5 Year Anniversary of invisaWear!

invisaWear started off as an idea – at the time, there were no stylish, discreet safety devices on the market. Rajia Abdelaziz, ’16, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Ray Hamilton, ’16, Electrical Engineering, decided to take matters into their own hands and create one.

At the DifferenceMaker 2016 $50,000 Idea Challenge, invisaWear won the Innovative Technology Solution prize of $4,500. This was one of their first sources of funding for their project, which was part of their capstone as college students at UMass Lowell. They also won $500 from winning 3rd place at the Engineering Prototyping Competition in 2015.

Ray Hamilton, left, and Rajia Abdelaziz, right, presenting their invisaWear phone app at the Engineering Prototyping Competition.

Ever since their beginnings at UMass Lowell, invisaWear has came a long way! In 2019, one of their first ever life-saving stories was featured on WCVB. A woman got involved in a very bad car crash in Lowell, MA. Her phone was unable to be found among the ruckus, but she luckily had her invisaWear charm with her, a charm that she was gifted months prior. She double tapped her button and emergency crew & family immediately rushed to her and saved her life.

invisaWear was also selected as one of BostInno’s coolest companies to work for. They selected companies from all over Massachusetts. In addition, they have been featured on a variety of TV shows such as Rachael Ray, Good Morning America, ABC News, CBS News, and Fox News.

In 2021, invisaWear announced one of their most exciting partnerships – a collaboration with ADT, the #1 name in household security! This partnership provides customers with additional security. Not only does the double press of the button alerts loved ones & 911, but it also alerts ADT with their location. ADT will then notify the customer’s emergency contacts, alert authorities, share their location, and provide personally identifiable information to help emergency responders locate and identify them.


Rajia Abdelaziz, left, and Ray Hamilton, right, celebrating their collaboration with ADT!

On June 22, 2021, invisaWear was featured on  QVC® and HSN’s® The Big Find® product search. This provided them with exposure on one of the world’s largest video commerce platforms. Watch their featured segment here.

In July, invisaWear donated $5,000 to the inspirational non-profit Strong City. Strong City is dedicated to educating at-risk and underprivileged youth from ever getting to that point—through education, project-based giving, gun violence research, and citizen support. A few years ago, invisaWear received a check from EforAll which helped them start their company, and now they are supporting others to do the same.

Overall, invisaWear is a DifferenceMaker team that has made a huge difference in the community and in people’s lives. Rajia and Ray occasionally come back to UMass Lowell to mentor the newer generation of DifferenceMaker students.


Yeaharne Hout, DifferenceMaker Social Media Intern, with her invisaWear necklace.

P.S. invisaWear is also having a back-to-school sale! Rajia got her inspiration for these charms while she was an undergraduate in college. Grab yours for the semester here!

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DifferenceMaker Demo Day 2021

On July 13, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., DifferenceMaker hosted Demo Day. At this event, the 2021 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge Finalists presented their updated and improved ideas since advancing in the 2021 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.

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:

  • Rajia Abdelaziz, CEO of invisaWear (2016 DifferenceMaker Team), alumni from the Francis College of Engineering & Kennedy College of Sciences, ’16.
  • Chris McKenna, alumni from the Francis College of Engineering, ’89, and David Kantaros, Partners of Foley and Lardner, LLP and an Idea Challenge Sponsor.
  • Katie Muise, Co-Founder of Ambulatory Innovations (2019 DifferenceMaker Team), alumni of the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences.
  • Jack Wilson, President Emeritus UMass System and Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, Emerging Technologies, and Innovation at UMass Lowell and an Idea Challenge Sponsor!

Next, the event opened to student team presentations! Each team had 4 minutes to present, and 5 minutes for Q&A. They pitched about their business plans, customer discovery findings, value propositions, and benefit that their products would have for society. Potential mentors asked valuable questions to the teams throughout the evening.

Smriti Kumar and Alejandra Luna Juarez, members of team Digital Life, presenting their research findings on customer discovery.

The teams that presented were:

Apple A Day

Digital Life

Green Fertilizer

NavLens

Terminus

Tommy Vi’s Gelato

TrueFIT

VieVest

WonderWheel

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

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

Read about Boot Camp session 1.

Read about Boot Camp session 2.

Read about Boot Camp session 3.

Read about Boot Camp Session 4.

Read about Boot Camp session 5.

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DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Session #5

This week was last DifferenceMaker Boot Camp session. Students presented their research regarding partners, key resources, key activities, and costs, as well as their business model canvas. Students discussed how many prospective consumers they talked to throughout the boot camp, and what their top three findings were.

In doing further research and summarizing their findings, students are able to develop parts of their ideas based on innovations suggested by customers. The benefit of these conversations includes a more well-rounded product that is proven by the customer that they want through their interviews, as well as the opportunity to come up with further ideas due to consumer inputs.

For example, after interviewing 24 potential customers, nurses and children, Apple a Day found that individuals like the idea of mobility and safety features, and also to expand the idea, young adults would be interested in a mobile app with reminders for use. They also found that they wouldn’t be able to implement their product which is a portable stylish pill case, with nurses in schools, and it would only be used personally by students. If they hadn’t interviewed prospective customers, Apple a Day wouldn’t have known that the desire for a mobile app was there, and they also wouldn’t have known about the complications of implementing the product into schools.

Emily Philpot, co-founder of Apple A Day, presenting their research findings.

To show off their current business functions, ideas and future prospects, the business model canvas for each team was displayed which showed the boot camp advisors everything from the team’s unique value proposition to the key resources they will need for business success.  

The guest speaker for this Boot Camp was Rajia Abdelaziz ’16 Kennedy College of Sciences and Francis College of Engineering, 2016 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge, Innovative Technology Solution Winner, $4,500, and the CEO of InvisaWear. InvisaWear was past DifferenceMaker team that had gone through DifferenceMaker and became wildly successful today. Rajia gave the students an overview of her emergency device that is hidden within their stylish jewelry as well as the history of her business and development since winning DifferenceMaker.

Over the past few years, CBS News, Fox News, and Good Morning America featured invisaWear on their news outlets. They also have grown to making over $1 million dollars in revenue in a single year as well as hiring their fifteenth employee just last week. Most recently they were featured on QVC which is a huge achievement for any product to attain as well as acquiring a partnership with ADT, the #1 name in security, to combine some of their services.  

Rajia Abdelaziz, CEO of InvisaWear, presenting about the success that her company has had ever since participating in the DifferenceMaker Boot Camp many years ago.

Rajia explained that her and her business partner Ray Hamilton ’16, Francis College of Engineering, turned down job offers from Dell and Google and fought against the doubt of family and friends. As they plowed along doing research into their customer base as students just have throughout this Boot Camp, they too found that their market could expand farther than just college-aged women.

When InvisaWear went through the Boot Camp, they were able to interview workers in night-shift positions, realty, and other sectors where women can be found in challenging and compromising situations. This research directly correlated to a shift in their focus and expansion of their customer base in turn driving further success, which was exactly the takeaway for students of todays boot camp.

Thank you to Rajia for guest speaking and for being a Boot Camp advisor this year. Another big thank you to the other Boot Camp advisors who helped guide the student teams:

Rajia Abdelaziz  Chief Executive Officer (CEO)invisaWear
Michele Holland  Co-founderPerformance Rehab. Inc.
Glenn Morgan  Chief Operating Officer (COO)Fuseideas
Brian Rist  ChairmanRist Family Foundation and created the Rist DM Institute
Brent Shell  Assistant Teaching Professor andZuckerberg College of Health Sciences

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DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Session #4

On June 22nd, 2021, DifferenceMaker held the fourth Summer Boot Camp Session. Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, welcomed the student teams, advisors, and guest speaker. Then, each team presented their homework deliverables.

This week, the 2021 Idea Challenge winning teams shared their research findings on channels, customer relationships, and revenue. Each team presented on the channels in which they would engage with their target markets, the methods in which they would do so, and the expected outcome of using these channels, like social media or word of mouth. Teams then explained the ways in which they plan to get, keep, and grow customers. Lastly, the teams presented on their revenue streams.

