Workshop 4: Developing Your Rocket Pitch

On March 2nd, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., DifferenceMaker held its’ fourth, and final Workshop Session; Delivering Your Rocket Pitch!

Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurship Initiatives Program Director, kicked-off the event. Then, she introduced the guest speakers for the evening: Professor Cathy Levy, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and Professor Kevin Willett, Manning School of Business.

Next, Professor Levey spoke about the various components that makeup a rocket pitch. She also recapped the previous workshop sessions and thanked all previous guest speakers and attendees.

Full crowd of students, faculty, and mentors!

Then, Professor Willett presented and spoke about the important points regarding an idea and the development of a rocket pitch. He stated that most people don’t like change. Because of this, they may not purchase an innovative product/service since they may be content with what they already have and may be resistant to change. He provided an example about his favorite foods – pizza and Mountain Dew. If he is content with the foods that he enjoys, why would he need or want to try something new?

Professor Willett also emphasized the importance of an opportunity and conducting research. A product may be useful and reasonably priced, however, determining whether there is a customer base is imperative. In order to move forward with an idea, customer research is needed.

An interesting point Professor Willett brought up was in regards to “fads,” like fidget spinners – they were being purchased at one point, but the novelty has since worn off. It is a product that still sells, but at a much lower rate. Thinking about the value a solution has is important. For example, is your product/service unique enough to last through the ever-changing market? If not, what could be changed to make it relevant and needed over time?

Professor Kevin Willett showing examples of rocket pitch presentations that past DifferenceMaker student teams developed.

Then, resources were discussed – the costs, tools, and materials that are needed to create the product/service. If the product/service costs more than what it’s sold for, it will not be sustainable. Professor Willett also mentioned that judges are often impressed by prototypes/mock-ups/drawings of the solution – visuals are always helpful and it shows dedication.

Professor Willett went on to discuss the rocket pitch in more depth – The pitch is five minutes long, so ideas and information should be conveyed clearly and thoroughly during that time. On the slides themselves, succinct wording helps judges understand the presentation better. Statistics and graphics also help support a presentation. Appendix slides are useful during judge Q&A – It shows preparation and thinking ahead.

An example of a previous team that presented a well-developed presentation was BioBubbler, who won 1st Place in the Significant Social Impact category. This team showed confidence while presenting and portrayed their idea in a well thought out manner. During their pitch, they encountered technical difficulties and handled it professionally – they ignored the distractions and focused on their presentation.

BioBubbler’s presentation was shown as an example.

Then, the participants went into breakout rooms to discuss their ideas, develop their pitches, and practice them with one another. Faculty Fellows and a group of volunteer Mentors who are part of the “Friends with Kevin” networking group, were assigned to each room to provide students with informative feedback.

After the breakout rooms, students presented their rocket pitches to the crowd. Pitches ranged from regenerating stem cells, helping the blind connect to the world with AI cameras, and a sustainable indoor gardening system. Faculty Fellows and Mentors provided feedback and advice to each presentation, further preparing the teams.

A big thank you to the volunteer Mentors:

· Brad Counihan –Banker

· Lisa Couturier –Business coach

· Marta Doran – Putnam Investments

· Paul Falewicz –CFO

· Ryan Rourke –Employee Benefits Consultant

· Jack Wang – College Planner

· Elizabeth Wilds – Financial Planner

· Max Ward – Business Coach

To view a video of Workshop 4, visit the DifferenceMaker YouTube Channel.

Thank you to everyone who supported and joined the 2021 DifferenceMaker Workshop Series! Please mark your calendar and register for the April 15th $50,000 Idea Challenge: At this event, you will hear 10 student teams pitch-off to a panel of UMass Lowell alumni judges for a chance to win a portion of $50,000 in funding!

Share Button

Workshop 3: Developing Business Models

On February 25, 2021, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., DifferenceMaker held Workshop 3 which covered the topic of Developing Business Models.

Over 25 participants joined this informative and engaging event. Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director, kicked off the event.

Tom O’Donnell, Innovation Initiatives Senior Director at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub, and Professors Carter Keough, Hunter Mack, and Kelilah Wolkowicz, DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows from the Francis College of Engineering, were the workshop facilitators.

Tom took the lead as the guest speaker for the evening. He provided examples of companies with strong business models, such as Facebook, Zipcar, and Gillette. Each of these companies had unique products that served an unmet need, which contributed to their success.

Over 25 participants joined for this informative session!

