Skip to Main Content

Boot Camp Makes a Difference in Pitch Power

Student Entrepreneurs Refine Projects During Four-week Session

Benjamin McEvoy and Edward Morante sit at a table talking at DifferenceMaker bootcamp Photo by Ed Brennen
Jonathan De Alderete, left, of NonSpec offers some tips to Benjamin McEvoy and Edward Morante.

By David Perry

Ah, summer. Long days of sun, sand and salt. A vacation from brain strain.

Not in room 110 of Lydon Library. Not for those DifferenceMaker teams who spent part of their summer attending weekly boot camp sessions.

Members of nine DifferenceMaker teams refined, rebooted and reimagined the projects that earned them spots in the camp.

“It was work, yeah, but really fun to be able to take our DifferenceMaker project further by knowing the details of what we need to do,” says Benjamin McEvoy, whose Benji Ball earned Campuswide DifferenceMaker honors and $6,000 at April’s Idea Challenge.

“A lot of it was in the details.”

Other teams included the Jamfuze music web platform, VotED, a voter education project, and ECG for Me, an electro-cardio patch for athletes.

Boot Camp is “designed to help Idea Challenge winning teams move their entrepreneurial ideas closer to launch,” says Ha Pho, entrepreneurial initiatives project manager for the DifferenceMaker program.
On consecutive Thursdays in June, 16 students spent five-hour sessions honing projects that had already been deemed among the best of more than 54 ideas submitted to DifferenceMaker competitions last year. Boot camp teams were among the top 10 in the year-ending DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge.
“The boot camps are where the teams dive into the more visceral aspects of their idea.” -Brent Shell, asst. teaching professor
There was work to complete before class, and sessions involved detailed discussion and critiques of their projects. Successful DifferenceMaker alums and CEOs Jonathan De Alderete of NonSpec and Rajia Abdelaziz from invisaWear joined Brent Shell, an assistant teaching professor in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences and Marketing Entrepreneurship, and Innovation Associate Teaching Professor Deborah Finch on the panel. Each week, teams further refined their pitches and absorbed constructive criticism and advice from panelists.

“The criticism we got was constructive and encouraging,” says McEvoy. “Jonathan was tough, but I love the feedback he gave. He’s been where we were with production issues and could tell us how he solved things.”

The camp is designed to help teams “address problems before products enter the consumer pipeline,” according to Holly Butler, UML’s entrepreneurial initiatives project director. 

“We get a superficial view of the teams’ projects during their short presentations to the judges,” says Shell. “But the boot camps are where the teams dive into the more visceral aspects of their idea. They explain the background of how they picked their particular problem, the value their solution holds and their relationship to the problem.”

The program culminated in Demo Day, where teams made their refined pitches and were matched with alumni and community professional mentors for the upcoming season.

Depending upon attendance, students were able to earn $200 per session.

“We know they are giving up things they might otherwise be doing during the summer months to attend,” says Butler. “Jobs don’t often let students off for the hours of sessions. This is a way of allowing them to pay themselves, but they have to do the work.”

The summer program began in 2015, and those who run it continue to refine it.

Based on the students’ feedback, the program hit its marks, Butler says.

“At the end of the session, students fill out evaluation forms to tell us how we’re doing,” she says. “And from what we’re seeing, they’re getting a lot out of it."