him.

Michael Sardoni
Michael Sardoni
Sunrise Over the Ocean

Sunrise Over the Ocean

Michael’s love for animals started young. He memorized his animal encyclopedia by three. He found drawing animals to be calming and calls his creatures, the “Zoofellas”, a group of animals who are friendly, kind, and funny, just like Michael.

Lee Jaworek
Lee Jaworek
Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Lee calls his work “Artism” as it expresses his perception of the world: through the prism of autism. Lee believes that "each color is just as important as every other color." He is intense in his execution, and definite about his selection of subject.

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SBIR Success Strategies

October 29th’s panel on Back 2 Biz will focus on success factors for the SBIR program from the corporate, SBIR program manager, and venture perspectives. Here’s an opportunity to hear from and interact with a diverse panel of experts who know SBIR success.

We’ll sit down with entrepreneurs, a federal VC and SBIR program managers for a session moderated by Jen Sovada, Chief Futures Officer and SVP/GM, MissionTech Solutions, where we will explore the current state of SBIR funding, how companies can successfully navigate the SBIR process, what federal VCs and program managers look for in companies that apply, and how they measure SBIR program and innovation success.

Congress created the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program in 1982 with the mission to support scientific excellence and technological innovation using federal R&D funds and the goal that those projects will become commercial successes. For small companies that qualify, the three-phase system can be lucrative. For example, first stage or Phase I awards can deliver up to $150K for 6 months of project feasibility research.

A video recording of the October 29 conversation will be made available.

  • Anusha Iyer | Co-Founder and CTO, Corsha
  • Dr. Manny Oliver | Director, SBIR/STTR Programs Office, Department of Energy
  • Riya Patel | Program Manager Government, Dcode
  • Jason Rathje | Director, AFVentures AFWERX, U.S. Air Force
  • Jen Sovada | Chief Futures Officer & SVP/GM, MissionTech Solutions | Board Member, Defense Entrepreneurs Forum
Anusha Iyer

Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of Corsha

Anusha is a technology leader with over 15 years of experience in security-minded software, analytics, and managed services. Prior to Corsha, Anusha was the Director of Software Programs at Galois, Inc., managing DARPA contracts in the areas of privacy, cyber-mission planning, and software diversity. She started her career in the Washington, D.C area at the Naval Research Lab, where she contributed to programs in the realm of tactical edge networking, program analysis and reverse engineering.

Anusha earned her Master’s degree in Computer Science from SUNY Buffalo and an undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University. She did her graduate work in formal models for insider threat assessment. Anusha is passionate about making security accessible, easy to adopt, even self-assuring.

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Manny Oliver

Director of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs
US Department of Energy

Manny Oliver is the Director of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs for the US Department of Energy, Manny has reduced the time from application to start of R&D from 8 months to 4.5 months. He is focused on commercialization outcomes through revised application requirements, a revamped commercialization assistance program, and web-based tracking of outcomes. Manny is implementing a collaborative effort with technology transfer offices at National Labs and universities to leverage the SBIR/STTR programs to accelerate technology transfer.

Manny is an MIT graduate with a B.S. and a Ph.D. in Materials Science. Manny was also an Assistant Professor at MIT.

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Riya Patel

SBIR Government Program Manager

Riya Patel is Dcode's Government Program Manager. Riya
- Develops and manages relationships with key officials at various DoD and civilian agencies
- Develops new and exciting ways to work with government, startup technology companies, and system integrator partners to advance government missions.
- Leads curriculum sessions for both Dcode's tech and government community on innovative acquisitions, engaging with tech companies, and conducting deliberate market research.

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Jason Rathje

Director of AFVentures, AFWERX
United States Air Force

Jason Rathje is the Director of AFVentures, AFWERX. AFWERX connects the US Air Force,, to innovators.

Jason is part of a team that implements novel initiatives to mature and transition "dual-use" technology ventures. Their approach is to (1) build relationships between commercial solution-providers and Air Force problem-owners and (2) scale successful problem-solution matches. They are successful if their initiatives accelerate product-market fit between the companies who are passionate about national security and Air Force users who need their revolutionary technologies.