Tom also presented a recap from the second workshop session: Assessing Opportunities and Value Proposition. Value must be brought to customers. It’s what makes them want a product or service, which is needed to keep a startup going. Whether a company is for-profit or nonprofit, the value needs must be compelling, differentiated, and gain attention from potential customers. It’s a necessary component to think about.

After the recap, the conversation shifted to the topic of business models. A business model is a design for the successful operation of a business, identifying revenue sources, customer base, products, and details of financing. A business model outlines and organizes all the aspects required for operation.

The business model is broken down into a variety of categories: Key partners, key activities, value proposition, cost structure, revenue streams, customer segments, and customer relationships are just some. These categories are like pieces of a puzzle – When put together, these pieces create the completed business model.

Tom O’Donnell presenting about each aspect about the Business Model Canvas.

Then, all participants broke out into breakout rooms with varying topics such as social issues, engineering, business, and more. Teams received a blank Business Model Canvas to work on for their ideas. Faculty Fellows and DifferenceMaker staff joined the rooms and provided students tips and feedback on their business models.

After the activity, everyone joined the main room and were encouraged to present their business models. Tom provided insightful feedback to each team that presented. Ideas that were shared included outlines for business models for projects An Apple A Day, Wonder Wheel, and others. The group presentations also provided as a great networking opportunity, as emails and chats between student attendees and faculty were exchanged for follow-up conversations and mentorship.

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 3! To view a video of Workshop 3, 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, final, workshop:

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


Share Button

Workshop 2: Assessing Opportunities and Value Proposition

On February 22, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., DifferenceMaker hosted the second workshop series session of the semester! The topic for the evening was assessing opportunities and value proposition. Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director, welcomed everyone and introduced the guest speakers.

Participants joining as the event kicked-off!

Professor Brent Shell, Faculty Fellow from the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, started off by recapping Workshop 1, which focused on identifying problems. He opened the floor for volunteers to discuss the problems they were interested in addressing. The problems ranged from stem cell therapy not being easily assessable, to children struggling to take their daily medications.

Once a problem is solidified, assessing opportunities must take place before developing a solution. Opportunities showcase the need for a problem to be solved; there is no use creating a product/service solution for a market that has no potential customers or users.

A great (yet silly) example provided was pickle flavored toothpaste. Professor Shell presented a problem – not enough pickle flavored products on the market. He loves pickles and developed pickle toothpaste. He thinks everyone likes pickles, so thinks his toothpaste will sell. However, after creating the product, he realizes it is not selling. This is because he did not assess the opportunity associated with his problem and potential solution – although he thought his product would sell, he did not conduct opportunity research to support that there is an actual market affected by his problem and willing to purchase his solution.

Professor Shell speaking about market research, and how it’s used to identify potential users and customers.

Then, the crowd moved into Zoom breakout rooms to identify and assess their opportunities through an interactive activity. Student participants chose the room they wanted to join – with themes such as engineering, environmental, business, and more.

In the breakout rooms, everyone was encouraged to speak about their problems and opportunities. An opportunity worksheet was provided as a guide and there was a faculty facilitator in each room. After ten minutes of discussion, everyone went back into the main room to share their opportunities. One example presented was a problem regarding stolen packages, and an opportunity being that homeowners (data collected through interviews) wanted a secure way of receiving their packages.

Then, Professor Neil Shortland, Faculty Fellow from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, presented about value propositions. A value proposition demonstrates how a potential solution is more valuable (better, faster, more effective, less expensive, etc.) than what’s already on the market solving a problem (competitors). The value that a consumer receives when they use a product/service is important, because it’s what gets them to decide whether to buy.

Professor Neil Shortland speaking about Nonspec’s value proposition.

Since value inspires customers to purchase and use a product/service, it needs to be effectively communicated. An example that was provided featured Nonspec, 2013 Campus-wide DifferenceMaker team. The value that their prosthetic limb provides is that it is affordable and able to grow/adjust with the user, minimizing the need to purchase future replacements.

Then, another breakout room activity took place to discuss value propositions. The presentations that were given helped students develop their own strong value propositions to go along with their opportunities and problems. Once the breakout rooms closed, everyone was encouraged to share their ideas with the crowd. An example that was presented was to create a pill organizer that is fun to use, allowing children and parents to have a better experience when providing medication – the value is having fun while also having a better experience taking medication.

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 2! To view a video of Workshop 2, 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 3 – Developing Business Models – February 25; 5:30-7 p.m.

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


Share Button