Knowing the channels that will be used, customer relationships, and various revenue streams aids in understanding potential outcomes, planning for the future, and developing a more robust business model. For example, Tommy Vi’s Gelato, a team aiming to blend Asian flavors into classic Italian gelato, presented on using social media and word of mouth as their channels in hopes of targeting millennial and Gen-Z generations.

Tommy Vi, founder of Tommy Vi’s Gelato, presenting about his research findings for his Asian-Italian fusion of gelato.

In terms of how they plan to get, keep, and grow their customers, this team will post quality pictures, surveys, and weekly stories, and will advertise social media handles through flyers and on their website. Tommy Vi’s Gelato revenue streams will be through serving and catering hours.

Each team presented their findings and received constructive feedback from the advisors which helped further their research and development. Additionally, the student teams continued to interview customers through various methods, such as, surveys and Zoom interviews. Many teams researched and read research papers to gather more information about their ideas.

Jack Wilson, President Emeritus of the UMass System, Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, and founder of the Jack M. Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship, guest spoke about funding new ventures and the importance of being a leader and asking for help.

Jack Wilson presenting about the importance of venture funding, sources of personal financing, and local sources of capital – all ways to gain cash that can be used to help develop your startup.

Professor Wilson sponsors the Jack M. Wilson First to Market Award at the Annual $50,000 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge. Professor Wilson explained the need for funding and how to find financing to start and grow a new venture.

Thank you to Jack Wilson for guest speaking at the boot camp and for guiding the student teams in the right direction when it comes to funding their projects and understanding all the funding opportunities within and outside of UMass Lowell!

Watch a recap of this Boot Camp session.

Read about Boot Camp session 1.

Read about Boot Camp session 2.

Read about Boot Camp session 3.

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DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Session #3

On June 15, 2021, DifferenceMaker held the third Summer Boot Camp Session. Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, welcomed the student teams, advisors, and guest speakers. Then, each team presented their homework deliverables.

This week, the 2021 Idea Challenge winning teams shared their research findings on value propositions and customer segments. Once teams identify their customer segments, they can then discover the customer’s pains per segment. Once pains are understood, a value-added solution can be developed to solve the pains for each customer segment.

Value proposition can include both functional and emotional benefits. Additionally, it is important to understand customers (buyers) versus users. For example, Digital Life, a team that’s developing an affordable finger prosthetic for kids with congenital deformities, presented about how their buyers may not be the same as their end users. In their case, parents may be the buyers (customers), and children may be the end users. Understanding these concepts are important because it could change price points, marketing, needs, wants, and more.

All the teams presented their findings and received feedback from the Boot Camp advisors which helped deepen their research and development. Teams used various interviewing methods to gain information from their potential customers, such as Zoom. Surveys were also used. For example, VieVest creator Alexander Frawley, sent out surveys to local gyms to gather their current pains and needs while performing barbell exercises.

Chris McKenna ‘89, Francis College of Engineering and David Kantaros, both partners at Foley and Lardner, LLP guest spoke about business formation and intellectual property. Foley and Lardner, LLP sponsors $15,000 of in-kind legal services at the Annual $50K Idea Challenge.

Chris and David went into detail about the types of legal business entities students can pursue, such as a C-Corp or LLC, as well as the laws around intellectual property.

Thank you to Chris and David for being guest speakers at the Boot Camp and for teaching future entrepreneurs about the importance of business formation and intellectual property.

Read about Boot Camp session 1.

Read about Boot Camp session 2.

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DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Session #2

On June 8, 2021, DifferenceMaker held the second Summer Boot Camp Session! Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, welcomed the student teams, advisors, and guest speakers. Then, each team presented their homework deliverables.

Each presentation lasted around five minutes. During the presentations, teams mentioned the problem that they are solving, along with a clear description of their solution. Problems ranged from children with hand deformities, food insecurity, and no secure way to seal a face mask.

To follow up with the solution, teams also presented the size of the market opportunity, as well as the target market for their product. This included their total addressable market, served available market, and target market. This information was collected through surveys, interviewing potential customers, and market research resources. Some teams also showed a summary of their business model canvas, which will be updated throughout the Boot Camp.

