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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