2021 Project Learn Lowell High School Field Trip

On Tuesday, December 14, 2021, DifferenceMaker partnered with Project LEARN at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub to provide an entrepreneurship field trip day to Lowell High School students. The day started around 9:00 a.m. when around 50 students arrived at the Lowell Innovation Hub.

From 9:00- 11:00 a.m., Rist DifferenceMaker Institute Director, Holly Lalos, introduced the program. Next, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, David Vatalaro, introduced the Tinker Toy Ideation activity.

Students were told that they needed to rescue someone on an island and were instructed to build a vessel to transport their Tinker Toy person to the mainland. The Lowell High School students eagerly got to work building cars, boats, and helicopters out of Tinker Toys.

Lowell High School Students working on their Tinker Toy vehicle prototype. Professional Photo by Edward Brennen, Senior Writer, UMass Lowell.

After time passed, another problem was introduced – the students were informed they could not build a water vehicle or flying vessel. This left several teams working to change their original plans. Students then started trading materials with other teams and using objects that they had in their backpacks to craft their creative vehicle.

Next, students tested their prototypes on a slanted wooden board (“a mountain”) with Tinker Toys at the bottom (“rocks”). As a result of teams testing their vehicles, they were able to make changes to their designs to make them work more efficiently – the iterative process of prototyping.

After testing their prototypes, each team had a chance to pitch their innovative vehicle design and send their vehicle down “the mountain”. The location of each teams vehicle was marked. At the end, the teams vehicle that travelled the furthest won a DifferenceMaker prize.

In the afternoon, Rajia Abdelaziz, Co-founder and CEO of invisaWear spoke to the students about her experience starting a company. She talked about the challenges that she faced as a young, female student. Additionally, Ms. Abdelaziz spoke about the DifferenceMaker program and how it helped with support and resources she needed to make her dream a reality.

Co-founder and CEO of Invisawear, Rajia Abdelaziz, talking to the Lowell High School students about her company. Professional Photo by Edward Brennen, Senior Writer, UMass Lowell.

Then, Joe Hartman, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, UMass Lowell, spoke to the Lowell High Students. He highlighted the opportunities that going to college at UMass Lowell provides, with a focus on the benefits of DifferenceMaker for aspiring entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.

After the Provost’s remarks, Tyler Cote, Co-Founder and Director of Operation 250 spoke to the students about his experiences starting a nonprofit. Mr. Cote had an interactive presentation which engaged students, such as gathering their opinions on whether social media is harmful or beneficial to society.

He explained his company’s goal, which is to make the internet a safer place. Additionally, he talked about the resources he used at UMass Lowell to start Operation 250. Lastly, he spoke about how students of all majors can start a business by solving problems and that networking is important.

Tyler Cote, Co-Founder and Director of Operation 250 talking about his experience starting a company using the Resources that UMass Lowell provides. Professional Photo by Edward Brennen, Senior Writer, UMass Lowell.

At noon, lunch was served from Purple Carrot and students had the opportunity to talk to a representative from the university. The day wrapped up with a tour of the Innovation Hub and the Fashion Makerspace.

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible: Mira Bookman and LZ Nunn, Project LEARN; Jill Taylor, Lowell High School; Lisa Armstrong, Innovation Hub; Diana Coluntino, Fashion Makerspace.

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2021 DifferenceMaker High School Idea Challenge

On December 15th, DifferenceMaker® held its 3rd Annual High School Idea Challenge from 9am-1pm at UMass Lowell’s Haverhill Innovation Hub.

To kick-off the event, Gina Mustoe, teacher, Westford Academy, gave opening remarks. She then passed the stage to Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute. Holly presented an overview of DifferenceMaker, sharing the benefits and opportunities the program offers. This was followed by a presentation of the Haverhill Innovation Hub by Stephanie Guyotte, Associate Director, Haverhill Innovation Hub. Then, Holly introduced the judges and emceed the event.

The judges were:

Katie Harrington, Co-Founder, Ambulatory Innovations

Siddhant Iyer, Founder, TrueFIT

Donna Mcfadden, Massachusetts DECA State Advisor

Tatiana Tompkins, team member of Protected Pin & NoSno Mat

Andy Vargas, Massachusetts House of Representatives

Judges, from left to right, Donna McFadden, Katie Harrington, Tatiana Tompkins, Siddhant Iyer, Andy Vargas.

