Workshop 1: Identifying Problems

On February 17, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute held the semester’s first workshop session! The focus for Workshop 1 was on identifying problems. Over 35 students attended to learn and network with students interested in pursuing their ideas for the $50,000 Idea Challenge.

To start off, Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute welcomed everyone. She provided a brief overview of the DifferenceMaker program, what to expect from the workshop series, and the agenda for the evening. She then introduced the Faculty Fellows guest presenters: Professor Mazen El Ghaziri, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, Professor Tom Wilkes, Kennedy College of Sciences, and Professor Rae Mansfield, Honors College.

Next, Professor El Ghaziri presented the definition of problems. He opened a Slido poll that allowed students to share what comes to mind when they hear the word “problem”. This created a brainstorming discussion, helping students figure out what they are trying to solve.

Professor El Ghaziri asking students what comes to mind when they hear of the word “problem”.

Shortly after, Professor Wilkes extended the talk by showcasing examples of problems presented by past DifferenceMaker student teams. Videos of their pitches were provided to give students clarity on how to move forward. For example, a team that was highlighted was the CAT Mat pitch, presented by students Katie Muise and Michelle Mailloux, both from the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences. The problem they identified is the inability for patients to practice relearning how to walk. Going outside to do so isn’t the safest option, while staying indoors does not fully prepare patients to go back to the real-world.

This is an example of a team who worked diligently during their time at DifferenceMaker, as they ended up winning first place against teams such as Harvard and MIT during the Beantown Throwdown competition in 2019!

Professor Wilkes presenting to students on the key points to highlight while presenting the problem being addressed.

Then, a brainstorming activity took place where students were able to discuss the problems they are looking to solve with each other. Along with the guest presenters, DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow Kevin Willet, Manning School of Business, and two DifferenceMaker Mentors, Steve DeVries, Business Coach, Focal Point Coaching, and Ryan Berube, Vice President, Commercial Loan Officer, Lowell Five, assisted with this process.

This allowed students to network with one another and gain new connections for potential teammates. Each person/group utilized the “DifferenceMaker Problem Toolkit Worksheet” to help with narrowing the specifics of the issue at hand.

Students networking with each other and solidifying the problems they are working to solve!

Afterwards, students presented their ideas to everyone. The problems ranged from a variety of topics, such as unaffordable Epipen injectors, vitamin D deficiencies, lack of information about personal finances, and more.

Team USuccess sharing the problem of the lack of knowledge regarding personal finances in today’s world.

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 1! To revisit the topics discussed, watch the video featuring its’ highlights here.

If you are interested in learning how to further develop your project for the $50,000 Idea Challenge, recruiting new team members, and gaining new skills, please register for the upcoming workshops. Dinner is served at each session, which all take place from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at Lydon Library, Room 110, North Campus:

Workshop 2 – Assessing Opportunities and Value Propositions, February 22
Guest speakers: Professors Brent Shell, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences and Neil Shortland, FAHSS

Workshop 3 – Developing Business Models, February 24
Guest speakers: Professor Carter Keough, Francis College of Engineering and Tom ODonnell, Executive Director, Innovation Initiatives

Workshop 4 – Delivering Your Rocket Pitch, March 17
Guest speakers: Professors Cathy Levey, FAHSS and Kevin Willett, Manning School of Business, and Rick Sherburne, Pitch coach and CEO, Sherburne Communications

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