Skip to Main Content

DifferenceMaker Winner: Hungry for Solution

$35K Idea Challenge Winners Address Real Problems

SOS 2014 Differencemaker Winners
The winning team, flanked by Ralph Jordan of the Manning School of Business, far left, and Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney, far right, from left, Xavier Guay, Chandana Penukonda, Teresa Shroll, Sadie Prickett, Anna Henson and Mary Tauras.

By David Perry

SOS: Support Our Students, a proposal for a campus community shop aimed at eliminating student hunger, was named Campus-wide DifferenceMaker and top money-winner in this year’s DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge, earning $7,000 for its six-member team to move forward to make it real. 

And they will, says team leader Teresa Shroll ’13, psychology, now a first-year graduate student majoring in community social psychology. 

“We are very passionate about this. We’re not resting.”

DifferenceMakers has been very successful,” says Steven Tello, associate vice chancellor of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. “It gives our students an opportunity to identify a problem and plan, organize and find a solution to it.”

One of Shroll’s professors, Khanh Dinh, sent out information about European efforts to address community hunger. When Shroll and others suggested acting locally on such an effort, Dinh suggested working through DifferenceMakers. By February, they had geared up and decided to focus on food needs among students at the University. They discovered there is a need.

The team of six who cooked up the Support Our Students shop proposed “a centrally located resource for students of low-income or those in need of assistance. It would also serve as a resource center for community engagement, for credit service placements and volunteer opportunities in the area.”

Besides Shroll, the team includes Xavier Guay, Chandana Penukonda, Sadie Prickett, Anna Henson and Mary Tauras.

They discovered hunger isn’t just lack of food. “It’s the stress and time thinking about getting it and not having it that affects learning, too.”

Now, says Shroll, the group is reaching out to food-related organizations like Mill City Grows for help and guidance, and will work over the summer to write a survey that will gauge the breadth of the problem on campus.

“Theirs was a great one,” Tello said of SOS. “We’ve told people this is not a traditional business plan competition, but a way to energize our students to work toward solutions with innovation and entrepreneurship. They range from graduate students to freshmen, so there will be some continued momentum with this.”

Thirteen teams competed in the second year finals of DifferenceMakers, whittled down from 70 applicants (nearly double the first year) and 42 semifinalists. The $35,000 purse money will help students file patents, purchase supplies and develop business strategies to flesh out their ideas. The challenge is hosted by UMass Lowell’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, designed to challenge students to propose solutions for a service, product or business that needs to be addressed in the real world. 

This year’s proposals ranged from a heat recovery system to Fresh Beets, a rolling repository of healthy food and music, to Nerdonyx, to encourage student-engineers and scientists. Support Our Students earned the single biggest prize of the evening, but four teams won $4,000 awards, three earned $2,000 and six walked away with $1,000 awards. Categories included Fastest Product to Market, Significant Social Impact, Significant technology Innovation and Contribution to a Sustainable Planet. This year’s Fan Favorite was Mr. Meds, a robot used in hospitals to ensure the proper dosage and distribution of medication.