2019 Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack

On Wednesday, January 30th, we began our spring semester with the 2019 Idea Challenge Kick-off and Idea Hack! This event was held from 5:30PM to 7PM in the Saab ETIC, Perry Atrium located on North Campus. As the students, professors, and mentors arrived, the night began with a variety of delicious foods and some networking. As over 90 students crowded into the atrium, Tom O’Donnell, Senior Director of Innovation Initiatives welcomed the audience by briefly introducing the DifferenceMaker® Program and providing his own experiences.

Shortly after, the Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director, Holly Butler, interviewed a panel of past DifferenceMaker Teams. The panel included Kierra Walsh from UML Green Roofs and Tyler Cote from Operation 250. They described their experiences with the DifferenceMaker Program, where it has gotten them today, and answered a few questions from the student audience.

To end the night, Ha Pho, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Manager led our Idea Hack Activity and Discussion. Students stood and explained their ideas for real world problems, involving Health and Wellness, Social Responsibility, and Mobile Applications. Then, others joined teams based on their interests of the ideas. Next, teams brainstormed and added to the ideas. Lastly, they presented their solutions to the audience.

We are extremely grateful for everyone who came Wednesday night to make the 2019 Idea Challenge Kick-off and Idea Hack an informative and engaging event! We hope to see many of the students pitch their ideas at our Idea Challenge event later this semester. Don’t forget, applications are due February 12th! Please apply today: www.uml.edu/differencemaker/ideachallengeapp

Share Button

2018 Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition

On December 6th the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition was held at Perry Atrium in the Saab Center on North Campus. For the first few hours of the contest, teams were set up throughout the lobby of the building, showcasing and explaining their prototypes to the public, as well as the preliminary judges as they filtered in.

A big thank you to our preliminary judges:

  • Mark Dyment ’86, ’87 Francis College of Engineering
  • Carol Devellian’85 Francis College of Engineering
  • Rich Rossetti ’83 Francis College of Engineering
  • Dave O’Brien’80 Francis College of Engineering
  • Dan McCormick’83, ’84, ’91 Francis College of Engineering
  • Doug Browne’85 Francis College of Engineering
  • Matt McBride Associate Director, Development, Francis College of Engineering
  • Michelle Veilleux ’93 FAHSS and DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow

The preliminary judges selected 5 teams as finalists to pitch their idea in a presentation to the panel of finalist judges. Before the pitches began, Joseph Hartman, Dean of the Francis College of Engineering, introduced the judges, and gave an overview of the format for the contest.

A big thank you to our final judges:

  • Jack Wilson, President, Emeritus, University Distinguished Professor
  • Mark Saab’81, ‘13 Francis College of Engineering
  • Cindy Conde’87, ‘91 Francis College of Engineering
  • Rajia Abdelaziz Rajia Abdelaziz ’16 Francis College of Engineering. Rajia is the co-founder of invisaWear which won the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition in 2015 and the Innovative Technology Solution prize at the 2016 $50,000 Idea Challenge.

The first team to present was Pyramid pack consisting of Sean Roche, Brett Wadman, and Patrick Drummey Jr. Their idea was to create a weight-distribution backpack that relieved some of the strain that backpacks put on the body.

They were followed by Cameron Edmonds of Project SASS. The idea here was an automated satellite and GPS beacon that can call for help from remote locations. Project SASS was also a winner at the 2018 $50,000 Idea Challenge.

Next up was Benjamin McEvoy of Benji Ball, fresh off of his win at the Creative Venture competition the night before. Benji Ball is a game similar to wiffle ball that takes the baserunning out of it, to cater to children with disabilities, as well as make it easier to play in confined space.

The next team was yet another group presenting on back to back nights. Air Align also took part in the Creative Venture Competition the night before. This group consisted of Daniel Garfinkel, Alexander Barr, Dennon Audette, Alex Higgins, Joe McDonald, Kevin Truong, Michael Hoppe, Nick Dean, and Patrick Pang had the idea of a soft robotic suit that corrects people’s posture.

The final presentation was from Sid Iyer of EnvivoMed. His idea was creating a painless blood extraction device.

Sid Iyer fields questions from the judges

At the conclusion of the presentations, the judges gathered to determine the winners of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, as well as the top biomedical device prize and People’s Choice award.

The results were:

1st Place, $2,500: Benji Ball

2nd Place, $1,500: Air Align

3rd Placec, $1,000: Project SASS

Best Biomedical Device, $1,500: EnvivoMed

People’s Choice award, $500: Air Align

Air Align accepts their 2nd place and fan favorite prizes

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible, and to the teams and judges. Job well done by everyone!

Share Button

2018 FAHSS Creative Venture Competition

Last Wednesday, December 5th, the FAHSS Creative Venture Competition was held at O’Leary Library on South Campus. Six teams pitched their creative and innovative ideas to a panel of two alumni judges. The panel consisted of Keith Neal, Class of ’93 and Glenn Morgan, Class of ’86, both alumni from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

To begin the night, Luis Falcone, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, introduced the judges, and thanked everyone who made the event possible. He then gave a brief overview of the format of the competition, and then the presentations ensued.

Frank Talty, Assistant Dean, emceed the competition. The first team to pitch was A New Look at Life Coaching. This team, led by Jack Travis and consisting of Josiah Gennell, and Nisarg Jhaveri, pitched their idea to help those affected by mental illness overcome the personal and financial barriers to recovery, wellness, happiness, and fulfilment in life.

The second group to present was Voter Engagement App, consisting of Emily Yormak, Brendan Clarke, Justin St Louis, and Yonatan Tsivkin. This team’s goal is to create an app with absolutely no political agenda that keeps people posted on politics, so voters can be more knowledgeable and less biased.

The next team to take the stage was Juan Boungou, and Anastasia Forcucci of Innovate Lowell. This group sought to address the lack of opportunity for underprivileged children to learn business skills by implementing them into after-school programs.

Innovate Lowell was followed by Benji Ball, presented by Benjamin McEvoy. His idea was a game similar to wiffle ball that took the baserunning out of it, to cater to children with disabilities.

Benajamin McEvoy pitching Benji Ball

The next team up was Air Align. The team consisted of Daniel Gurfinkel, Alex Barr, Dennon Audette, Frederick Higgins, Alex Infantino, Joe McDonald, Kevin Truong, Michael Hoppe, Nick Dean, and Patrick Pang. This team is creating a soft robotic suit that corrects peoples bad posture habits.

The final team to present was Magnetic Textbooks. This team consisted of Jasmine Bell, Conrad Nelson, and John Lesack and aims to prevent students from having to lug multiple large textbooks to school every day. Their product is a magnetic textbook that students can insert and remove sections of different books, based on what material they will need on that particular day.

After deliberation, the judges selected Benji Ball as the grand prize winner, winning $5,000!

There were many great ideas pitched and we all look forward to seeing the progression of each project.

The judges posing with the New Look at Life Coaching team

A big thank you to the judges for their time, sponsorship and effort, and to everyone who came out and made this night a great success!

Share Button

On Tuesday, December 4th, the DCU/Manning School of Business Innovation Contest was held in Moloney Hall at UCrossing from 6 to 9PM. Six teams competed with their innovative banking and finance ideas. Each team left with $100 per team member as a cash prize and the winning team received an additional $500 per team member. The event began with food and networking.

Once the audience was settled in, Sandra Richtermeyer, Dean of the Manning School of Business opened the event by thanking everyone who put in hard work to make this all come together. She then introduced the judges; Jim Regan, President & CEO of DCU, Michelle Silveira, Senior VP & CMO of Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, and Vasilios Roussos, Managing Director at Fintech Innovation Center.

Once the judges were introduced, the team pitches ensued. The first team to go was Asset Tracker. Their team consisted of Chris Bradley, Michael Gergley, Jared Girourd, Zachary Palmer, and Michael Rivers. The team pitched their idea of an integrative finance app that can keep track of all of the user’s accounts and assets in one place.

The judges listen in to the first pitch of the night.

The next group was ATM fast App by John Lesack, and Conrad Nelson. This duo pitched an app that can improve your ATM experience easier by making the majority of your transaction remotely before using an ATM, while maintaining the utmost security.

Next to the stage was Chip Away, consisting of William Hanna, George Le (2018 Idea Challenge winner), Peter Maitland, and Hannah Wright. Their idea, Chip Away, was a creative solution to helping people pay off student debt.

Finance 4 Life was the next team up. Members included Brett Battaglia, Brian Conneely, and Stephen Sarrouf. Their idea was an interactive Finance app targeted for High School and College students that taught Finance in a fun way.

Brett from Finance 4 Life displays the layout of their app

Finance 4 Life was followed by another team with a Finance app; Proactive Student. Siddhant Iyer, and Sourabh Kulkarni demonstrated how their app would work and fielded questions from the panel of judges.

The last team to pitch was Universal Cash Deposit ATM. This team consisting of Keegan LaPierre and Aidan Kilgannon pitched their idea of innovative ATM software to make depositing cash anywhere easier.

At the conclusion of the presentations, the judges exited the room to deliberate, then returned to announce their decision. The winning group was Chip Away! The team won a total of $2,400 in cash prizes.

In total, DCU awarded $3,800 to the teams at the competition.

The Grand Prize winners, Chip Away

Thank you to the judges, teams, attendees, DCU and the Manning School of Business. We can’t wait to see how these innovative ideas develop!

Share Button

The Opioid Challenge

Circle Health has generously sponsored $5,000 as part of the 2019 DifferenceMaker® $50,000 Idea Challenge, for the Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle category. They are particularly interested in solving the opioid epidemic. On November 8, 2018 from 5-7 p.m., the Opioid Challenge event was held at the O’Leary Library, Mezzanine on South Campus. Representatives from Circle Health teamed up with DifferenceMaker and the Zuckerberg College of Health Science to encourage students to come up with ideas to solve the opioid epidemic.

DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows, Professor Brent Shell and Professor Mazen El Ghaziri, managed and promoted this successful event, as well as acted as the emcees for the evening. After kicking off the evening with food and networking, Shortie McKinney, Dean of the Zuckerberg College of Health Science, welcomed everyone to the event and introduced the guest speakers. The first two speakers were Diane Maltais and Paulette Viera of Circle Health and Lowell General Hospital. Together, they discussed the causes and effects of opioid abuse and revealed some alarming statistics. Then Holly Butler, DifferenceMaker Program Director, discussed the 2019 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge, and how students can get involved and win funding to move their ideas forward.

Dean of Zuckerberg College of Health Science, Shortie McKinney

Elizabeth Lydstone and Danielle Dolan of Lowell General Hospital, and Kerrie D’entremont from the Greater Lowell Health Alliance, further discussed the opioid epidemic and presented the students with the challenge and activity. Considering the stated challenges involved with the opioid epidemic, the students were asked to come up with creative ideas to stop the abuse of opioids.

Students brainstorm creative solutions

After brainstorming ideas, the teams pitched to the experts from Circle Health, as well as our Faculty Fellows. The teams were given feedback on their ideas, and advice on how to move forward. All students were encouraged to bring their ideas to DifferenceMaker and to apply to the $50,000 Idea Challenge (applications open Dec. 1, 2018 and close Feb. 12, 2019).

The event was very successful with a huge turnout! There were about 70 students, faculty and staff that attended.

Thank you to everyone who made this event a great success!

Share Button

2018 DifferenceMaker Celebration

The Annual 2018 DifferenceMaker® Celebration was held Wednesday, October 10 in Moloney Hall, University Crossing. The purpose of this event was to celebrate and support the success that our UMass Lowell alumni and students have experienced in our DifferenceMaker program. The event introduced alumni who have served as mentors and judges, as well as showcased the work of our student DifferenceMaker teams.  The ultimate goal of the evening is to showcase our students and engage more alumni in supporting their efforts both as mentors and as donors. The highlight of the evening was keynote speaker Ron Insana, Senior Analyst and Commentator for CNBC.


