2024 Preliminary Pitch-off

On Wednesday, April 3, DifferenceMaker held its 12th Annual 2024 Preliminary Pitch-Off at O’Leary Library on South Campus. This year, 25 student teams got the opportunity to pitch their creative, innovative ideas to a panel of guest judges. Overall, 19 judges were a part of this event. At the end of the event, ten finalist student teams were announced and will be competing on April 10 at the 12th Annual DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge for a chance to win a portion of $50,000.

Team Socket Tech introducing themselves to team Soundwaves and preparing to pitch.

Congratulations to the ten finalist teams!

BeanHub: AI-powered fully automated order-taking software for coffee chains. 

EduX: A degree scheduling explorer using AI, unifying higher education in the United States designed for high school and university students.

EV Guardian: A device to provide advanced safety in EV vehicles to help prevent EV fires.

Next Gen Testing: An apparatus designed to enhance the concentration of impurities in test media. 

RAVI: A seeing-eye robot for the visually impaired with the intent of making a more affordable and convenient alternative to seeing eye dogs. 

Sober Solutions: An app that will assist drug users in recovery, avoiding relapses, and beating addiction.

Socket Tech: Creating and maintaining open source software and hardware, focusing on multi-device infrastructure.

SparkCell Technologies: A company solving the issue of affordable and scalable elemental detection. 

ZENYAI: AI sound software that guides users to emotional well-being through personalized AI coaching.

Zipper Buddy: An adaptation solution to clothing in place of a zipper for people facing dressing challenges due to mobility constraints.

Lastly, we would like to thank Joe Hartman, Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic & Student Affairs for kicking-off the event and for announcing the ten winners.

Don’t forget to stop by the 2024 $50k Idea Challenge on April 10th from 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. in University Crossing, Moloney Hall, Room 260 to see the finalist student teams pitch their ideas! Also, vote for your favorite team(s) with our DifferenceMaker Dollars at the event. The team that had the most DifferenceMaker Dollars would be awarded the $500 Fan Favorite Award.

Provost Joe Hartman taking a photo with team Sober Solutions!

Register for the Idea Challenge: https://www.uml.edu/differencemaker/forms/differencemaker-event-registration.aspx

Watch the Preliminary Pitch-off 2024 video on YouTube, here!

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Workshop 4: Delivering Your Rocket Pitch

On March 14, 2024, from 5:00 – 7:00 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 and Professor Kevin Willett, Manning School of Business.

Semi-finalist teams attended this session to learn about delivering their rocket pitch for the Preliminary Pitch-off on April 3rd. 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: 

Accessible Assistive Devices





EV Guardian





IntoGreat Pocket Trainer 

Irradiant Wind

Mirrored Image



RAVI (Robot for the Visually Impaired)



Shay G Productions (TBD)

Sober Solutions

Socket Tech Solutions


SparkCell Technologies

Thought Tracks 





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. 

She then showed videos of past teams, including III Point Stick and BioBubbler pitching their idea so students would have an example to follow after learning about what makes an effective pitch. 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.

Professor Levey speaking about developing a pitch.

To conclude the night, Professor Kevin Willet 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. He also talked about having relevant pictures on each slide, as well as limiting the words per slide, which helps keep the audience engaged.

Professor Willet showing an example of a pitch from a past team.

Thank you to everyone who attended Workshop 4! Good luck to all teams pitching at the Preliminary Pitch-off on April 3 at the O’Leary Library, Mezzanine. Register for the Preliminary Pitch-off here.

Additionally, the 2024 12th Annual DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge will take place on April 10 at University Crossing, Moloney Hall, Room 260. Register for the $50,000 Idea Challenge here.

To revisit the topics discussed, watch our video, Spring Workshop Series 4: Delivering Your Rocket Pitch.

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Workshop 3: Developing Business Models and Solutions

On Wednesday, February 28, 2024, DifferenceMaker held Workshop 3: Developing Business Models and Solutions at the Saab Center, Perry Atrium, from 5:00 – 7:00 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. Additionally, 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 presenter for the night, who was Professor Dr. Carter Keough, Francis College of Engineering.

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. 

Furthermore, Professor Keough went in depth and explained the multiple components needed to have a successful business model. She 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 lesson, the guest presenter 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! 

To revisit the topics discussed, watch our video, Spring Workshop Series 3: Developing Business Models and Solutions.

Workshop 4 – Delivering Your Rocket Pitch, March 14

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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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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.

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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.

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2023 DifferenceMaker High School Idea Challenge 

On November 29th, the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute held the 5th Annual High School Idea Challenge from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the UMass Lowell Mark & Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center. 

To kick off the event, Provost Joseph Hartman gave opening remarks. He then passed the stage to Gina Mustoe, teacher at Westford Academy, who shared inspiring words to the students about the importance of making a positive impact in the world by developing creative ideas. Next, Sara Lewis, Massachusetts DECA State Officer, gave a few words of inspiration regarding her journey and the High School Idea Challenge Eexperience to the student teams. 

Next, Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, UMass Lowell, presented an overview of DifferenceMaker, sharing the benefits and opportunities the program offers.  

The judges were Kim Carman, Teacher, Upper Cape Tech, Retired, Deborah Finch, Professor, Manning School of Business, UMass Lowell, Cintya Gajardo-Véjar, Professor, Manning School of Business, UMass Lowell, and Stephanie Guyotte, Associate Director, Haverhill Innovation Hub, UMass Lowell. 

After the judge introductions, the event began. The audience was excited to hear the creative ideas from each high school student team. The schools competing include Millis High School, Woburn High School, Quincy High School, Groton Dunstable Regional, King Philip Regional High School (Wrentham, MA), Westford Academy, Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School, Nashoba Regional High School, and Chelmsford High School. Each pitching team had 5 minutes to present, followed by 5 minutes of judge Q&A. The judges deliberated after the presentations! 

1st place winning team Schwink with their advisor Gina Mustoe from Westford Academy after their pitch presentation.

Congratulations to all teams that presented and won awards! 

1st place, $500 – Devesh Khamitkar, Adam Wedlake, Griffin Lewis, and Stephen Lewis, Westford Academy – “Schwink” – a powder-based product that serves as a simple way for people to ensure they are consuming the proper daily vegetable amount.  

2nd place, $300 – Owen Keenan, Noah Sheldon, Fabyana Maitre, and Michael Nicolas, Woburn High School – “Inclusive Eats” – a partnership with food pantries to ensure that they have more culturally diverse food options. 

3rd place, $200 – Bridget Swezy, Ashleigh Guenette, Luke Anderson, and Steve Quartrone, King Philip Regional High School – “ProCaf” – a drink that includes both caffeine and protein for convenience and delicious taste.  

After the presentations, lunch was served, and round-table mentor meetings took place with DifferenceMaker teams and Co-op students and the high school teams. Each high school team had a 15-minute mentor session with the DifferenceMaker college students, in which they got the opportunity to speak with every mentor. 

A group picture of the teams, judges, and advisors who were a part of the 2023 5th Annual DifferenceMaker High School Idea Challenge.

Thank you to the past DifferenceMaker teams who volunteered their time to support and inspire the high school students: 

Vital Sensing Patch, Wynn Wiggins 
Rent Scoop, Nuno Mestre 
Rist DifferenceMaker Co-op, Madeline Gear 
Rist DifferenceMaker Co-op, Cameron Famiglietti 

Thank you to DECA Inc. and Donna McFadden, Massachusetts DECA State Advisor, for sponsoring the event prizes. Another thanks to all partnership schools and teachers involved in this collaboration. 

View a video of the event.  

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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.

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