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UMass Lowell to Award $25,000 in Challenge for Best New Big Ideas

Competition Encourages Students, Alumni to Become ‘DifferenceMakers’


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or, and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or
LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell students will get a hands-on chance to solve real-world problems during this semester’s $25,000 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge. The challenge begins today with the first in a series of events leading to the selection of the winners in April.  

Challenge participants will come up with products, business or service ideas that help tackle major social problems affecting the region, such as access to health care, cyber security, unemployment, support for the arts and more. Students with different majors but a common goal will work in teams and pitch their ideas before a panel of alumni judges for a chance to win a share of $25,000 in seed money to help implement the best plans. Teams, which may also include alumni who have graduated within the past year, will be mentored by UMass Lowell faculty from across the university.  

The DifferenceMaker $25,000 Idea Challenge is a part of UMass Lowell’s new DifferenceMaker Program, which encourages students to hone their problem-solving skills and find their place as innovators in an ever-changing world. Involving students and faculty from all of UMass Lowell’s six colleges – from engineering to liberal arts and sciences, business to health and environment – the program offers academic and extracurricular activities that expand students’ understanding of entrepreneurship and how they can make a difference in their professional and personal lives. DifferenceMaker programs exclusively for freshmen engage them at the start of their UMass Lowell careers in an effort to guide their studies and help them work toward a future of civic engagement.

“In addition, the university has many successful alumni who have made a significant difference in their respective professions and communities. DifferenceMaker is an effort to link our students’ interest and involvement in innovative problem-solving with the success and support of our alumni,” said Prof. Steven Tello, UMass Lowell’s vice chancellor of entrepreneurship and economic development, who is heading the program. The $25,000 in DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge prize money is donated by one such successful UMass Lowell graduate.

Starting today, Idea Challenge participants will work with UMass Lowell faculty to build their teams and form a plan akin to a business plan to flesh out their ideas. Key dates for participants are:
  • Information sessions - 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28 in Alumni Hall, North Campus, 84 University Ave., and 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29 in the O’Leary Library Learning Commons, South Campus, 61 Wilder St., Lowell;
  • Idea application deadline - 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15. Applicants accepted to participate will be notified by Wednesday, Feb. 20;
  • Idea plan due -  5 p.m. Friday, April 12;
  • Finals round and judging - Wednesday, April 17 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren St., Lowell.  
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 16,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health and environment, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.