After the judge introductions, the event began. The audience was excited to hear the creative ideas from each high school student team. Each pitching team had 5 minutes to present, followed by 5 minutes of judge Q&A. After the presentations, the judges deliberated.

Dan Alexander and Neev Maru, representing Westford Academy, pitching their product MC3D.

Congratulations to all teams that presented and won awards!

1st place, $500 – Mya Doucette, Gaby Guimaraes, Zach Medailleu, and Gabriel Olafsson, Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School – “ZuMix” – a healthy, organic snack.

2nd place, $300 – Dan Alexander and Neev Maru, Westford Academy – ”MC3D” – an educational STEM-based camp for kids.

3rd place, $200 – Callum Mond, Declan Mond, and Matt Weinfurt, Nashoba Regional High School – “Boxletics” – sports games and equipment delivered regularly to customers doorsteps.

Honorable Mention, DifferenceMaker gear (t-shirt, pen, lanyard, water bottle, notebook) – Isha Macha and Morgan Smith, Westford Academy – “I&M Solutions” – safe and effective teeth whitening solution.

After the presentations, lunch was served, and round table mentor meetings took place between college DifferenceMaker teams and the high school teams. Each high school team had a 15-minute mentor session with the DifferenceMaker college students.

Thank you to the DifferenceMaker teams who volunteered their time to support and inspire the high school students:

BenjiBall, Benjamin McEvoy and Edward Morante

Digital Life, Smriti Kumar, Alejandra LunaJuarez, Amy Nguyen and TinaThuy Nguyen

Green Fertilizer, Benard Tabu and Visal Veng

Smart Escape, Noah Boudreau and Kevin Healy

Terminus, Ariel Shramko

Thank you to DECA Inc. for sponsoring the event prizes. Another thanks to all partnership schools and teachers involved in this collaboration.

To view photos of this event, please visit DifferenceMaker social media:

LinkedIn: DifferenceMaker

Twitter: @difference_UML

Instagram: @differencemakeruml

Facebook: umldifferencemaker

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2021 Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition

On Thursday, December 2, 2021, the 2021 DifferenceMaker Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition was held at University Crossing from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This event consisted of a preliminary round, people’s choice voting, and final round. The twelve teams competing during the preliminary demonstration round were:

AirGuardian, team members Kieron Sharwood, Adam Warden, and Kevin Zhang

BioECOL, team members Zachary Katimy, Tomas Lera, Abraham Mudoola, Dimitri Ros

Draw a Print, team members Johnathan Aguliar, Philopater Askander, Theresa Foley, Daniel German-George, Yibo Li, and Ruolin Zhou

He4lth, team members Joseph Fallica, Angelica Jones, Sarah Ross, Varun Somasundaram

MedAlarm, team members Anthony Areche, Mason Burne, Evelyn Duffy, and Maddie McLaren

No Maskne, team members Alexia Bittarelli, Joshua Frechette, Samuel Paolini, Danelia Rodriguez, and Giovanny Sanchez

PenGRED, team members Danielle Bucci, Ryan Butler, Gabriela Karnesky, and Grace Murray

Proprioception & Athletic Performance, team members Mark Elman and Steven Evangelos

Prosthetic Hand for Steering, team member Tze-min Lin

Tendren, team members Ethan Block, Amie Russell, and Victoria Williams

The Accreditors, team members Mayank Amrohi, Nabil Barkallah, Linnae Casebeer, and Evangaline McFarland

Vision, team member Mohammadali Khalifa

Tze-min Lin, team member of Prosthetic Hand for Steering, showcasing her idea and prototype to preliminary round judges.

The prototype demonstration round was held from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. in the lobby of University Crossing. Each team had five minutes to present their product to a panel of preliminary judges, followed by a five-minute Q&A session. The preliminary judges were:

– Andrew Amigo, ’94, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, CEO of Blackburn Energy LLC

– Carol Devellian, ‘85,13, Francis College of Engineering, President of Yeti Biomedical LLC

– Mark Dyment, ‘1986 Francis College of Engineering, CEO of MC Process Technologies, Inc.

