Workshop 1: Identifying Problems

On February 18, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., DifferenceMaker held its’ first workshop series session of 2021! Over 70 people participated for this exciting virtual event. The focus of Workshop 1 was identifying problems.

Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director opened the event. She provided a brief overview of the agenda for the evening. Introductions of the guest presenters, Professor Mazen El Ghaziri, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, and Professor Tom Wilkes, Kennedy College of Sciences, also took place.

Then, Professor El Ghaziri presented. He asked the student audience – what do you think of when the topic of “problems” is mentioned. Even virtually, this event was interactive and experiential. A Slido poll was used, which allowed students to participate, while showing everyone’s answers in real time.

The answers that participants provided. The larger words came up most frequently.

During the presentation, a variety of interesting past DifferenceMaker team “problem” examples were showcased.

For example, Support our Students, Campus-Wide DifferenceMaker in 2014, noticed a problem on University campuses – Commuter students could not afford food while being on campus all day. On the other hand, students that lived on campus had meal plans that weren’t always being used. With these problems in mind, they created a solution which was a web platform that allowed students to donate meals to students who needed them, discreetly.

Professor Wilkes presented another example of a successful past problem pitch. The CAT MAT, presented by Katie Muise and Michelle Mailloux. They noticed a problem in the physical therapy field; there is no way for patients to relearn how to walk on various surfaces without having to leave the facility. With this key problem in mind, they were able to develop a solution that solved the problem; a mat that mimics various outdoors terrains.

Professor El Ghaziri, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, presenting the elements of identifying a problem.

In order to have a strong problem, statistics should be provided. Additionally, backing up the problem by showing its effects on people (showing the “pain”), is a great way to strengthen the problem. Market research, surveys, and interviewing people who could possibly benefit from the problem being solved (customers) are tips to showcase that the problem matters.

Then, an activity took place and breakout groups were formed with two DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow facilitators in each room acting as mentors. Students chose a topic they were interested in, such as business, environmental issues, engineering related, and more.

This also served as a great networking opportunity for students to meet potential new teammates and gain connections. Each group was able to discuss problems they were interested in, and worked together to complete the “DifferenceMaker Problem Toolkit Worksheet.”

Afterwards, students were able to present their ideas. Issues related to the environment, loneliness while being an international student, food insecurity, chronic pain causing depression, and plastic waste infiltrating our planet, were just some of the problems presented.

Participants presenting their problems and sharing ideas!

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 1! To view a video of Workshop 1, visit the DifferenceMaker YouTube Channel. If you are interested in learning how to further develop your idea, build-up your team, and have fun, please register for the upcoming workshops:

Workshop 2 – Assessing Opportunities and Value Propositions – February 22; 5:30-7 p.m.

Workshop 3 – Developing Business Models – February 25; 5:30-7 p.m.

Workshop 4 – Delivering Your Rocket Pitch – March 2; 5:30-7 p.m.


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2021 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack

On February 2, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., DifferenceMaker® held its’ spring semester $50,000 Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack event! Over 60 participants – consisting of students and faculty, joined this eventful evening.

To kick off the event, Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director, provided a brief introduction about the DifferenceMaker program and the agenda for the evening. She then introduced Provost Joseph Hartman, who said welcoming remarks and shared exciting news regarding past DifferenceMaker student teams, such as invisaWear gaining a partnership with ADT – the #1 national leader in security!

Once the introductory remarks concluded, Holly introduced guest speakers Adam Basma and Yeaharne Hout, student interns with the DifferenceMaker program. Yeaharne explained how DifferenceMaker supports all students’ ideas, the free resources that are offered, and provided examples of past student DifferenceMaker teams. Adam concluded the presentation by providing information about the $50,000 Idea Challenge and the exciting events occurring this semester.

Student interns Adam Basma and Yeaharne Hout presenting about the DifferenceMaker program and the upcoming events this semester.

Following their presentation, two additional guest speakers, previous DifferenceMaker teams, spoke about their real-life experiences with the program and how it has helped develop their startups. Michelle Mailloux, co-founder of Ambulatory Innovations, won 2019 Honorable Mention at the $50,000 Idea Challenge; a $2,000 award.

Since then, Ambulatory Innovations has won a variety of other competitions (such as Beantown Throwdown where they won against Boston-based schools like Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston College), raised over $25,000 in additional funding, filed a patent, and worked with the UMass Lowell NERVE Center and Innovation Hub to develop prototypes of their product. To learn more about Ambulatory Innovations, please visit their website:

Michelle Mailloux, co-founder of Ambulatory Innovations, presenting the many resources her team gained while participating in DifferenceMaker, as well as their successes since winning.

Edward Morante, partner of Benji Ball, 2019 Rist Campus-wide DifferenceMaker (a $7,000 award), spoke shortly after. He spoke about the helpful mentorship and networking opportunities that his team received after winning the Idea Challenge, such as meeting helpful mentors and advisors that they would not have met otherwise. The team is currently looking for a reliable manufacturer to create and ship their product to families and schools across the country! To learn more about Benji Ball, please visit their website:

After the presentations, Holly facilitated a Q&A with all participants. Students asked a variety of questions – the real-life DifferenceMaker team presentations helped excite them to pursue their own ideas!

Next, Faculty Fellows Dr. Brent Shell, from the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, and Dr. Neil Shortland, from Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, introduced the Idea Hack activity. Then, student participants and faculty mentors dispersed into Zoom breakout rooms to discuss problems, solutions, and creative ideas.

After the breakout room activity, students were encouraged to share their ideas with all event participants. Ideas ranged from supporting international students during university semester breaks, to engineering plankton species to help collect waste from oceans. All ideas were very creative and innovative!

To conclude the event, Holly provided next steps for the students, which included applying to the upcoming $50,000 Idea Challenge (deadline Feb. 12) and registering for the 4-part workshop series which is taking place in February and March. The workshops are designed to help students develop their ideas, build-up their teams, and much more.

Don’t forget to apply for the $50,000 Idea Challenge before February 12 at 5 p.m.:

Please register for Workshop 1: Identifying Problems – February 18 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. via Zoom. Register at

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