After the 140+ attendees enjoyed dinner and networking, Steven Tello, Vice Provost of Innovation & Workforce Development introduced the DifferenceMaker program, related activites and successful teams. Dr. Tello emphasized how grateful he was for all of the amazing people who have made DifferenceMaker what it is today, especially the sponsors, judges and mentors. A big thank you to Ed Gallagher and Comcast for sponsoring Ron Insana.


Chancellor Moloney then took the stage to kick-off the event with RiverHawk pride! Then, a panel of DifferenceMaker students, judges, and mentors discussed their projects and what kind of impact they’ve made, as well as the process they went through in moving their ideas along. DifferenceMaker Program Director Holly Butler moderated this panel. She was joined by Craig Kelly, engineer on the DifferenceMaker team eNable Lowell, Roma Aurora of Project Starfish, Danielle Thibodeau of Operation 250, Gary Ainsworth, Principal Consultant of Arc Completa, Inc, and Richard Juknavorian, Vice President of Product Startegy & Business Development at Casenet.


Holly Butler leads the discussion panel

After the panel commenced, Holly introduced guest speaker, Ron Insana. Ron insisted that Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, say a few words before him. Dean was passionate in spreading his message that people should choose a career path that they will want to stick with and not worry about their “exit strategy” from their job.

Ron Insana watches on as Dean Kamen addresses the audience

When Ron took over, he captivated the audience with stories of how he got his unusual start on television. He then spoke on how highly he thinks of UML, and the type of students the school produces. After his speech, he fielded questions from the audience on a variety of topics, from finance to politics.


The event was a huge success, and we’d like to thank all of the students, alumni, faculty, and guests who attended for making it so enjoyable!

Share Button

Opioid Challenge Sponsored by Circle Health

As part of the 2019 DifferenceMaker® $50,000 Idea Challenge, Circle Health is sponsoring $5,000 for the Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle category. This funding and award will support a team that best presents and solves a health-based problem.

Circle Health is particularly interested in solving the opioid epidemic. Middlesex county makes up for 17% of opioid overdoses in the state of Massachusetts. More than one person a week dies from opioid abuse in Lowell alone, and Circle Health wants to team up with UMass Lowell, DifferenceMaker and the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences to help come up with a solution.

These organizations are collaborating to host the Opioid Challenge at UMass Lowell; an event created to recruit students across campus, with a focus on health science students, to brainstorm solutions to the opioid epidemic. These ideas will then have the opportunity to enter the DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge. This event will be held on Thursday, November 8th from 5:30- 7:00 PM in the O’Leary Library Mezzanine on South Campus. Students of all majors are encouraged to attend to be a part of this good cause!

Share Button

2018 UMass Lowell Convocation

The 2018 incoming freshman student Convocation was held at the Tsongas Center on Tuesday 9/4. The incoming freshman, as well as transfer students made up the audience. Provost Michael Vayda kicked off the event by officially calling it to order with three strikes of his spear to the ground. Student Government Association President Andre DiFillippo then took over and addressed the new students with some wise words of advice on how to make the most of their UMass Lowell experience both socially and academically.

After introductions of the Deans of each college as well as Chancellor Moloney, guest speaker Ken Nwadike Jr. took over the microphone. Nwadike, better known as the “Free Hugs” guy, shared about his life, specifically some stories from his past in which he became famous by spreading peace and love in the midst of some of the tense situations in the recent history of the United States.
Once the students settled back into their seats after giving Nwadike a standing ovation for his inspirational words, the DifferenceMaker challenge commenced. The new student audience listened to 3 DifferenceMaker team pitches; Playtlist, Mass Heartbeat, and Etralock, and then were asked to cast their votes for their favorite team via a texting software.

After a few lead changes, the final results of the poll were in and Playtlist ended up with the most votes, a $1,500 prize, followed by ETRALock in 2nd place, a $1,000 prize, and Mass Heartbeat in 3rd, a $500 prize. The contestants then accepted their prizes from Chancellor Moloney, Rajia Abdelaziz, CEO of invisaWear a 2014 Idea Challenge winner, and Steve Tello, Vice Provost for Innovation and Workforce Development.