Siddhant Iyer, a plastic engineering graduate and co-founder of TrueFIT, presenting about how their skin-safe thermochromic adhesive mounting system works on existing face masks.

Then, advisors provided feedback, tips, and advice, and asked questions. Some advisors offered to make introductions based off their connections and the student ideas. This was a great networking opportunity for students to make connections with people in similar industries.

Following the homework presentations, Katie Muise, co-founder of Ambulatory Innovations, guest spoke about her product, the CAT Mat, and her experiences with DifferenceMaker. She also spoke about the various opportunities she received following the $50K Idea Challenge in 2019, and problems she encountered and overcame. Katie also provided informative, helpful tips to the student audience, such as, to always overestimate the amount of time a task will take to complete and dedicating time each week for a team meeting.

Katie Muise, co-founder of Ambulatory Innovations, presenting about additional pitch competitions that her team participated in following her experience with DifferenceMaker.

Thank you to Katie Muise from Ambulatory Innovations for being a guest speaker at the Boot Camp Speaker Series and for inspiring future entrepreneurs!

Read about Boot Camp session 1.

To learn more about Ambulatory Innovations, please visit their website and social media platforms:

Website: https://www.ambulatoryinnovations.com/

Email: info@ambulatoryinnovations.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ambulatoryinnovations

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ambulatory-innovations/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ambinnovations

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2021 DifferenceMaker Boot Camp Kickoff

On June 1, 2021, DifferenceMaker held its’ Kickoff Boot Camp session!

Holly Lalos, Program Director, DifferenceMaker, led the session. The session started with introductions from each advisor. This years’ advisors are:

Then, introductions from each of the 2021 Idea Challenge DifferenceMaker Teams took place. The teams participating in this summer’s Boot Camp are:

2021 Idea Challenge DifferenceMaker teams providing introductions about who they are, along with a brief pitch about their project idea.

Following the introductions, Holly went through the outline of what to expect during future Boot Camp sessions. For example, there will be various guest speakers who will share advice and their entrepreneurial experiences. Each week, homework is assigned, where each team will create a presentation and receive real-time feedback from the advisors during each session.

Additional exciting opportunities were presented to the students. The teams are being offered $15,000 of in-kind legal services from Foley and Lardner, LLP. There is also an opportunity to collaborate with the Manning School of Business, where teams will be connected to sales/marketing students who will assist in creating marketing/sales plans. Both opportunities are great for the DifferenceMaker student entrepreneurs!

To end the session, there was a brief recap, followed by a Q&A session.

Congratulations to all winning teams! DifferenceMaker is looking forward to seeing your progress and growth.

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2021 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge

The DifferenceMaker Preliminary Pitch-off took place in a virtual format on April 7th. The event engaged 24 student teams from all UMass Lowell academic colleges, each with different backgrounds and ideas. On April 8, ten inspiring student teams were selected to move on and compete for a portion of $50,000 in funding at the Idea Challenge.

On April 14th, from 5 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., DifferenceMaker held its 9th Annual $50,000 Idea Challenge! Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director, welcomed all attendees and provided the agenda for the evening. Then, she introduced Chancellor Jacquie Moloney who provided opening remarks.

After the remarks, Professor Neil Shortland, who was emceeing the event, was introduced. Each team received five minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by five minutes of judge Q&A after each presentation.

Thank you to all the judges for taking their time to attend the event and assist the student teams!

Lorna Boucher ‘86, Manning School of Business – Chief Marketing Officer, Instinet Holdings Incorporated

Cindy Conde ‘87 ‘91, Francis College of Engineering – CEO, CondeCo

Roger Cressey ’87, Fine Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences – Partner, Liberty Group Ventures, LLC

John Pulichino ’67 ’14 (H), Manning School of Business – Chairman and CEO, Group III International, LTD

Jim Regan ’88, Manning School of Business – President and CEO, Digital Federal Credit Union

Brian Rist ‘77, Manning School of Business – Chairman, Rist Family Foundation

Mark Saab ‘81 ‘13 (H), Francis College of Engineering – Founding Trustee, Saab Family Foundation

Jack M. Wilson – President Emeritus, UMass System and Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, Emerging Technologies, and Innovation, UMass Lowell

CONGRATULATIONS to the 2021 winning student teams!

