2023 Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition

On Wednesday, December 6, 2023, the  2023 DifferenceMaker Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition was held at University Crossing from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This event consisted of a preliminary round, fan favorite voting, and final round. 

The thirteen teams competing during the preliminary demonstration round were:

  • Bowl Tilters, team members John Downes, Haley Lawenczuk, Aedan Maloney, Dhruvi Patel, and Samantha Poole
  • Clean Flame Air Supply, team members Ashlyn Couture, Jack Egan, and Ryan Fitzgerald
  • GreenBotics, team members Karla Carbajal, Kavin Chandok, Nishant Jain, Lakshmi Makkena, and Palak Sharma
  • Init Control, team members Michael McCarthy, Alexander Medeiros, Anchit Kaulgud, and Harsh Sethia
  • MachLab, team members Ahmed Ibreljic and Joseph Nguyen
  • MediHawk, team members Kemigisa Adyeri, Bronte Chosta, Reem El Hariri, Romena Miller, and Devon Sedor
  • NeuroLyze, team members Jeremy Hilton, Elliot Johnson, and Anthony Lawlor
  • REM Refine, team members Mauricio DeAlmeida and Alexander Somers
  • Socket Tech Solutions, team members Hayden Dolan, Tyler Fanuele, Coleman Nee, Sarah O’Meara, James O’Sullivan, Nishanth Potturu, Benjamin Romanek,and Devansh Sethia
  • SparkCell Technologies, team member Joshua Landis
  • UnderCover, team members John Dumont, Shaynina Ribou, Alexis Sinotte, Michelina Tumblin and Rachel Whipple
  • Wearable Brace for Spinal Fractures, team members Joudi Alkourabi, Danna Chavez Hernandez, Aidan George, and Caiden Perez
  • ZipperBuddy, team members Chibudom Azikiwe, Sandi DeRuntz, Haydn Hammill, and Jason Lucier

The prototype demonstration and idea pitching round was held from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. in the lobby of University Crossing. Each team had five minutes to present their product to a panel of preliminary judges, followed by a five-minute Q&A session. The preliminary judges were:

  • James Biggins ‘2003, Francis College of Engineering, President, Access Vascular
  • David Cohen ’92, Francis College of Engineering, CEO, DC Consulting
  • Bob Findlen ’81, Francis College of Engineering, RCF Advisors, Peak Performance Compounding LLC
  • Steve Geyster ’83, Francis College of Engineering, Medical Device Consultant
  • Ken Horton ’79, Francis College of Engineering, Founder, C2C
  • Dave Janeczek ’82,’85, Francis College of Engineering, Retired, Raytheon Technologies Corporation
  • Tim Looney ’94, Francis College of Engineering, President, Northeast Biomedical, Inc
  • Joanne Mavroides ’82, Francis College of Engineering, Retired, Abiomed
  • John Mavorides ’81, Kennedy College of Sciences, Retired, Sybase
  • Dan McCormick ’83,’91, Francis College of Engineering, Retired, Waters
  • Bill Perciballi, ’86, Francis College of Engineering, Founder and President, Force Engineering
  • Mike Rider ’87, Francis College of Engineering, Vice President, Coravin LLC
Team Socket Tech Solutions ready to pitch their idea to the judges in the preliminary round.

During the prototype demonstration round, the judges scored each team based on the problem that was being solved, the opportunity that it holds, prototype quality, resources/implementation needed, presentation effectiveness, and overall project. After seeing each team’s pitch and demonstrations, the preliminary judges deliberated on which teams would move forward for the final round.

The teams that moved onto the final competition were:

  • MachLab, team members Ahmed Ibreljic and Joseph Nguyen
  • NeuroLyze, team members Jeremy Hilton, Elliot Johnson, and Anthony Lawlor
  • Socket Tech Solutions, team members Hayden Dolan, Tyler Fanuele, Coleman Nee, Sarah O’Meara, James O’Sullivan, Nishanth Potturu, Benjamin
  • SparkCell, team member Joshua Landis
  • ZipperBuddy, team members Chibudom Azikiwe, Sandi DeRuntz, Haydn Hammill, and Jason Lucier
Team ZipperBuddy pitching their idea and prototype to a panel of preliminary judges.

