By Ed Brennen
Steven Evangelos estimates that he and fellow biomedical engineering major Mark Elman practiced their DifferenceMaker
pitch 500 times this semester.
“We met routinely, five days a week after school. He’d jump in my car and we’d go right into the pitch,” Evangelos says.
The preparation showed, as the duo wowed judges — and the crowd — at the Francis College of Engineering
’s eighth annual Prototyping Competition with a high-energy, “Shark Tank”-worthy presentation of their “Alarius Table,” a device that assesses a user’s core alignment to help prevent lower back pain and improve athletic performance.
Competing as “Team Proprioception,” Evangelos and Elman bested four other finalists for a first-place prize of $2,500 and a berth in the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute’s $50,000 Idea Challenge this spring.
A night earlier at University Crossing, a trio of sophomore business majors — Matthew Kinash, Matt Allen and Jackson Sterrett — topped five other teams to win the ninth annual DifferenceMaker Innovation Contest, sponsored by Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) and the Manning School of Business
The trio, who are teammates on the UML men’s hockey team, won $500 each for “StockToMe,” an app they’re developing that allows users to buy and sell opinions about the stock market. They also advanced to this spring’s Idea Challenge.
After pitch contests were held virtually last year because of the pandemic, DifferenceMaker participants and organizers were thankful to resume in-person events this fall.
“It was great to have students back on stage presenting their innovative solutions — and to welcome our volunteer judges back to campus,” says Holly Lalos
, director of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, which celebrated its 10th anniversary
earlier this semester.
Since its inception, 40 companies have been formed from DifferenceMaker student ventures, attracting $5 million in funding and generating over $4 million in revenue.
Evangelos, a military veteran who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from Framingham State University, has been working on the Alarius Table for more than a decade. It started when he met Jim Marchetti ’08, a UML exercise physiology alum, at a health club. They discussed the idea and launched a startup company, Athenetics Human Performance, in 2010.
When Evangelos joined the biomedical engineering program at UML in 2020, Asst. Teaching Prof. Yanfen Li
learned about his company and offered to help him collect and publish data on the patent-pending device. Evangelos then formed a DifferenceMaker team with Elman, a research lab partner, and they got to work on their pitch.
“This is why I came to UMass Lowell — I love the challenge,” says Elman, a sophomore from Needham, Massachusetts, who had never presented to so many people before. “I’d done a slideshow in high school, but this is next-level.”
Diagnosed with scoliosis when he was 10, Elman hopes the Alarius Table can lead to better back pain management. The device has sensors and software that can measure hip and lower back mobility to a ten-thousandth of a degree. With this real-time feedback, it uses proprioception — the body’s ability to sense movement and location — to help users find their optimal alignment.
With their winnings, Evangelos says his team will be able to build two more prototypes (they’re currently on their seventh iteration) and hire additional research assistants to collect data. In the spring, he says they will begin running Institutional Review Board-approved research studies at UML.
“Marketing is great, but nothing says ‘This works’ like a peer-reviewed article,” says Evangelos, a native of Natick, Massachusetts, who hopes to tap into the markets for multi-billion-dollar sports performance and lower back pain.
Team Tendren, made up of junior biomedical engineering majors Victoria Williams, Ethan Block and Amie Russell, won a second-place prize of $1,500 — and an additional $500 as fan favorite — for their device which monitors a patient’s vital signs while they wait to be seen in a hospital emergency room. It features a rechargeable and reusable wrist piece and disposable finger sensor that communicate wirelessly with a nursing triage station.
Williams, who is from Canton, Massachusetts, says she saw a need for the device after her father had to wait in the ER for almost an hour before being diagnosed with a blood clot in his lungs.
“It could have caused a stroke or aneurysm, which could have been fatal,” says Williams.
This was the trio’s second DifferenceMaker entry; they also competed as first-year students.
“We learned a lot from that experience,” says Block, who is from Georgetown, Massachusetts. “We’ve honed our skills and knowledge to come back as a strong team with something feasible.”
Team PenGRED, another biomedical engineering team made up of juniors Danielle Bucci and Ryan Butler and first-year students Gabriela Karnesky and Grace Murray, took the third-place prize of $1,000 for their EpiPen device for children.
The finalists were judged by Rajia Abdelaziz ’16, co-founder and CEO of invisaWear Technologies; Chris McKenna ’89, managing partner for intellectual property at Foley & Lardner LLP; Chad LaFrance ’88, director of engineering operations at Texas Instruments; Bhupen Shah ’92, vice president of engineering at Acacia Communications; and Mark Saab ’81, founding trustee of the Saab Family Foundation.
Kinash is the founder and CEO of StockToMe, a patent-pending platform that he calls the “first and only stock opinion marketplace.” He came up with the idea about a year ago after giving some successful stock advice to a friend.
“I started wondering why there isn’t a platform where you can easily get a buy and sell point” for stocks, says Kinash, who began talking to one of his business professors, adjunct faculty member Kevin Willett
, about his idea.
Back home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, over the summer, Kinash learned how to code apps by watching YouTube videos. He created a rough prototype and raised $50,000 in funding from family, friends and private investors, which allowed him to hire a coder to help him refine the app. When he returned to campus this fall, he recruited Allen and Sterrett to join his DifferenceMaker team as marketing leads.
“DifferenceMaker really organized my efforts,” says Kinash, who expects to have StockToMe in Apple’s App Store in the next month. “It taught me a lot about goal setting, management and how to look at your competitors.”
While the Reddit subforum WallStreetBets and other social media channels have become a popular way for millions of amateur investors to discuss stocks and cryptocurrency, Kinash says they lack efficiency and don’t provide a way for opinion-makers to monetize their picks.
On StockToMe, anyone will be able to sell opinions on long positions (saying a stock will go up over time), short positions (saying it will fall in the short term) and crypto. Users can buy “STM coins” to purchase opinions, with the company taking a 5% to 10% cut of the transaction.
“We want experts to brand themselves and monetize their efforts, and we also want people who are just getting into it, who maybe have a knack for investing, to start making opinions,” Kinash says. “We want to level the playing field for anyone who wants to become a portfolio manager.”
Every team member who pitched in the Innovation Contest finals received $100 from DCU.
The other teams were:
- Chain Bank (Aymaan Shaikh and Hirschfield Ssozi), a blockchain-based technology that is similar to cryptocurrency;
- Credit Champs (Ben McClure and Nick Paolilio), an app to use ATMs hands-free;
- Labor as a Service (Kevin Zhang), an app that connects gig workers with companies in need of manual labor;
- Trade Bozz (Toney Benny and Sebastian Pascal), a financial literacy platform focused on helping Gen Z and millennials build wealth through stock and crypto markets; and
- Simplicity Bank (Yeaharne Hout, Heer Patel, Saema Nazar and Monica Nguyen), an app that teaches financial wellness to children in a fun and engaging way.
The presentations were judged by Dave Carter, DCU director of information systems infrastructure; Sandesh Parulekar, DCU director of information systems development; Barbara Russell, co-founder and managing partner at Cap W Global Advisory/Investment Banking Group; and Michael Zuccaro '83, vice president of financial planning and analysis at Akebia Therapeutics.
“The partnership with DCU and DifferenceMaker has been so valuable to our college and our university,” says Dean of Business Sandra Richtermeyer. “It’s created so many jobs for students. So many great things have come from this.”