Rist-Campus Wide DifferenceMaker (sponsored by Brian Rist ‘77), $7,000: TrueFIT – Siddhant Iyer, Justin Marcouillier, Pranav Ramaswamy.

– TrueFIT is a novel fail-safe mask fitting and sealing solution that significantly reduces exposure to infectious aerosols, improving filtration efficiency & saving lives. This product is reusable, secure, and can be used in all types of face masks!

Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle, $4,000: Apple A Day – Emily Philpot, Jack Ryan, Param Rajeshbhai Patel.

– Apple a Day is a weekly pill case that is appealing for kids. The product consists of an apple shape, and it breaks out into seven individual slices for each day of the week. The portability of having your medications being contained into slices, combined with the unique fruit shape, makes children (and adults!) more willing to take their daily medications.

Significant Social Impact, $4,000: Digital Life – Smriti Kumar, Alejandra Luna Juarez, Tina Thuy Nguyen Hoang, Amy Nguyen.

– Digital Life is a prosthetic device for kids with digital congenital deformities. People with these deformities struggle with daily activities, and the current products on the market are not affordable for many families. This device is adjustable, low-cost, and can be used for a lifetime.

Commitment to a Sustainable Environment, $4,000: Green Fertilizer: Standalone On-demand Production System – Samuel Alpert, Visal Veng, Benard Tabu.

– Green Fertilizer is an idea to design, build, and characterize a standalone on-demand fertilizer production system. This is done with renewable energy – creating a synthetic fertilizer that reduces waste and emissions, while managing to innovatively grow healthy, fresh food.

Sutherland Innovative Technology Solutions (Sponsored by Andrew Sutherland ‘94), $4,000: NavLens – Asa Losurdo, Daniel Giuliano, Alden Giedraitis, Christina Haugh, Edwin Meriaux, Jack Houle.

– NavLens is a wearable device that enhances the spatial awareness of the visually impaired. This will be accomplished through the development of cost effective methods for converting visual-spatial information into audio-spatial sounds. This is a futuristic and technical pair of glasses!

Jack M. Wilson First to Market (sponsored by Jack Wilson, President Emeritus), $4,000:

Wonder Wheel – Sanskriti Sharma, Rasha Ghazal, Khang Nguyen, Alexander Hoefer.

– Wonder Wheel is an affordable wheelchair power assist device, with a unique design and low cost that similar products on the market can’t compare to.

Honorable Mention, $2,000: VieVest – Alexander Frawley.

– VieVest is a product carefully engineered to protect athletes from impact and abrasion sustained from common barbell movements. The mission is to provide peace of mind, comfort, and safety during the dynamic Olympic lifts regularly programmed for athletes at all skill levels.

Honorable Mention, $2,000: Terminus – Ariel Shramko, Brian Cleavitt, Michael Pottorff II, Rohan Goyal, Renin Jose, Eliot Pirone.

– Inspired by VEGGIE and Biosphere II, Terminus is a terrarium that can be used to grow food everywhere (even on Mars)! With its unique shape and design, the product can be placed in any room, making it possible to grow food in places never thought possible.

Honorable Mention, $2,000: Tommy Vi’s Gelato – Tommy Vi. – Tommy Vi’s Gelato introduces a new food concept to Lowell, where Asian flavors are combined with Italian machinery & technique to create a unique version of Gelato. The gelato is non dairy, with flavors such as matcha, thai tea, and jasmine tea.

Honorable Mention, $2,000: Concept Project – Garret Roberts, Adrian DelliCollo. – The Concept Project is a multi-media startup that creates awareness for various social issues while completing mental & physical challenges outdoors. This gets the community involved and inspires others to do the same!

Thank you to everyone who attended. View the 2021 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge. Best of luck to all teams’ future entrepreneurial journeys! Questions? Email us at differencemaker@uml.edu.

