Workshop 2: Assessing Opportunities and Value Proposition

On Monday, February 26, 2024, 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 Rae Mansfield, Honors College, and Professor Neil Shortland, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

After the introduction, Professor Mansfield mentioned that while our ideas seem incredibly valuable to us, it may not be the case for potential customers and buyers. Professor Mansfield provided an example of pickle toothpaste which could be valuable to a certain person. However, at the end of the day, no one ends up purchasing it because it is not valuable to a majority of people. 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.
Professor Shortland presenting 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! To revisit the topics discussed, watch our video, Spring Workshop Series 2: Assessing Opportunities and Value Propositions.

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DifferenceMaker Workshop 1: Identifying Problems

On Thursday, February 22nd, from 5:00 – 7:00 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. Around 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 Fellow 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 explained 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 harmful algae blooms, prosthetic devices, managing finances, drug addiction, 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!

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DifferenceMaker 2024 $50,000 Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack

On January 30th, the Rist DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack was held in the Saab Center, Perry Atrium from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, opened the event by welcoming everyone and providing introductions.

Then, Provost Joe Hartman spoke about the importance of solving problems and having a social impact. Then, he encouraged all attendees to apply to the $50,000 Idea Challenge.

Next, Rist DifferenceMaker Co-Op student Nicohlas Jarek, introduced the DifferenceMaker program. He explained details for the 12th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge taking place this semester. The 2024 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge application is due February 12th at 5 p.m.!

After the introductory presentation, the real-life DifferenceMaker Panel and Q&A session took place! The panel consisted of members from past DifferenceMaker teams who answered questions from Holly Lalos and shared their entrepreneurial experiences with DifferenceMaker. First up was Ariel Shramko of Auto Terra Project, who won the 2021 Honorable Mention, a $2,000 award. Next up was Sandi DeRuntz of ZipperBuddy, who won 1st place in the 2023 Engineering Competition, a $2,500 award, and will automatically be advancing to the 2024 Preliminary Pitch-Off. Then, Diego King of Window Release Bars, who won the 2021 Honorable Mention, a $2,000 award, answered questions and provided advice to the student audience.

Holly Lalos asked the panelists a series of questions which gave the student audience a better understanding of the requirements to be in the DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge and more information about their startups. The audience then got the chance to ask the panelists valuable questions.

Real-life DifferenceMaker Panel members from left to right; Ariel Shramko, Sandi DeRuntz, and Diego King. Rist DifferenceMaker Director, Holly Lalos, far right, starting off the Q&A.

Following the Q&A, David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, led the audience in the Idea Hack Activity to get students brainstorming potential ideas they could apply to the challenge. Students split up and sat at tables with a topic they were interested in for the activity.

The students started to brainstorm problems and then started to discuss possible solutions. They were able to collaborate with each other and with the DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows. Towards the end of this activity, students shared their problems and solutions with everyone.

A group of students networking and discussing a problem to solve during an ideation activity.
A student presenting their group’s idea of solving the problem of phone apps accessing private data.

To close off this engaging event, Dave Vatalaro spoke about the next steps in getting involved in DifferenceMaker and participating in the $50,000 Idea Challenge. The $50,000 Idea Challenge application is due by February 12th at 5 p.m.

Finally, a special thank you to the students from Kookmin University in South Korea for visiting the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute at UMass Lowell! These five motivated students are hoping to start an entrepreneurial program similar to DifferenceMaker on their campus in Seoul! On their trip to the United States, they traveled to UMass Lowell touring the UML Innovation Hub in downtown Lowell, as well as the Pulichino Tong Business Center, and DifferenceMaker Central. They also joined DifferenceMaker later in the day at the Kickoff Idea Hack event!

Group of students from Kookmin University, South Korea at the Kick-Off and Idea Hack event creating a solution to a real-world problem in an ideation activity.
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