– Bill Estes, ’87, Francis College of Engineering, General Manager of Anderson Power Products

– Dave Janeczek, ’82, ’85, Francis College of Engineering, Former Manager Process Development Center of Raytheon Technologies Corporation

– Bill Perciballi, ’86, Francis College of Engineering, Force Engineering

– John Raguin, Growth Advisor

– Mike Rider, ’87, Francis College of Engineering, Vice President of Engineering & Operations of Coravin, LLC

– Leigh Sharrock, ’03, Francis College of Engineering, Director, Systems Engineering of Brooks Automation, Inc.

Team AirGuardian pitching their idea and prototype to a panel of preliminary judges.

During the prototype demonstration round, the judges scored each team based on the problem that was being solved, the opportunity that it holds, prototype quality, resources/implementation needed, presentation effectiveness, and overall project. After seeing each team’s pitch and demonstrations, the preliminary judges deliberated on which teams would move forward for the final round.

The teams that moved onto the final competition were:

– Draw a Print (Tailored 3D Standard Triangle Language (STL) CAD Design models for 3D printable parts)

– PenGRED (Epinephrine Auto Injectors for young children)

– Proprioception and Athletic Performance (Alarius Table with MatLab/Arduino Telemetry)

– Prosthetic Hand for Steering (steering wheel prosthetic for farmers)

– Tendren (Emergency Room monitoring during hospital waits)

Team Tendren pitching their innovative idea to improve hospital waiting times during the final round.

Meanwhile, the prototype public viewing was held from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. in the lobby of University Crossing. Event attendees which consisted of students, faculty, community friends, and family each had five votes (five, $100,000 bills) to disperse to the teams they liked the best.

The Final Round Competition was held in Moloney Hall from 7:00- 8:00 p.m. The Final Round started with opening remarks by Dean Sherwood and Provost Hartman. Next, the five finalist teams pitched their ideas on stage and demonstrated their prototype to the panel of final judges.

Dean Sherwood speaking to the audience before the final round competition.

The judges during the final round were:

– Rajia Abdelaziz, ’16, Francis College of Engineering and Kennedy College of Sciences, CEO, invisaWear

– Chad LaFrance, ’92 Francis College of Engineering, Director of Texas Instruments

– Chris McKenna, ’89 Francis College of Engineering

– Mark Saab, ’81, ’13 (H) Francis College of Engineering, Founding Trustee, Saab Family Foundation

– Bhupen Shah, ’92, Francis College of Engineering

After all the presentations the final judges deliberated and selected the winners for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. Additionally, the judges chose an honorable mention award.


Team Proprioception and Athletic Performance accepting their 1st place award.

The final awards were:

1st Place, $2,500, as well as automatically advancing to the DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge Preliminary Pitch-off in April 2022 – Proprioception and Athletic Performance – Mark Elaman and Steven Evangelos

2nd Place, $1,500, as well as People’s Choice Award, $500 – Tendren – Ethan Block, Amie Russell, and Victoria Williams

3rd place, $1,000, – PenGRED – Danielle Bucci, Ryan Butler, Gabiela Karnesky, and Grace Murray

Honorable Mention – Prosthetic Hand for Steering, Tze-min Lin

Thank you to everyone who attended and supported this event! Watch a video featuring the highlights of the competition here.

Interested in pitching an idea and getting funding? Applications for the 10th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge are open now – apply today!

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2021 DCU Manning Innovation Contest Finals

On December 1, 2021, DifferenceMaker held the 9th Annual DCU/Manning School of Business Innovation Contest from 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. at University Crossing, Moloney Hall. To kick off the event, Dean of the Manning School of Business and Event Emcee of the evening, Sandra Richtermeyer provided welcoming remarks.