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2021 DifferenceMaker High School Pitch Off

On March 24, DifferenceMaker held its’ second annual High School Idea Challenge from 2 – 5 p.m.

To kick-off the event, Gina Mustoe, a teacher at Westford Academy, gave opening remarks. She then passed the stage to Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Program Director of the DifferenceMaker program. Holly presented an overview of DifferenceMaker, sharing the benefits and opportunities that the program offers.

Then, Tom O’Donnell, Senior Director of Innovation Initiatives at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub, provides welcoming remarks as well. He introduces the opportunities that UMass Lowell provides, and explains additional resources related to entrepreneurship, such as the Makerspace, Innovation Hub, and various networking opportunities. Tom also introduced the judges, each of whom were former DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge Finalists.

The judges for the afternoon were:

– Rajia Abdelaziz, Innovative Technology Solution, a $4,500 prize, at the 2016 $50k Idea Challenge. She is now the CEO of invisaWear.

– Tyler Cote, Campus-wide DifferenceMaker, a $6,000 prize, at the 2017 $50k Idea Challenge. He is the Founder of Operation250.

– Tatiana Tompkins, Honorable Mention, $2,000, at both the 2019 and 2020 $50k Idea Challenge. She is a member of two teams, Protected Pin & NoSno Mat.

Holly Lalos providing a brief presentation about the DifferenceMaker program at UMass Lowell.

After the judge introductions, the event begins! Everyone was looking forward to hearing the creative ideas from each high school student team. After each presentation, judges asked the team questions to help them further understand the idea.

Abby Eastman, representing Nashoba Regional High School, went up first. Her idea is Pandemic Pack. Many students have anxiety about the lack of resources due to COVID-19, which inspired her for this idea. Her product is an all-in-one pack containing essentials such as hand sanitizer, face masks, cough drops, etc. This way, you have all the resources you need during a pandemic in one package. Bonus: your pack can be customized with products with your school logo!

Next, Mia Gaglione and Ava Gilligan, representing Tewksbury High School, pitched. Diabetes is a huge problem, and they noticed how the condition impacted their loved ones’ day to day lives. Their idea, InsulWatch, is a modern-day watch designed to monitor and regulate the effects of insulin in your body.

The bottom of the watch has built-in space for insulin patches and replacement needle trays, making it accessible to manage your blood sugar levels anywhere. This product can also sync with an app. With the app, it alerts users when their blood sugar levels are low.

Mia Gaglione and Ava Gillian presenting the market opportunity of “InsulWatch.”

Next, Ganesh Danke, a student from Chelmsford High School, presented. His idea is known as “Clean Crate.” He noticed that ordering healthy food online is not possible, and that there are many commission fees associated with current options. However, Clean Crate is a revolutionary food delivery service specializing in providing clean, healthy food from local farms. Deliveries will be scheduled weekly, with no high commission fees – just a monthly subscription. This business model supports local farmers, helps people eat locally grown produce, and is a convenient option for anyone, even busy people.

Finally, Westford Academy students Prasanna Edpugani and Aashi Akare pitched their idea, “Signal Map.” Signal Map is an application that works alongside a product known as a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, which provides live data about your WiFi signal. This can eliminate the frustration of slow internet when sharing with others, allowing you to recognize spots with the strongest/weakest WiFi signals in your home.

After all the presentations and judge Q&A, the judges went into a separate room to discuss the winners. While in the main event room, Tom encouraged everyone to network and asked the student teams what inspired them to create their idea. Many of the teams noticed issues in their day to day lives and thought about solutions that could solve them. They utilized what they learned in their classes and applied it to their projects. Very impressive!

Full crowd with participants from various schools around Massachusetts!

Then, after deliberation, the judges came back to announce the winners. Congratulations to all teams that presented this afternoon!

1st place – $500, Aashi Akare and Meghana Edpuganti, Westford Academy – “Signal Map”

2nd place – $300 Ganesh Danke, Chelmsford High School – “Clean Crate”

3rd place – $200, Mia Gaglione and Ava Gilligan, Tewksbury Memorial High School – “InsulWatch”

Honorable Mention – DifferenceMaker gear (t-shirt, pen, lanyard, water bottle, notebook) – Abigail Eastman, Nashoba Regional High School – “Pandemic Pack”

Huge thank you to DECA Inc. for sponsoring the prizes for this event. And, another huge thank you to all of the partnership schools and teachers involved in this exciting collaboration effort.