Meanwhile, the prototype public viewing was held from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. in the lobby of University Crossing. Event attendees which consisted of students, faculty, community friends, and family each had five votes to disperse to the teams they liked the best. The team that had the most DifferenceMaker Dollars would be awarded the $500 Fan Favorite Award.

The Final Round Competition was held in Moloney Hall from 7:15 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. It began with opening remarks by Dean Sherwood. Next, the five finalist teams pitched their ideas on stage and demonstrated their prototype to the panel of final judges.

The judges during the final round were:

  • Rajia Abdelaziz ‘2016, Francis College of Engineering, CEO and Co-Founder, invisaWear Technologies LLC
  • Cynthia Conde ’87, ’91, Francis College of Engineering CEO, CondeCO
  • [LHJ1]  LaFrance. ’88, Francis College of Engineering, Retired, Business Operations and Engineering Manager, Texas Instruments
  • Ram Surdireddy ’92, Francis College of Engineering, CEO & Co-Founder, Bento
  • Greg Sydney, ’81, Francis College of Engineering, Sr. Managing Director, Tri Capital & Companies

After all the presentations the final judges deliberated and selected the winners for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. Additionally, the Fan Favorite votes were counted and the winner of the Fan Favorite award was announced.

The final awards were:

Team ZipperBuddy accepting their 1st place award with Dean Sherwood.
  • 1st Place: ZipperBuddy, Chibudom Azikiwe, Sandi DeRuntz, Haydn Hammill, and Jason Lucier; $2,500 and automatically advances to the Rist DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge Preliminary Pitch-off in April 2024. ZipperBuddy is an innovative solution, eliminating zippering difficulties with a game-changing approach. They aim to transcend barriers by designing attractive, inclusive, and user-friendly fashion mobility aids. By allowing easy attachment of Velcro fasteners to zippable jackets, ZipperBuddy transforms upper body wear into user-friendly Velcro jackets, ultimately bringing independence and accessibility to fashion for everyone.
  • 2nd Place and Fan Favorite: Socket Tech Solutions, Hayden Dolan, Tyler Fanuele, Coleman Nee, Sarah O’Meara, James O’Sullivan, Nishanth Potturu, Benjamin, $2,000. SocketTech Solutions is dedicated to creating and maintaining open source software and hardware. They are currently focused in on multi-device infrastructure.
  • 3rd place, $1,000, SparkCell, Joshua Landis. Sparkcell is working to solve the issue of affordable and scalable elemental detection. Their solution is to empower users with the capabilities of elemental spectroscopy to characterize materials, quality check for building materials, and machine deterioration using some clever optics and modern high resolution cellphone cameras.

Thank you to everyone who attended and supported this event! 

Interested in pitching an idea and getting funding? Applications for the 12th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge are open now – apply today!

View a video of the event.

2023 DCU / Manning Innovation Contest

On Thursday, December 7, 2023, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute held the 11th Annual DCU/Manning School of Business Innovation Contest from 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. at the Saab Center on North Campus. To kick off the event, Rist family Endowed Dean, Manning School of Business and Event Emcee of the evening, Bertie Greer provided opening remarks.

After the remarks, the finalist judges were introduced. The judges for the evening were:

  • Tim Dowd ‘08, FAHSS
    • Campaign Management Specialist, DCU
  • Jonathan Geanakos ‘84, Manning School of Business
    • Member, Board of Directors, Sculptor Diversified Real Estate Investment Trust
    • Member, Board of Directors, Holland Partner Group
  • Michelle LaPointe
    • Digital Banking Product Manager, DCU
  • Greg Sydney ‘81, Francis College of Engineering

Once all judges were introduced, the event began! Four student finalist teams were given ten minutes to present their ideas, along with five minutes of Q&A from the judges. The teams that presented were:

  • Bean Hub – An AI-functioning customer service chat box to satisfy customer’s banking needs – Team members Aiman Baig, Ibrahim Haroon, Emir Kaplan, Mohammed Khan, Shafaat Osmani, and Saim Siddiqui
  • Card Tracker – An app that is integrated with online banking to freeze and track lost debit and credit cards – Team members Dulce Galan, Matthew Hayes, Colin McKallagat, and Scott Redgate
  • Consumer-I – A website that guides consumers to purchase from ethical companies – team members Andre Bachman, Liam Buckley, Valerie Heath, and Michael Nasr
  • FinVenture – An online personal financial management app where users can connect bank and investment accounts to track day-to-day purchases, and investments, and compare interest rates for loans – team members Tanish Araveti and Arnav FNU

Each semi-finalist team member won $100 in prizes. After each pitch, judges asked questions to help them further understand the ideas. The judges ranked each team based on how clearly they explained their executive summary, mission statement, business goals, market analysis, how they would utilize funding, and project timeline.

Team CardTracker pitching their business idea to a panel of judges.

Following the presentations, judges went to a separate area to deliberate the final winner. During this time, all attendees got food, networked with each other, and further discussed the inspiration and details of the ideas that were pitched.

Around 7:45 pm, the judges returned to announce the final award. Congratulations to team Bean Hub for winning the final prize of $500 per team member! They also automatically advance to the DifferenceMaker Preliminary Pitch-off this spring.

Team BeanHub accepting their 1st place award and title of 11th Annual DifferenceMaker DCU / Manning School of Business Innovation Contest Winners.

Interested in pitching an idea and getting funding?

Applications for the 12th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge are open now – apply today!

View a video of the event.

2023 Fall DifferenceMaker Kick-Off and College Competition Announcement 

On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m., DifferenceMaker held its 2023 Season Kick-off and College Competition Announcement! 

Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, kicked off the event and thanked all the DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows. Then, Rist DifferenceMaker Co-op, Nick Jarek was introduced. Nick Jarek presented an overview of the program and spoke about the opportunities DifferenceMaker offers, such as team building, being paired with mentors, learning critical skills through events and workshops, and being able to connect with diverse students from various backgrounds. Past DifferenceMaker student team examples were also presented: Ambulatory Innovations, Benji Ball, and Hoppers.  

Lastly, DifferenceMaker benefits and impact were presented, such as $10 million has been raised by past winning teams and 43 companies have been formed.

Holly Lalos, Director of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute kicking off the event. (Photo credit: Ed Brennen) 

After Nick spoke, guest speakers were introduced to discuss details regarding the two DifferenceMaker College Competitions. 

Thomaz De Moura, Innovations Director, Digital Federal Credit Union, announced details regarding the DCU/Manning Innovation Contest. This contest encourages innovations in the banking industry, like ideas around financial literacy and mobile technology solutions. The top prize is $500 in cash per team member and each finalist student is awarded $100 in cash. Registration for the DCU/Manning Innovation Contest opened on September 20, 2023, and will close on October 20, 2023, at 5 p.m. 

Next, Kelilah Wolkowicz, Professors, Francis College of Engineering and DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows announced details regarding the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition. This competition encourages students to work with a team to turn an idea into a product with any resources available – $100 is reimbursable for prototyping materials. Participants must be students at UMass Lowell and at least one member of the team must be from the Francis College of Engineering. Additionally, the team should have a faculty advisor from the Francis College of Engineering. The application registration opened on September 20, 2023, and will close on October 20, 2023, at 5 p.m. 

Kelilah Wolkowicz, Professor, Francis College of Engineering and DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow, presenting the upcoming Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition . (Photo credit: Ed Brennen) 

Ruairi O’Mahony, Executive Director of the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy, spoke about the S.E.E.D. Grant Program. This program provides students funding to pursue projects around campus that focus on sustainability and improving the campus atmosphere. Students can apply for grants up to $10,000 to put their campus sustainability projects into action. 

Concluding the announcements, David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, facilitated a fun, interactive, ideation activity. 

Students being mentored by Maria Matarazzo, Senior adjunct professor, Manning School of Business.   

During the activity, each table was asked to write down problems each individual was interested in solving. From there, each team discussed all individual problems and chose one to focus on for the remainder of the activity. Each person at the table then wrote down potential solutions to the proposed problem. Next, each team voted on which solution was the best or most creative. After that, the team members crafted models of their solutions with Legos. Each table had the opportunity to present their problem, solution, and Lego structure to the audience.