After the remarks, the finalist judges were introduced. The judges for the evening were:

– Dave Carter, Director of Information Systems Infrastructure, DCU

– Sandesh Parulekar, Director of Information Systems Development, DCU

– Barbara Russell, Co-Founder/Managing Partner, Cap W Global Advisory/Investment Banking Group

– Mike Zuccaro, ‘83, Vice President, Financial Planning and Analysis, Akebia Therapeutics

Judges, from left to right, Dave Carter, Barbara Russell, Sandesh Parulekar, Mike Zuccaro.

Once all judges were introduced, the event began! Six student finalist teams were given 5-7 minutes to present their ideas, along with 5 minutes of Q&A from the judges. The teams that presented were:

– Chain Bank, team members Aymaan Shaikh and Hirschfield Ssozi

– Credit Champs (Hands Free ATM), team members Benjamin McClure and Nick Paolilio

– Labor as a Service, team leader Kevin Zhang

– Simplicity Bank, team members Yeaharne Hout, Saema Nazar, Monica Nguyen, and Heer Patel

StockToMe, team members Matt Allen, Matthew Kinash, and Jackson Sterrett

Trade Bozz, team members Toney Benny and Sabastian Pascal

Each semi-finalist team member won $100. Each team’s idea ranged from topics such as teaching children and young adults on financial literacy, blockchain technology, stock & trading opinions, and more. After each pitch, judges asked questions to help them further understand the ideas. The judges ranked each team based on how clearly they explained their executive summary, mission statement, business goals, market analysis, how they would utilize funding, and project timeline.

Following the presentations, judges went to a separate area to deliberate the final winner. During this time, all attendees got food, networked with each other, took photos, and further discussed the inspiration and details of the ideas that were pitched.

Winning team StockToMe presenting their stock opinion app, where a beta version was recently launched.

Around 8:15 pm, the judges returned to announce the final award. Congratulations to team StockToMe for winning the final prize of $500 per team member! They also automatically advance to the DifferenceMaker Preliminary Pitch-off this spring.

In total, DCU awarded $2,900 to student teams at this event. Watch a recap of this event here.

Interested in pitching an idea and getting funding? Applications for the 10th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge are open now – apply today!

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Rist DifferenceMaker 10 Year Celebration

On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, from 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute held its’ 10 Year Anniversary Celebration at Moloney Hall in University Crossing! The purpose of this event was to reunite, celebrate 10 years of DifferenceMaker, and to support the success that our UMass Lowell alumni and students have experienced in the program.

The event started with poster viewing and networking. There were a multitude of posters from past and current teams, showcasing their mission and work. This was a wonderful opportunity to network, revive old relationships and form new ones!

Ariel Shramko, member of team Terminus, speaking with guests about their project that provides plants a friendly environment to grow in no matter what, tackling the issue of food insecurity.

After networking, there was a delicious dinner reception. This allowed guests to connect more while sharing a meal. Each guest also received a gift at their seats. Holly Lalos, director of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, made announcements and thanked everyone for attending the evening.

Following the dinner reception, Steve Tello, Vice Provost of UMass Lowell’s Graduate, Online and Professional Studies, gave opening remarks and introduced the night’s events. He then welcomed the Chancellor of the University, Jacqueline Moloney, who also provided welcoming remarks to all attendees and guests. Steve Tello, Holly Lalos, and Provost Joseph Hartman surprised Chancellor Moloney with a special award for co-founding DifferenceMaker and being instrumental in its development over the last decade. Then, another surprise award was presented to Steve Tello for co-founding the program and leading it to success. Congratulations to Chancellor Moloney and Dr. Tello!

Kim and Brian Rist, Manning School of Business ’77, established the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute in 2019. When Mr. Rist was in college, he learned a lot about business operations which helped him and StormSmart succeed. He guest spoke to the audience and shared positive comments about the institute and the importance of entrepreneurship education, something that he and Kim strongly supports.

Brian Rist, Manning School of Business, ’77, presenting on entrepreneurship and how it is wonderful to see DifferenceMaker student teams grow throughout the years.

Next, several successful DifferenceMaker startups shared updates, successes, and learnings. The businesses that presented were NonSpec, invisaWear, Operation 250, and Ambulatory Innovations.

