By Stephanie Guyotte
The top prize went to Computers 4 People, a startup nonprofit organization founded by Dylan Zajac, a Babson College sophomore. Computers 4 People take outdated or discarded computers, refurbishes them, and donates them back to individuals who do not have a computer. They will use the $5,000 first place prize to expand into Essex County.
“I would not be where I am today without having access to a laptop,” said Zajac. “I want to give that same opportunity to tens of thousands of people.”
This contest was created by the iHub in collaboration Essex County Community Foundation and their Digital Equity Initiative.
“Tapping local innovators for digital equity solutions that are for, from and by the community is what ECCF’s Advancing Digital Equity initiative is all about,” said Kate Machet, ECCF’s director of strategic initiatives and government relations. “So, it was exciting to be a part of this very inspirational and entrepreneurial challenge once again. We heard so many great ideas and we can’t wait to support the winners as they bring their digital equity solutions to life.”
ECCF has been working collaboratively across Essex County investing in people and projects that advance digital equity.
“At UMass Lowell and the Innovation Hub we help foster ideas and support entrepreneurs as they launch and grow their businesses,” said Stephanie Guyotte, iHub Haverhill associate director. “It was a natural fit to create this challenge – this effort is about using entrepreneurial thinking to develop innovative solutions to this county-wide issue.”
Haverhill Promise, an early literacy program to help students achieve grade-level reading proficiency, won the second-place prize. Executive Director Jessica Kallin said Haverhill Promise was seeking funding to launch an evidence-based digital literacy program for preschool aged youth in Haverhill.
Third place prize went to Lawrence Public Library to support a laptop and wifi hotspot loaner program. Janelle Abreu, library director, said that while the library has been offering loaner laptops, without include a hot spot for wifi, the residents of the community are not getting the fully digital access they need.
“Our library can be vital in promoting literacy, education, and community engagement, particularly for individuals and groups who may face barriers to accessing these resources elsewhere,” said Abreu.
Finally, the audience awarded the fan favorite prize to See Yourself Health, a startup that has created the Hope App, a digital tool that support patients with diabetes.
The event’s judges were Mia Crabbe, Chief People Office of Tech Goes Home; Jonathan Dowst, CEO of Pentucket Bank; Jess Vilas Novas, CEO of JVN Management Solutions; and Susu Wong, CEO of Tomo360.
Additional partners in the event were UMass Lowell’s Rist Differencemaker Institute and EforAll Merrimack Valley. The event was sponsored by Pentucket Bank.