Playtlist is an app for people with dietary restrictions whether it be health, cultural or religious, to find restaurants near them that suit their needs.

ETRALock is a device that could be attached to any door in order to help people easily and safely access their homes key-free.

Mass HeartBeat is an organization dedicated to bringing affordable and convenient heart screening services to students directly at their school, camp, or university. Mass HeartBeat uses state-of-the-art ECG technology to screen students for undetected cardiac conditions that could lead to sudden cardiac death if left untreated.

To end Convocation, a member of the Riverhawk basketball team, and President of SAAC, Connor Bennett spoke about his hesitation to join the basketball team, and why he is glad that he did, as well as his responsibilities as President of SAAC. Then, everyone joined in singing the UMass Lowell fight song. What an incredible way to kick-off the year 2018!

Share Button

2018 DifferenceMaker® Demo Day

On Tuesday, July 10, the 2018 winning DifferenceMaker® Idea Challenge teams gathered in the Saab Center, Perry Atrium, on UMass Lowell’s North Campus to pitch their new and improved ideas to alumni, faculty, staff and interested mentors/advisors. These student teams participated in a 4-week Summer Boot Camp where they conducted customer discovery, discovered who their competitors were, and developed their business models utilizing the canvas. This was all done in preparation for Demo Day!

Demo Day allowed gave each team the opportunity to showcase their new and improved solutions to the audience of over 100 participants!  In their pitches, they explained their business plans and potential customers and discussed the impact they wanted to make with their solutions. They also described the qualities, skills, and expertise they needed in a mentor, in order to get to the next step.

The goal of Demo Day is always to advance teams’ progress with the help and guidance of mentors. The teams had the opportunity to mentor with the crowd, answer questions, and receive insightful feedback.

Thank you to all attendees and mentors that make this possible!

If you are interested in learning more, please click the following links:

DifferenceMaker Program

2018 Idea Challenge Winning Teams

Mentor Program

Support DifferenceMaker or a Specific Student Team

Facebook Photo Album of Demo Day


Over 100 attendees!!!

Networking with the Manning School of Business Dean, Sandra Richtermeyer

Team ETRALock networking with UMass Lowell’s Provost Michael Vayda

Mass Heartbeat pitching there idea to save lives

Share Button

2018 Summer Boot Camp Session 4

This summer’s DifferenceMaker Boot Camp is coming to a close, with this past Monday being the final session for the teams. While we are sad that we won’t see them every Monday anymore, we are beyond proud of the progress that they have made over the past month, and are excited to see each business grow. Each team updated the room on what they’ve learned about their business’ customer segment, and talked about how they’ve tested their business models. We then had an Open Advisory Session, where a group of distinguished advisors came in and talked to the different teams individually, adding specific insight to help the teams better develop their ideas. By the end of this session, the teams felt confident and hopeful for the future, excited and ready for Demo Day.

Professor Hunter Mack advising Edwin and Robinson from ETRALock.

Bernard Tay from TAP getting advice from Tufts Professor Kevin Oye.

Here the invisaWear team is helping advise Dan Falcone from Personalized Learning.

DifferenceMaker would like to thank Rajia Abdelaziz, Erin Keany and Brent Shell for the extraordinary help and support that they have provided the teams with for the past four weeks. Their efforts were greatly appreciated!

  • Brent Shell
    • Professor – Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, Anatomy and Physiology
    • DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences
  • Erin Keany
    • Vice President/Co-Founder of Nonspec
  • Rajia Abdelaziz
    • Co-Founder of InvisaWear

Thank you to our Open Advisory Session guests!

  • Michael Ciuchta
    • Business Professor, UMass Lowell
  • Jon de Alderete
    • CEO, Nonspec
  • Ray Hamilton
    • CTO, invisaWear
  • Hunter Mack
    • Engineering Professor, UMass Lowell
    • DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow
  • Kevin Oye
    • Professor, Tufts, EforAll Mentor
Share Button