Nonspec was created by Francis College of Engineering students, Jonathan Perez de Alderete and Erin Keaney, who won the 2013 Campus-Wide DifferenceMaker Competition. Nonspec is a company that supplies low-cost high functionality replacement limbs with an acceptable amount of customization for children in developing nations.

invisaWear was created by Kennedy College of Sciences and Francis College of Engineering Alumni Rajia Abdelaziz and Francis College of Engineering Alumni Ray Hamilton, who won the 2016 Innovative Technology Solution Award. invisaWear creates wearable safety jewelry that connects to a smart phone via Bluetooth. With a simple push of a button, it sends help messages and location information to predetermined emergency contacts and 911. They recently announced a partnership with ADT, the #1 name in household security, and have been featured on many news outlets nationwide!

Operation250 was created by Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Alumni Tyler Cote, who won the 2017 Campus-wide DifferenceMaker award. Operation250 is an online platform focused on educating both young adolescents and parents on how to prevent online radical extremist recruitment.

Tyler Cote, founder of Operation 250, presenting on the the impact that they have made to students through workshops on online safety, hate and extremism, and critical problem solving.

Ambulatory Innovations was created by Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences Alumni, Michelle Mailloux and Katie Harrington, who won the 2019 Honorable Mention prize. Ambulatory Innovations is an ambulatory mat that allows physical therapists to treat their patient’s deficits throughout the body, from the musculoskeletal system to sensory systems. It simulates walking outdoors to help patients prepare for community ambulation. They have won many additional startup competitions, like Beantown Throwdown where they won against schools like Harvard and MIT, and their product, the CAT Mat, is currently patent pending!

To conclude the event, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs left the audience with some inspiring words. Then, more networking took place. Thank you to all attendees for celebrating this milestone event; the amazing tenth year Anniversary of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute!

Watch a recap of the event here.

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2021 DifferenceMaker Kick-Off and College Competition Announcement

On Wednesday, September 22, 2021, from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. DifferenceMaker held its’ first in person event in a long time – the Season Kick-off and College Competition Announcement!

Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, kicked off the event. She then introduced Brenda Evans, Dean, Student Affairs and Events Services, who also provided opening welcoming remarks.

Then, Adam Basma and Yeaharne Hout, two Rist DifferenceMaker CO-OPs, presented an overview about the program. Adam spoke about the opportunities that the program offers, such as the ability to be paired with mentors, learn about critical skills through the workshop series, and to be able to connect with students from varying backgrounds and form a team.

Yeaharne provided examples of student teams, such as TrueFIT, Digital Life, and Tommy Vi’s Gelato. She additionally spoke about the benefits and interesting statistics on DifferenceMaker teams, such as how over $5 million were raised by over 130 winning teams, and 40 companies formed since its’ inception in 2013.

Yeaharne Hout, DifferenceMaker Social Media Assistant and CO-OP student, spoke about the benefits of forming a DifferenceMaker team.

After they spoke, guest speakers were introduced to discuss ways to get involved with DifferenceMaker this semester through three College Competitions.

Thomaz De Moura, Innovations Director, Digital Federal Credit Union, announced details regarding the DCU/Manning Innovation Contest. This contest encourages innovations in the banking industry, such as ideas around financial literary or mobile technology solutions. The top prize is $500 in cash per team member and each finalist student is awarded $100 in cash. Registration for the DCU/Manning Innovation Contest opened on September 22, 2021 and closes on October 22, 2021 at 5 p.m.

Kavitha Chandra, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Affairs, Francis College of Engineering and Carter Keough, Professor, Francis College of Engineering and DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow, announced the details of the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition. This competition encourages students to work with a team to turn an idea into a product with any resources available – $100 is reimbursable for prototyping materials.

Participants must be students at the University and at least one member on the team must be from the Francis College of Engineering. Additionally, the team should have a faculty advisor from the Francis College of Engineering. The application registration opened on September 22, 2021 and will be closed on October 22, 2021 at 5 p.m.