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Workshop 4: Developing Your Rocket Pitch

On March 2nd, from 5:30 – 7 p.m., DifferenceMaker held its’ fourth, and final Workshop Session; Delivering Your Rocket Pitch!

Holly Lalos, Entrepreneurship Initiatives Program Director, kicked-off the event. Then, she introduced the guest speakers for the evening: Professor Cathy Levy, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and Professor Kevin Willett, Manning School of Business.

Next, Professor Levey spoke about the various components that makeup a rocket pitch. She also recapped the previous workshop sessions and thanked all previous guest speakers and attendees.

Full crowd of students, faculty, and mentors!

Then, Professor Willett presented and spoke about the important points regarding an idea and the development of a rocket pitch. He stated that most people don’t like change. Because of this, they may not purchase an innovative product/service since they may be content with what they already have and may be resistant to change. He provided an example about his favorite foods – pizza and Mountain Dew. If he is content with the foods that he enjoys, why would he need or want to try something new?

Professor Willett also emphasized the importance of an opportunity and conducting research. A product may be useful and reasonably priced, however, determining whether there is a customer base is imperative. In order to move forward with an idea, customer research is needed.

An interesting point Professor Willett brought up was in regards to “fads,” like fidget spinners – they were being purchased at one point, but the novelty has since worn off. It is a product that still sells, but at a much lower rate. Thinking about the value a solution has is important. For example, is your product/service unique enough to last through the ever-changing market? If not, what could be changed to make it relevant and needed over time?

Professor Kevin Willett showing examples of rocket pitch presentations that past DifferenceMaker student teams developed.

Then, resources were discussed – the costs, tools, and materials that are needed to create the product/service. If the product/service costs more than what it’s sold for, it will not be sustainable. Professor Willett also mentioned that judges are often impressed by prototypes/mock-ups/drawings of the solution – visuals are always helpful and it shows dedication.

Professor Willett went on to discuss the rocket pitch in more depth – The pitch is five minutes long, so ideas and information should be conveyed clearly and thoroughly during that time. On the slides themselves, succinct wording helps judges understand the presentation better. Statistics and graphics also help support a presentation. Appendix slides are useful during judge Q&A – It shows preparation and thinking ahead.

An example of a previous team that presented a well-developed presentation was BioBubbler, who won 1st Place in the Significant Social Impact category. This team showed confidence while presenting and portrayed their idea in a well thought out manner. During their pitch, they encountered technical difficulties and handled it professionally – they ignored the distractions and focused on their presentation.

BioBubbler’s presentation was shown as an example.

Then, the participants went into breakout rooms to discuss their ideas, develop their pitches, and practice them with one another. Faculty Fellows and a group of volunteer Mentors who are part of the “Friends with Kevin” networking group, were assigned to each room to provide students with informative feedback.

After the breakout rooms, students presented their rocket pitches to the crowd. Pitches ranged from regenerating stem cells, helping the blind connect to the world with AI cameras, and a sustainable indoor gardening system. Faculty Fellows and Mentors provided feedback and advice to each presentation, further preparing the teams.

A big thank you to the volunteer Mentors:

· Brad Counihan –Banker

· Lisa Couturier –Business coach

· Marta Doran – Putnam Investments

· Paul Falewicz –CFO

· Ryan Rourke –Employee Benefits Consultant

· Jack Wang – College Planner

· Elizabeth Wilds – Financial Planner

· Max Ward – Business Coach

To view a video of Workshop 4, visit the DifferenceMaker YouTube Channel.

Thank you to everyone who supported and joined the 2021 DifferenceMaker Workshop Series! Please mark your calendar and register for the April 15th $50,000 Idea Challenge: uml.edu/2021IdeaChallenge. At this event, you will hear 10 student teams pitch-off to a panel of UMass Lowell alumni judges for a chance to win a portion of $50,000 in funding!

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