Jason has researched the intersection of entrepreneurship, innovation, and national security in Stanford's Management Science & Engineering Department, specializing in technology entrepreneurship strategies. Specifically, Jason studied the effect of government partnerships, both as an investor and customer, on basic research through commercialization. This research heavily influenced my involvement in AF Ventures, as well sparked new research projects on how to expand the dual-use economy more intelligently.

Jason is an MIT graduate with a B.S. and an M.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

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Jen Sovada

Futures Officer and Senior Vice President / General Manager for the Defense market for the Intelligence Community (IC)
MissionTech Solutions

Forbes Top 50 AI in Government Influencer Colonel (Ret.) Jen Sovada is MissionTech Solutions Chief Futures Officer where she is responsible for bringing MissionTech's model for integrating new technologies and best practices into government. While at MissionTech, Jen developed MissionTech’s Promethean Process™, a proprietary five-step innovation framework that drives the success of our projects and clients. Prior to joining MissionTech, Jen served as an Intelligence Officer for over 25 years in the Air Force and held high-level positions across the Intelligence Community to include serving as the Chief of Talent Management for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Cyber Effects Operations and as the Wing Commander of the Air Force Technical Applications Center.

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Bring your best ideas, innovations and SBIR funding challenges and enjoy the conversation!


Back 2 Biz is a series of engaging and interactive conversations examining how tech, entrepreneurship and innovation can improve our lives and bring businesses back — stronger & safely. Sessions are live and free to register. On-demand access will be available to all registrants. Overflow live stream on the MITEFDC YouTube Channel.

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Cutting Edge: Health Tech

MITEF Washington DC & Baltimore introduces our first “Cutting Edge” podcast. Board member Larry Trotter II speaks with Health Tech expert Scott Kozicki. Scott is an accomplished entrepreneur who spends his time advising CEOs and improving the health of millions. Larry and Scott discuss the dichotomy of increasing health care costs and decreasing medical quality. Scott explores how technology could improve outcomes and presents his innovate ideas.

Listen with Spotify on our website.

Or listen in with your favorite podcast source.

Listen on Google.

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Listen on RadioPublic.

Listen on Spotify.

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Listen on Breaker

Download via RSS feed.

Outdoor Fun: SAE Golf Tournament

Let’s get outdoors for a fun and safe charity golf tournament. MITEF DC is partnering with SAE to raise funds to support SAE’s mission – to enhance tech and mobility solutions that benefit humanity. The SAE DC Section also promotes local student technical development with donations and support of STEM, engineering, and technical learning.

The charity event was held at the Old Hickory Golf Club in Woodbridge, VA on Friday, September 4, 2020.

Beyond networking, the event highlights included breakfast and lunch, beverages during golf, prizes for: 1st place team, longest drive, closest pin, and a hole-in-one contest.

Investor Perspectives Virtual Roundtable

Just how much has the current state of affairs changed the way investors think about new investments and their current portfolios? How has the fundraising landscape changed in the past 6 months? Here’s an opportunity to hear from and interact with a diverse panel of investors and bankers.

Video from our July 28, 2020 webinar.

Video recorded on July 28. 2020

July 28th’s panel on Back 2 Biz focused on investor perspectives — we sat down with four investors and entrepreneurs for a session moderated by Kate Goodall, co-founder and CEO of DC’s Halcyon — to explore the current state of venture funding, how investment perspectives have changed in the past 6 months, what investors, bankers and fund managers expect during today’s economic climate and how they see the next year playing out.

Kate Goodall moderated our distinguished panel:

  • Katie Bilek | Senior Vice President, Republic Capital Access | Co-Founder govmates
  • Kate Goodall | Co-Founder and CEO, Halcyon | Co-Founder WE Capital
  • Terry Hsiao | Angel Investor | President, Monte Jade DC | Director, MIT Angels DC
  • Jennifer O’Daniel | Investment Director, CIT GAP Funds | Venture Partner, NextGen Ventures Partners

Katie Bilek

Senior Vice President, Republic Capital Access | Co-Founder govmates

Katie Bilek is Senior Vice President at Republic Capital Access - the largest finance company dedicated to government contractors. Katie began her career at Goldman Sachs in Equity Sales & Trading on the West Coast. She is co-founder of govmates, an innovative teaming partner platform for government contractors. Katie holds dual degrees in Finance and Spanish from the University of Texas at Austin. As the spouse of a veteran, she is passionate about SDVOSB advocacy, serving on the board of the National Veteran Small Business Coalition. Katie is the recipient of the SmartCEO Banker of the Year and the Washington Business Journal Minority Business Leader Award. She holds Series 3, 7, 63 and 65 licenses.

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Kate Goodall

Co-Founder and CEO, Halcyon | Co-Founder WE Capital

Kate Goodall is the Co-Founder and CEO of Halcyon, a non-profit dedicated to solving 21st century problems by providing space and access to emerging leaders in social entrepreneurship and the arts. Goodall continues to grow Halcyon’s offerings with By The People, an international arts and innovation festival in partnership with the Smithsonian and numerous organizations throughout DC. In 2016, Goodall helped establish WE Capital, a consortium of leading businesswomen investing in and supporting women and women-led companies. Goodall has served as juror at national and international social entrepreneurship competitions, like the Creator Awards, and MIT Tech Review Innovator Europe & Latin America. She was listed as one of the Washington Business Journal’s Power 100 and 40 Under 40, Washingtonian’s 2017 Tech Titans, and Techweek 100 DC’s Talent Cultivators.

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Terry Hsiao

Angel Investor | President, Monte Jade DC | Director, MIT Angels DC

Terry Hsiao is an entrepreneur, advisor and investor with extensive experience in software, cloud and fintech. He has founded multiple companies in mobile that got acquired by Sybase, Verifone, and Kaleyra where he helped its recent public listing on NYSE:KLR in November 2019.

Mr. Hsiao served on the board of Virginia’s Center of Innovation and Technology, a state-funded economic development and investment agency. Terry is the current President of Monte Jade DC, a non-profit organization representing Asian American business leaders and entrepreneurs for 25+ years. He also co-founded and serves as Executive Director at DC MIT Alum Angel Group.

Terry received a BSEE Honors degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree in Management of Technology from MIT Sloan School of Management.

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Jennifer O'Daniel

Investment Director, CIT GAP Funds | Venture Partner, NextGen Ventures Partners

Jennifer O'Daniel is the Investment Director of CIT GAP Funds where she leads seed and early stage investments in tech companies with a concentration on cybersecurity and enterprise software. A key member of the investment team, O’Daniel has led over 50 investments in seed and early stage companies as well as investments for MACH37, a cybersecurity accelerator. O’Daniel is a Venture Partner at NextGen Venture Partners, and was the Co-Founder and Managing Director of VT Investor Network (VTIN), a 75+ member angel group that invests in Hokie-led startups.

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Future of Golf & Tech Innovation

June 16th’s panel on Back 2 Biz focused on golf & technology — we sat down with three great golf entrepreneurs for a session moderated by MIT Club of DC’s own resident golf expert and board member — to examine how technology plays a key role in improving your game.

A video from our webinar on June 16, 2020.

Just how much has the current state of affairs changed the way we think about and play sports? Here’s an opportunity to slice into your golf swing and explore how technology can improve your game — and your stroke.

We explored how technology can actually improve your golf swing — and examined the data and analytics that drive the apps. We discussed how technology and analytic tools transform what you put on your feet into how your shoes improve game performance. And we’ll look at what golfers can do in between rounds to get more consistent from round to round.

Our Expert Panel

Ybet Villacorta moderated our conversation.

  • Tim DeJarlais | Former CEO, Hills Golf Club | Currently Manager, Swing Catalyst USA 
  • Shawn D McDonald | Founder and President, FeedbacK Enterprise, LLC
  • Stephen “Slot” Slotterback, PGA | Director of Instruction, Kinloch Golf Club
  • Ybet Villacorta | Board Member, MIT Club of DC | Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP

Bring your best game face and enjoy the conversation!