LOWELL, Mass. – A product that detects and helps seal leaks in ill-fitting face masks to protect against COVID-19 and other environmental hazards recently won top honors in UMass Lowell’s annual student entrepreneurship pitch competition.
Called TrueFIT, the invention was named the Rist Campuswide DifferenceMaker in UMass Lowell’s 2021 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge
, a contest that caps a year-long program that teaches students in all majors skills they can use to launch their own businesses and nonprofits.
TrueFIT was one of 10 innovations showcased before expert judges during the competition’s final round, which was held online and viewed by more than 100 people. Fifty teams entered the challenge, now in its ninth year.
COVID-19 sparked the idea behind TrueFIT, a mask-fitting and sealing solution that adheres to any commercially available facial covering. The invention uses a temperature-sensitive, color-coded dye to indicate the completeness of a mask’s seal. When a mask is touching a person’s face, the product changes color; areas of a mask that are not touching the face show no color, to indicate lack of a seal.
The team behind the innovation includes Siddhant Iyer, a UMass Lowell plastics engineering graduate student from Lowell; Justin Marcouillier, an undergraduate business administration major from Chelmsford and Pranav Ramaswamy, a Westford Academy freshman.
“Pranav had worked on another project on thermochromic inks at his school. That’s how TrueFIT came up with the idea to use thermochromics for better fit and seal,” said Iyer.
“Color-changing materials, also known as thermochromic materials, have always been a fascination of mine,” said Ramaswamy, 14. “Siddhant mentored me as we refined the idea, designed and made the prototypes. I learned a lot about skin-safe adhesives and thermochromic inks that change color at body temperature.”
TrueFIT aims to protect people in their everyday lives as well as workers in the construction, health care, mining and other industries.
“The winning team came up with an innovative mask device that can be used well after COVID-19 and that will hit a larger target market. They did great research,” said Holly Lalos, DifferenceMaker program director.
Iyer was energized by the team’s first-place showing.
“There is no better feeling than having a community of people support an idea dedicated to solving a very important problem,” he said.
The event highlighted the “depth, ingenuity and talent of the students at UMass Lowell,” said Brian Rist ’77, a UMass Lowell alumnus and namesake of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute
. Rist, who served as a judge for the competition, founded and grew Florida-based Storm Smart into the largest manufacturer and installer of hurricane-protection products in the U.S. He is the chairman of the Rist Family Foundation.
Noting TrueFIT’s concept and product are “not only timely and marketable, but much needed,” Rist predicted “TrueFIT will clearly be a DifferenceMaker.”
Other teams competing in the challenge pitched everything from an appealing case for medication designed to look like an apple to an affordable device to power and maneuver wheelchairs. Two pitches focused new ways to support agriculture: one for a plant fertilizer production system in Uganda, the other a terrarium to grow food everywhere, even on Mars.
In addition to Rist, judges included Instinet Holdings Inc. Chief Marketing Officer Lorna Boucher ’86; CondeCo CEO Cindy Conde ’87, ’91; Roger Cressey ’87, partner, Liberty Group Ventures; Group III International Ltd. Chairman and CEO John Pulichino ’67, ’14 (H); Digital Federal Credit Union President and CEO James Regan ’88; Mark Saab ’81,’13 (H), founding trustee, Saab Family Foundation; and Prof. Jack Wilson, president emeritus of the UMass system and UMass Lowell distinguished professor of higher education, emerging technologies and innovation, who founded UMass Lowell’s Jack Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship.
Overall, the challenge awards $50,000 in prizes to the 10 finalist teams. Each receives a share of $35,000 in privately funded prize money. In addition, this summer, the finalists will participate in the DifferenceMaker Program’s boot camp, where they may apply for one of three awards of in-kind services worth $5,000 provided by sponsors Foley and Lardner, LLP and UMass Lowell alumnus Chris McKenna ’89.
Since the program was founded in 2012, DifferenceMaker participants have launched 38 companies, raised $5 million to advance their inventions and have received or filed 10 patents. More than 60,000 students have been introduced to the program. Along with the TrueFIT team, winners were named in seven other categories. UMass Lowell student participants, their majors and hometowns are:
Significant Social Impact, $4,000
Digital Life – A prosthetic device for children with digital congenital deformities developed by biomedical engineering majors Smriti Kumar of Westford, Alejandra Luna Juarez of Methuen, Tina Thuy Nguyen Hoang of Revere and Amy Nguyen from Manchester, N.H.
Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle, $4,000
Apple a Day – A container for medications that is discreet and appealing to children developed by mechanical engineering majors Emily Philpot of Topsfield, Param Rajeshbhai Patel of Lowell and Jack Ryan of Hanson.
Sutherland Innovative Technology Solution (sponsored by Andrew Sutherland ’94), $4,000
NavLens – A wearable device that enhances spatial awareness for people with visual impairments
- Alden Giedraitis, electrical engineering, Byfield;
- Daniel Giuliano, mechanical engineering, Braintree;
- Christina Haugh, business administration, Shirley;
- Jack Houle, electrical engineering, Winchester;
- Asa Losurdo, electrical engineering and computer science, North Brookfield;
- Edwin Meriaux, computer engineering, Westborough.
Jack. M. Wilson First Product to Market Award (sponsored by Jack Wilson), $4,000
- Wonder Wheel – An affordable assistive device for wheelchairs
- Rasha El Ghazal, biomedical engineering, Merrimack, N.H.;
- Alexander Hoefer, electrical engineering, Boxborough;
- Khang Nguyen, mechanical engineering, Malden;
- Sanskriti Sharma, computer engineering, Cambridge.
Commitment to a Sustainable Environment, $4,000
Green Fertilizer – A concept to design and build a fertilizer production system developed by energy engineering doctoral candidates Benard Tabu and Visal Veng of Lowell, and Samuel Alpert, a master’s degree candidate in energy engineering from Needham.
Honorable Mentions, $2,000
Concept Project – A multimedia startup that creates awareness about social issues and provides mental and physical challenges in the outdoors developed by Garret Roberts, a business administration major from West Newbury.
Terminus – A terrarium that can be used to grow food anywhere
- Brian Cleavitt, business administration, Hudson, N.H.;
- Rohan Goyal, computer science, Shrewsbury;
- Renin Kingsly Jose, computer engineering, Lowell
- Eliot Pirone, mechanical engineering, Somerville;
- Ariel Shramko, environmental engineering, Attleboro.
Tommy Vi’s Gelato – A new dessert that blends Asian flavors produced with Italian machinery and techniques developed by Tommy Vi, a business administration major from Chelmsford.
VieVest – A product that protects athletes from impact and abrasions sustained from barbell use, developed by Alexander Frawley, a business administration major from Billerica.
UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu