Six Projects will Pitch Live to Win Seed Funding

Winners of the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge with event hosts and judges.  Photo by Chirp Studio Image by Chirp Studio
Winners of the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge with event hosts and judges.

By Stephanie Guyotte

An estimated, one in five Essex County residents lacks access to internet service and computers, along with an understanding of how to use digital devices.

Aiming to solve this disparity, the Digital Equity Challenge will award $10,000 in cash prizes to the most promising solutions for the region through a live pitch contest event in Haverhill. The event is hosted by the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub Haverhill and the Essex County Community Foundation.

Six ideas submitted to the challenge have been selected as finalists. These finalists, which represent projects that range in geographic location from Lawrence to Gloucester, will present at the Third Annual Digital Equity Challenge Pitch Contest. The live event will be held May 2 at 6 p.m. at the iHub Haverhill.

The contest fosters ideas that increase digital literacy, improve access to devices and technology, and help ensure digital resources and opportunities are available to county residents of all racial backgrounds.

“Through the Digital Equity Challenge, we’ve encouraged the community to use entrepreneurial thinking to develop innovative solutions to the challenges of digital literacy, access and equity, and we’ve seen great results,” said UMass Lowell’s Stephanie Guyotte, associate director of the university’s Innovation Hub Haverhill. “This year’s finalists are offering unique solutions that will positively impact our communities. I look forward to hearing them present to our judges and learn how best we can launch these ideas into reality.”

The finalists are:

  • Lawrence TDI Partnership for The 427 Alley Project, which will launch this summer at 427 Essex Street in Lawrence, aims to create the city's first open space with free public Wi-Fi. This initiative will improve digital access and connectivity for the Downtown Lawrence community and promote work, education, leisure, and socializing activities on the site, increasing foot traffic and benefiting local businesses. The project promotes a more connected and inclusive community environment by making the space more welcoming and functional for visitors.
  • Lawrence CommunityWorks is a first-of-its-kind Wi-Fi project that will install high-speed hotel style internet in the Duck Mill and other redeveloped mills and affordable housing. A stable and efficient internet connection has become a necessity for at-home education, working from home, and telehealth; this project intends to equip Lawrence’s primarily low-income residents with a service that treats the internet as a utility, not a privilege.
  • Build Game Box offers a new entryway into digital game design through tabletop games, tangibles and tactile experiences. Build Game Box aims to make game design more accessible for all interest types and create new avenues to gaming careers.
  • Minds With Purpose is a dynamic networking platform designed to empower individuals on their journey to sustainability and profitability while fostering personal growth. Through its diverse range of impactful events, workshops, and advertising services, the company provides the support and exposure necessary for individuals to thrive and reach their fullest potential. Additionally, it is committed to making a difference in the lives of young people by creating opportunities and inspiring the next generation of leaders.
  • Mass Association for Computer and Internet Resources (MACIR) will bring its eight-week Tech Support Job Program to underserved populations in Essex County. MACIR’s holistic approach ensures that professionals are equipped not only with technical skills but also with the guidance and mentorship needed for long-term success in the tech industry.
  • Wilderness Technology Alliance seeks to deliver digital equity to seniors in Essex County, especially those who are homebound or isolated, by providing technology equipment and digital literacy training. Its program provides iPads, internet access, 1-1 training, Zoom instructions and engagement, and support.

“Our communities have come a long way in bridging the digital divide since the pandemic really revealed the depth of the issue,” said Kate Machet, director of strategic initiatives and government relations at Essex County Community Foundation, a leading sponsor of the challenge. “Many of the community-based programs that have worked to increase access to devices, broadband internet and digital literacy training were started right here at this competition, by entrepreneurs who saw this challenge as an opportunity to pilot innovative, collaborative solutions.”

But there is more work to do, according to Machet. “We look forward to hearing from this year’s contestants about their visions for increasing access to the digital resources needed to navigate life today,” she said.

At the May 2 event, judges will determine the winners, who will share in $10,000 awarded to help make their ideas a reality.

Last year’s top winner, the nonprofit Computers 4 People, refurbishes donated computers and provides them to people in need, among other services. Haverhill Promise – a local initiative that helps to ensure elementary students in that city become proficient readers by the third grade – launched and later expanded its kindergarten readiness summer program through funds received as a second-place winner in the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge.

“Due to the program’s success, it garnered even more support through our community partners and Essex County Community Foundation. We scaled up to a year-long program to continue to address the intersection of early learning, family empowerment, grade-level reading, racial equity, and digital access, citywide,” said Jessica Kallin, Haverhill Promise executive director.

Other programs funded through the Digital Equity Challenge include an internet connectivity program in Haverhill, a digital literacy program for seniors in Lynn and Wi-Fi hotspots for the Lawrence Public Library.

Along with the ECCF, challenge sponsors include UMass Lowell’s Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, Pentucket Bank and Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll), a nonprofit agency that assists underrepresented individuals in launching businesses.

“EforAll Merrimack Valley is happy to partner with the Innovation Hub once again for the 2024 Digital Equity Challenge,” said Sophan Smith, executive director of EforAll Merrimack Valley. “Digital literacy and equity are important in today’s interconnected world and are essential for navigating the digital landscape effectively, participating in the digital economy, and fully realizing the opportunities presented by technology.”

Individuals interested in learning more about the challenge may contact Guyotte at or visit