Wael Kamal, Assistant Dean, Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS), announced a new contest for this semester: The FAHSS Creative Community Competition. The competition is sponsored by the College of Fine Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Glenn Morgan ’86 FAHSS, and The Rist DifferenceMaker® Institute.  This competition’s goal is to inspire students to create products and services that make a change in their communities. The registration opened on September 15, 2021, and there is a workshop for teams on October 7th, 2021 at 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ruairi O’Mahony, Executive Director, Rist Institute for Sustainability, spoke about the S.E.E.D Grant Program. This program provides students with funding to pursuing projects around campus that focus on sustainability and improve the campus atmosphere. Students are able to apply for grants up to $10,000 to put their campus sustainability projects into action.

Kavitha Chandra, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Programs, Francis College of Engineering announced the details of the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition.

Concluding the announcements, David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, presented the details for a fun, interactive, Ideation Activity. At this activity, each of the different tables had a central topic for which the teams based their innovations on. The topics included Art and Music, Environmental, Innovative Technology, Financial Baking, Social Responsibility, Healthcare, Customer Products, and Other.

Each table was asked to write down problems that relate to their topic. From there, each team chose a main problem to focus on for the remainder of the activity. Each person at the table then wrote down solution ideas on post-it notes and stuck them to the team’s board. Next, they voted on which solution would be the best. After that, the team members discussed their solutions even further and crafted models of it with Legos. Each table then were able to share to all attendees about the problem and the solution they had created.

Students and faculty fellows brainstorming ideas for problems and solutions to work on during the Ideation Activity.

Holly Lalos, closed out the event. Thank you to all students, faculty, alumni, and supporters who attended! Learn more about the college competitions and apply here.

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5 Year Anniversary of invisaWear!

invisaWear started off as an idea – at the time, there were no stylish, discreet safety devices on the market. Rajia Abdelaziz, ’16, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Ray Hamilton, ’16, Electrical Engineering, decided to take matters into their own hands and create one.

At the DifferenceMaker 2016 $50,000 Idea Challenge, invisaWear won the Innovative Technology Solution prize of $4,500. This was one of their first sources of funding for their project, which was part of their capstone as college students at UMass Lowell. They also won $500 from winning 3rd place at the Engineering Prototyping Competition in 2015.

Ray Hamilton, left, and Rajia Abdelaziz, right, presenting their invisaWear phone app at the Engineering Prototyping Competition.

Ever since their beginnings at UMass Lowell, invisaWear has came a long way! In 2019, one of their first ever life-saving stories was featured on WCVB. A woman got involved in a very bad car crash in Lowell, MA. Her phone was unable to be found among the ruckus, but she luckily had her invisaWear charm with her, a charm that she was gifted months prior. She double tapped her button and emergency crew & family immediately rushed to her and saved her life.

invisaWear was also selected as one of BostInno’s coolest companies to work for. They selected companies from all over Massachusetts. In addition, they have been featured on a variety of TV shows such as Rachael Ray, Good Morning America, ABC News, CBS News, and Fox News.

In 2021, invisaWear announced one of their most exciting partnerships – a collaboration with ADT, the #1 name in household security! This partnership provides customers with additional security. Not only does the double press of the button alerts loved ones & 911, but it also alerts ADT with their location. ADT will then notify the customer’s emergency contacts, alert authorities, share their location, and provide personally identifiable information to help emergency responders locate and identify them.


Rajia Abdelaziz, left, and Ray Hamilton, right, celebrating their collaboration with ADT!

On June 22, 2021, invisaWear was featured on  QVC® and HSN’s® The Big Find® product search. This provided them with exposure on one of the world’s largest video commerce platforms. Watch their featured segment here.

In July, invisaWear donated $5,000 to the inspirational non-profit Strong City. Strong City is dedicated to educating at-risk and underprivileged youth from ever getting to that point—through education, project-based giving, gun violence research, and citizen support. A few years ago, invisaWear received a check from EforAll which helped them start their company, and now they are supporting others to do the same.

Overall, invisaWear is a DifferenceMaker team that has made a huge difference in the community and in people’s lives. Rajia and Ray occasionally come back to UMass Lowell to mentor the newer generation of DifferenceMaker students.


Yeaharne Hout, DifferenceMaker Social Media Intern, with her invisaWear necklace.

P.S. invisaWear is also having a back-to-school sale! Rajia got her inspiration for these charms while she was an undergraduate in college. Grab yours for the semester here!

