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DifferenceMaker $50K Idea Challenge Honors Entrepreneurship, Ingenuity in 10th Annual Student Showcase

Team with Idea for Social-Media Platform Takes Top Prize

Two students pose with their award while standing between a man and a woman Photo by Meg Moore
Senior biology major Adam Iskandar holds Amara's Rist Campus-Wide DifferenceMaker award alongside, from left, program namesake Brian Rist '77, teammate Brandon Conceicao and DifferenceMaker Director Holly Lalos during the $50,000 Idea Challenge.

04/29/2022

Media Contacts: Emily Gowdey-Backus: 978-934-3369, Emily_GowdeyBackus@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco: 978-934-4944, Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

A decade since the inaugural DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge, UMass Lowell’s entrepreneurial pitch competition, the university has cemented its reputation as a center of innovation.

In the latest round of competition, 11 finalists were chosen and Amara announced the 2022 Rist Campus-Wide DifferenceMaker at the April 13, on-campus awards ceremony.

UMass Lowell senior Adam Iskandar and his partner, Brandon Conceicao, received a $6,000 purse for their social media platform touting greater transparency and, what the pair call, a more “humane” algorithm. With a prototype of the platform already available in the iOS and Google Play app stores, Conceicao and Iskandar said their DifferenceMaker winnings will help fund future development of the app and equipment costs.

“We plan on using the credibility gained from UMass Lowell’s DifferenceMaker when meeting with investors,” said Iskandar, a native of Newton, Mass., who met Conceicao through his work as a customer service rep at ivisaWear, a company which also got its start with the DifferenceMaker program.

“Each year, I am more and more impressed with the ideas put forward by our students,” said Holly Lalos, director of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute. “The subjects they choose to address are ones that permeate everyday life across a broad scope of the public and their proposed solutions reflect true inspiration and thorough research.”

Brian Rist, ’77, the program’s namesake and chair of the Rist Family Foundation, praised Lalos and her team for their work. “It seems like the competition, the ideas and the creativity get better and better and stronger and stronger every year,” he said. 

  • Amara wasn’t the only big winner at the Idea Challenge. Five other teams took home $4,000 prizes:
  • Commitment to a Sustainable Environment: ThermoEXA by Ariel Pena-Martinez and Grissel Cervantes-Jaramillo
  • Jack M. Wilson First Product to Market: Hoppers by Abigail White and Alyssa Kennedy
  • Sutherland Innovative Technology Solution: Tendren by Ethan Block, Amie Russell and Victoria Williams
  • Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle: PEAK Performance by Evelyn Duffy, Mark Elman, Steven Evangelos and Matthew Martel
  • Significant Social Impact: Minds with Purpose by Sammy Santana and Jeurys Santiago

Honorable mentions, along with $2,000 prizes, were awarded to StocktoMe, the UMass Lowell Japanese Student Association, USuccess and Vital Sensing Patch. The Fan Favorite $1,000 award went to MetaLingual.

DifferenceMaker is a campus-wide program that engages UMass Lowell students in creative problem solving, innovation and entrepreneurship. The creativity and innovation of students’ proposed solutions to major issues impacting the region and its future are reviewed by a panel of judges. Throughout the DifferenceMaker program, students work to create a positive social impact in the community and world. Since its start, $5 million has been raised, 40 companies founded, and 11 patents filed or issued by teams that have participated in the DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 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, vigorous hands-on learning 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