Accelerate Baltimore ‘18 cohort member ClearMask has been busy these past few weeks not only with the AB program, but also as they recently won $25k from the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab and $15k from Village Capital! Allysa Dittmar, ClearMask's co-founder and President, recently spoke to us about the mission of the ClearMask and its importance in the healthcare industry. Check out the story below!
1. Explain what ClearMask does. What's the mission of the company?
We are making healthcare more human by developing the ClearMask, the first, full-face transparent surgical mask. The ClearMask can help reduce medical errors from miscommunication while increasing hospital disability compliance and both patient and provider satisfaction.
2. What problem are you solving and for whom?
The need for human connection in healthcare drives the ClearMask. Currently, standard and semi-transparent surgical masks block facial expressions, critical language markers, and other visual cues, creating a disconnect and increasing the risk of miscommunication.
These masks especially pose a barrier for those who heavily depend on visual communication, including deaf and hard of hearing patients like me, children, older people, and those who may not speak the same language as their doctors. For everyone, the ability to see and express facial expressions helps improve understanding, reduce anxiety, and develop more human connections within healthcare and beyond.
3. Discuss your career/background prior to starting ClearMask. Why did you want to start a company of your own?
I am a health communication and public policy professional with a specific focus on advancing public health and accessibility initiatives. As a recent politically-appointed policy manager at the Maryland Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, I worked on policy initiatives to improve healthcare and mental health access for deaf and hard of hearing patients.
After having experienced an adverse surgical experience a few years ago, I co-founded the ClearMask to help improve communication, comfort, and connection in healthcare. My experience of being unable to fully communicate and connect with medical staff is very common; my team members and many others have also had negative experiences with standard surgical masks in healthcare. We believe it’s time to bring the human connection back in hospitals while ensuring optimal protection and safety.
4. What motivates you?
80% of deaf individuals are either unemployed or underemployed due to pervasive societal barriers. Innovative startups and small businesses like ours are starting to become a significant source of the community’s economic engine and empowerment.
5. As a founder, how do you deal with stress and challenges?
The hardest thing is to say “no.” It is important to be able to turn down opportunities to avoid burnout. For me, it helps to look at the company’s long term goals (as well as mine) so that I can say yes to opportunities that fit with my goals and values. I also build in opportunities in my daily schedule to try new things and enjoy my life. Don’t say “no” to everything!
6. Why do you like coming to work everyday?
While I deeply believe in the ClearMask and its mission, my team makes the effort worth it. The passion, energy, and talent of this team is incredible! We’ve also focused on developing a safe, supportive, and accessible environment for our team members.
7. What have you learned from Accelerate Baltimore so far? How is the accelerator helping you?
Mentorship is key! There’s so much you can learn from a mentor’s experience and insights rather than books and classes. 80% of CEOs receive some form of mentorship and 93% of startups believe that mentorship is instrumental to success. Accelerate Baltimore has been incredible with their mentorship program — we’ve been able to access seasoned mentors from virtually every field out there, including marketing, finance, operations, and sales.