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DifferenceMaker Demo Day 2021

On July 13, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., DifferenceMaker hosted Demo Day. At this event, the 2021 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge Finalists presented their updated and improved ideas since advancing in the 2021 DifferenceMaker Summer Boot Camp.

Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, opened up the event for the evening. To start, she presented to the audience a brief overview of the DifferenceMaker program. DifferenceMaker is a campus-wide program that helps students define problems and create real-life solutions to those problems.

One of the ways this is done is during the DifferenceMaker Summer Boot Camp. The objective of the Boot Camp is to increase teams’ understanding of their customer segments, business model, revenue streams, and more. Teams are also encouraged to develop a one-year project plan with milestones and tasks for utilizing their winning funds.

Holly thanked everyone who makes DifferenceMaker possible – faculty fellows, co-op students, mentors, and advisors. The Boot Camp Advisors this year were:

Then, thank you’s for the Boot Camp Guest Speakers were also made:

  • Rajia Abdelaziz, CEO of invisaWear (2016 DifferenceMaker Team), alumni from the Francis College of Engineering & Kennedy College of Sciences, ’16.
  • Chris McKenna, alumni from the Francis College of Engineering, ’89, and David Kantaros, Partners of Foley and Lardner, LLP and an Idea Challenge Sponsor.
  • Katie Muise, Co-Founder of Ambulatory Innovations (2019 DifferenceMaker Team), alumni of the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences.
  • Jack Wilson, President Emeritus UMass System and Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, Emerging Technologies, and Innovation at UMass Lowell and an Idea Challenge Sponsor!

Next, the event opened to student team presentations! Each team had 4 minutes to present, and 5 minutes for Q&A. They pitched about their business plans, customer discovery findings, value propositions, and benefit that their products would have for society. Potential mentors asked valuable questions to the teams throughout the evening.

Smriti Kumar and Alejandra Luna Juarez, members of team Digital Life, presenting their research findings on customer discovery.

The teams that presented were:

Apple A Day

Digital Life

Green Fertilizer

NavLens

Terminus

Tommy Vi’s Gelato

TrueFIT

VieVest

WonderWheel

Demo Day helps teams advance their progress, gain critical feedback, and network with mentors. To close out the event, David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, discussed mentor matching steps. Surveys for both mentors and teams were sent out shortly after the event. From the survey results, teams will be paired to the appropriate mentor(s) based on their backgrounds, skills, and interests.

David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, explaining the steps needed to be made for the mentor matching process.

Thank you to everyone that attended Demo Day and supported the students throughout the night!

Read about Boot Camp session 1.

Read about Boot Camp session 2.

Read about Boot Camp session 3.

Read about Boot Camp Session 4.

Read about Boot Camp session 5.

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DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Session #5

This week was last DifferenceMaker Boot Camp session. Students presented their research regarding partners, key resources, key activities, and costs, as well as their business model canvas. Students discussed how many prospective consumers they talked to throughout the boot camp, and what their top three findings were.

In doing further research and summarizing their findings, students are able to develop parts of their ideas based on innovations suggested by customers. The benefit of these conversations includes a more well-rounded product that is proven by the customer that they want through their interviews, as well as the opportunity to come up with further ideas due to consumer inputs.

For example, after interviewing 24 potential customers, nurses and children, Apple a Day found that individuals like the idea of mobility and safety features, and also to expand the idea, young adults would be interested in a mobile app with reminders for use. They also found that they wouldn’t be able to implement their product which is a portable stylish pill case, with nurses in schools, and it would only be used personally by students. If they hadn’t interviewed prospective customers, Apple a Day wouldn’t have known that the desire for a mobile app was there, and they also wouldn’t have known about the complications of implementing the product into schools.

Emily Philpot, co-founder of Apple A Day, presenting their research findings.

To show off their current business functions, ideas and future prospects, the business model canvas for each team was displayed which showed the boot camp advisors everything from the team’s unique value proposition to the key resources they will need for business success.  

