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



Tommy Vi’s Gelato




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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