Students collaborating to build their innovative solution to a problem they defined during the ideation activity. (Photo credit: Tom Wilkes) 

Holly Lalos closed out the event. Thank you to all students, faculty, alumni, and supporters who attended! 

Learn more about the college competitions and apply today! 

Applications opened Sept. 20. 

Applications close Oct. 20 at 5 p.m.

DifferenceMaker Demo Day 2023

On July 13, from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m., DifferenceMaker hosted Demo Day. At this event, the 2023 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge Finalists presented their updated and improved ideas since advancing in the 2023 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.

Holly Lalos, Director of Rist DifferenceMaker Institute welcomes guests to Demo Day and provides opening remarks.

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:

Demo Day helps teams advance their progress, gain critical feedback, and network with mentors. To begin 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, explained the steps needed to be made for the mentor matching process.

Jeremy Hilton, from Team NeuroLyze, networking before the Demo Day presentations.
Julie Sage, from Team Innovation, speaking to potential mentors about her teams project.

Next, the event opened to student team presentations! Each team had 5 minutes to present, and 5 minutes for audience Q&A. They pitched about their business plans, customer discovery findings, value propositions, and benefit that their products/services would have for society. Potential mentors asked valuable questions to the teams throughout the evening.

Nuno Mestre from Rent Scoop presenting on their idea.
Michael Ciampo and Matheus Fonseca from Catnap, 2023 Rist Campus Wide DifferenceMaker Award Winning team present their revised idea.
Haad Naeem, from Team Smart Azan, presenting information about his application.

The teams that presented were:





Quick Release Window Bars

Rent Scoop

Shared Vision/Vision House 

Smart Azan 

Solar Sails 


Sammy Santana, Rist DifferenceMaker Co-Op and Team Shared Vision / Vision House encouraging questions from the audience.
Mina Lam, Rist DifferenceMaker Co-Op and 2022 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge finalist, networking with a mentor.
Two mentors networking before the start of Demo Day.
Members of the audience listening to the student teams present their ideas.

Thank you to everyone that attended Demo Day and supported the students throughout the night!

Here is a video of the 2023 DifferenceMaker Demo Day event.

2022 $50,000 Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack

On January 25th, the DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge Kick-Off and Idea Hack was held in the Saab Center, Perry Atrium from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. Holly Lalos, Director of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute opened up 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 Students Adam Basma and Yeaharne Hout, from the Manning School of Business, introduced the University based creativity program. They explained details for the 10th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge taking place this semester. The 2022 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge application is due February 11 at 5 p.m.!

From left to right: Director Holly Lalos and CO-OP students Adam Basma, and Yeaharne Hout. Yeaharne Hout is presenting on student teams. Photo credit to Dean Sandra Richtermeyer.

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 Director Holly Lalos and shared their experiences with DifferenceMaker. First up was Edward Morante of BenjiBall, who studied Education and FAHSS and won the 2019 Rist-Campus-Wide DifferenceMaker prize, a $6,000 award. The Q&A was then followed up with Benard Tabu of Green Fertilizer, who studies Energy Engineering and won the 2021 Contribution to a Sustainable Environment prize, a $4,000 award. Lastly, Ariel Shramko of Terminus, who studies Environmental Engineering and 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; Edward Morante, Benard Tabu, and Ariel Shramko. Rist DifferenceMaker Director, Holly Lalos, far right, is asking a question to Ariel Shramko, representing team Terminus.

Following the Q&A, David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, led the students in the Idea Hack Activity to get students brainstorming potential ideas they could apply to the challenge. Students sat at tables which represented different topics, which were Art and Music, Consumer Products, Environmental, Finance and Banking, Healthcare, Innovative Technology, and Social Responsibility.

The students started to brainstorm problems related to their table’s topics and then started to discuss possible solutions. The students 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 to everyone.

A group of students networking and discussing the problem of food waste at the Social Responsibility table.

To close off this engaging event, Holly Lalos spoke about next steps in getting involved in DifferenceMaker and being engaged in the $50,000 Idea Challenge. The $50,000 Idea Challenge application is due by February 11 at 5 p.m.