Workshop 4: Delivering Your Rocket Pitch

On March 16, 2022, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute held its fourth workshop series session at the Saab Center, Perry Atrium., North Campus. The guest presenters for the evening were Professor Cathy Levey, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Professor Kevin Willett, Manning School of Business CEO of Friends of Kevin, and Rick Sherburne, CEO, SherburneCommunications

Semi-finalist teams attended this session to learn about delivering their rocket pitch for the Preliminary Pitch-off on April 6th. At this event, teams have a chance to advance to the $50,000 Idea Challenge Final event. The semi-finalist teams who will be pitching at the Preliminary Pitch-off are: 

App Track 

Bridged Connections 








Quick Release Window Bars 


Rent Scoop 

Riverhawk Risk Managers 

Shared Vision/Vision House 

Smart Azan 

So-Health Box 

Solar Crowdfund 

Solar Sails 

Underdogs of Lowell 


To start off the workshop, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, David Vatalaro provided a recap of the past workshop sessions, which addressed topics such as Identifying Problems, Assessing Opportunities and Value Proposition, and Developing Business Models.  

Then, Professor Cathy Levey opened and discussed the content that should be addressed during the DifferenceMaker pitch presentation: the problem, opportunity, solution, needed resources, as well as being prepared for judge questions. She also spoke about additional considerations to look out for during and after the rocket pitch session. 

Afterwards, Rick Sherburne spoke about the challenge of presenting an idea. To tackle this, he discussed being confident and sharing your topic with lots of energy and passion. In addition, he mentioned the reasons why people struggle with stage fright. Self-consciousness in front of large groups, past failures, and fear of being nervous are a few examples. He also talked about having relevant pictures on each slide, as well as limiting the words per slide, which helps keep the audience engaged. 

Rick Sherburne speaking about the challenge of presenting the idea.

Mr. Sherburne also facilitated an engaging activity where the students were encouraged to stand up and say “oh” to various scenarios. This allowed the students to see how tone changes based on the scenario you are in. For example, the volume and tone used is different when speaking to an infant versus seeing a win at a sporting event.

Students standing and being engaged during the “oh” activity.

To conclude the night, Professor Kevin Willett highlighted examples of past student team presentations, such as III Point Stick. This allowed students to compare what they just learned to an actual pitch presentation that occurred. Students can watch and learn from other past pitches that are on the DifferenceMaker YouTube page, which can be utilized while practicing for the Preliminary Pitch-off. 

Thank you to everyone who attended Workshop 4! Good luck to all teams pitching at the Preliminary Pitch-off on April 4 at the O’Leary Library, Mezzanine. Register for the Preliminary Pitch-off: 

Additionally, the 2023 11th Annual DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge will take place on April 13 at University Crossing, Moloney Hall, Room 260. Register for the $50,000 Idea Challenge:  

Workshop 3: Developing Business Models and Solutions

On Wednesday, March 1st, DifferenceMaker held Workshop 3: Developing Business Models and Solutions at the Saab Center, Perry Atrium, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. This session helped student teams who applied to the $50,000 Idea Challenge to focus on their idea’s solutions by piecing together their business models.

Students attending the workshop to network and work towards growing their ideas. 

To kick off the night, Dave Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute welcomed everyone. He expressed appreciation from the Rist DifferenceMaker for the support we have gotten from Tom O’Donnell, Executive Director at Innovation Initiatives; Maria Matarazzo, Adjunct Faculty at Manning School of Business; Khaled Abul-Hassan, Director at Office of Technology Commercialization; and Vijayendra Kumar, Licensing Manager at Office of Technology Commercialization. Next, he provided students with information on submitting their Idea Plan, announcements for semi-finalists, and reminders to schedule a meeting for one-on-one coaching with mentors. He then introduced the guest presenters for the night, who were Professors Dr. Carter Keough and Dr. Kelilah Wolkowicz, Francis College of Engineering, and Tom O’Donnell, Senior Director, Innovation Initiatives

Professor Keough started off by providing examples of companies such as Gillette, FedEx, Zipcar, and Pill Pack. Each are successful companies in their own way, all from various industries in today’s market. For example, Gillette makes their profit by selling cheap razor handles that go along with expensive, high quality razor blades that attach to them. This allows customers to stay loyal to their brand, as they need to continually purchase specific Gillette blades that fit the handle that they already own. 

Then, Mr. O’Donnell went further in depth and explained the multiple components needed to have a successful business model. He discussed factors such as the new venture timeline and each component of the business model canvas, such as customer segments, value proposition, revenue streams, and more. This allowed students to think deeply about details that will drive their ideas to success in the real world. 

After the detailed lessons, the guest presenters encouraged students to work on their business models and solutions. They utilized business model canvas poster boards and solution worksheets to assist with this process. A business model canvas glossary was also provided to each student to help refresh their memory on the information that was provided.  

Students working with each other on their business models correlated with their ideas and solutions.

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 3! 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 final workshop this semester. Dinner will be served! 

Workshop 4 – Delivering Your Rocket Pitch, March 16

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Workshop 2: Assessing Opportunities and Value Proposition

On Monday, February 27, 2022, DifferenceMaker held the second workshop series session to prepare students for the $50,000 Idea Challenge this semester. The topic addressed was assessing opportunities and value proposition.

To start off the event, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow David Vatalaro opened by providing a brief recap of what occurred during the first workshop session, which highlighted identifying problems. Then, he introduced the guest presenters for the night, which were Professor Yuho Kim, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, and Professor Neil Shortland, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

After the introduction, Professor Yuho Kim mentioned that while our ideas seem incredibly valuable to us, it may not be the case for potential customers and buyers. He provided an example of pickle toothpaste, which is unique to him. However, at the end of the day, no one ends up purchasing it. Assessing opportunities is important because it allows you to see if it is worthwhile creating the product before it is too late. If there are no willing buyers, the product does not fill a customer’s need or add enough value. Therefore, market research is imperative.

Then, students were given time to write down their opportunities on the “target market opportunity” and “competition opportunity” worksheets. Students presented their work to the audience, receiving feedback from the presenters.

Students brainstorming and writing down ideas as they fill out the DifferenceMaker worksheets.
A student presents their idea with students as the camera is recording the workshop for a reflection video.

Then, Professor Shortland presented the importance of value propositions. A value proposition demonstrates how a potential solution provides more value than what competitors are currently offering. Students broke out into groups again to work on their value propositions on poster boards, then were given the chance to share their ideas with the audience.

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 2!

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DifferenceMaker Workshop 1: Identifying Problems

On Wednesday, February 22th, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute held the semester’s first workshop session at the Saab Center, Perry Atrium! The focus for Workshop 1 was on identifying problems. Over 20 students attended to learn and network with students interested in pursuing their ideas for the $50,000 Idea Challenge.

Students and Rist DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows networking and eating dinner at the semester’s first workshop session!

To start off, Dave Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, welcomed everyone. He provided a brief overview of the DifferenceMaker program, what to expect from the workshop series, and the agenda for the evening. He introduced the Faculty Fellows guest presenters: Professor Tom Wilkes, Kennedy College of Sciences, and Professor Kevin Willett, Manning School of Business.

First, Professor Willett explains to students what makes a “good problem.” Next, Professor Wilkes showcased 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 of patients to practice relearning how to walk after experiencing a medical issue. 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 Willett 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.

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 stem literacy, crypto currency, lack of information and transparency on fair rent, sustainability in 3D printing, and more.

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.

Thank you to everyone that joined DifferenceMaker for Workshop 1! To revisit the topics discussed, watch our video, Spring Workshop Series 1: Identifying Problems.

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