The guest speaker for this Boot Camp was Rajia Abdelaziz ’16 Kennedy College of Sciences and Francis College of Engineering, 2016 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge, Innovative Technology Solution Winner, $4,500, and the CEO of InvisaWear. InvisaWear was past DifferenceMaker team that had gone through DifferenceMaker and became wildly successful today. Rajia gave the students an overview of her emergency device that is hidden within their stylish jewelry as well as the history of her business and development since winning DifferenceMaker.

Over the past few years, CBS News, Fox News, and Good Morning America featured invisaWear on their news outlets. They also have grown to making over $1 million dollars in revenue in a single year as well as hiring their fifteenth employee just last week. Most recently they were featured on QVC which is a huge achievement for any product to attain as well as acquiring a partnership with ADT, the #1 name in security, to combine some of their services.  

Rajia Abdelaziz, CEO of InvisaWear, presenting about the success that her company has had ever since participating in the DifferenceMaker Boot Camp many years ago.

Rajia explained that her and her business partner Ray Hamilton ’16, Francis College of Engineering, turned down job offers from Dell and Google and fought against the doubt of family and friends. As they plowed along doing research into their customer base as students just have throughout this Boot Camp, they too found that their market could expand farther than just college-aged women.

When InvisaWear went through the Boot Camp, they were able to interview workers in night-shift positions, realty, and other sectors where women can be found in challenging and compromising situations. This research directly correlated to a shift in their focus and expansion of their customer base in turn driving further success, which was exactly the takeaway for students of todays boot camp.

Thank you to Rajia for guest speaking and for being a Boot Camp advisor this year. Another big thank you to the other Boot Camp advisors who helped guide the student teams:

Rajia Abdelaziz  Chief Executive Officer (CEO)invisaWear
Michele Holland  Co-founderPerformance Rehab. Inc.
Glenn Morgan  Chief Operating Officer (COO)Fuseideas
Brian Rist  ChairmanRist Family Foundation and created the Rist DM Institute
Brent Shell  Assistant Teaching Professor andZuckerberg College of Health Sciences

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DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Session #4

On June 22nd, 2021, DifferenceMaker held the fourth Summer Boot Camp Session. Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, welcomed the student teams, advisors, and guest speaker. Then, each team presented their homework deliverables.

This week, the 2021 Idea Challenge winning teams shared their research findings on channels, customer relationships, and revenue. Each team presented on the channels in which they would engage with their target markets, the methods in which they would do so, and the expected outcome of using these channels, like social media or word of mouth. Teams then explained the ways in which they plan to get, keep, and grow customers. Lastly, the teams presented on their revenue streams.

Knowing the channels that will be used, customer relationships, and various revenue streams aids in understanding potential outcomes, planning for the future, and developing a more robust business model. For example, Tommy Vi’s Gelato, a team aiming to blend Asian flavors into classic Italian gelato, presented on using social media and word of mouth as their channels in hopes of targeting millennial and Gen-Z generations.

Tommy Vi, founder of Tommy Vi’s Gelato, presenting about his research findings for his Asian-Italian fusion of gelato.

In terms of how they plan to get, keep, and grow their customers, this team will post quality pictures, surveys, and weekly stories, and will advertise social media handles through flyers and on their website. Tommy Vi’s Gelato revenue streams will be through serving and catering hours.

Each team presented their findings and received constructive feedback from the advisors which helped further their research and development. Additionally, the student teams continued to interview customers through various methods, such as, surveys and Zoom interviews. Many teams researched and read research papers to gather more information about their ideas.

Jack Wilson, President Emeritus of the UMass System, Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, and founder of the Jack M. Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship, guest spoke about funding new ventures and the importance of being a leader and asking for help.

Jack Wilson presenting about the importance of venture funding, sources of personal financing, and local sources of capital – all ways to gain cash that can be used to help develop your startup.

Professor Wilson sponsors the Jack M. Wilson First to Market Award at the Annual $50,000 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge. Professor Wilson explained the need for funding and how to find financing to start and grow a new venture.

Thank you to Jack Wilson for guest speaking at the boot camp and for guiding the student teams in the right direction when it comes to funding their projects and understanding all the funding opportunities within and outside of UMass Lowell!

Watch a recap of this Boot Camp session.

Read about Boot Camp session 1.

Read about Boot Camp session 2.

Read about Boot Camp session 3.

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