By Ed Brennen
Greg Montemurro first learned about the university’s DifferenceMaker Program while on a campus visit in high school.
“I heard about DifferenceMakers from an upperclassman during an open house, and it really interested me,” said Montemurro, who was looking for a school with a strong culture of entrepreneurship. “A lot of schools don’t have that, and it’s one of the reasons I came to UMass Lowell. I knew I wanted to get involved.”
One year later, Montemurro and fellow Manning School of Business freshman Dave Seybert were not only involved, but they were the winners of the DifferenceMaker Innovation Contest finals, sponsored by Digital Federal Credit Union and the Manning School.
Montemurro and Seybert each won $500 – and advanced a step closer to this spring’s $50K Idea Challenge – for their project “True to You,” a mobile banking security app that leverages facial recognition scanning, cloud computing and blockchain technology.
“It scans your retina and iris, converts it to a series of numbers, sends them to the cloud and checks them across the blockchain for approval,” explained Montemurro, a business administration major (with concentrations in finance and supply chain and operations management) who was born in Germany, raised in Michigan and went to high school at Westford Academy.
“It uses all of the latest technology in a way that can make banking more secure and incredibly efficient,” added Seybert, a business administration major from Attleboro who is also a member of the university’s men’s cross-country and track and field teams.
This year’s Innovation Contest judges included a pair of alumni – DCU President and CEO Jim Regan ’88 and Mainspire Marketing owner and founder Sarah LaLiberte ’06 – as well as Vasilios Roussos, managing director of the DCU FinTech Innovation Center in Boston.
“It’s nice to see the students talking about utilizing technology like cloud sourcing, blockchain and Bitcoin,” said Regan, who has volunteered as a mentor and judge in the business school competition since its inception in 2013. “The first year we did it, it was all about budgeting apps. These projects were much more wide-ranging. It’s not just about ‘How do we make a buck?’ It’s ‘How do we educate people and help them learn?’ which is great to see.”
The three other semifinalist projects were ATMpal (led by team members Xuan Bui, Zachary Fay, Yash Patel, Andre Ragel and Greg Smelkov), Guided Saving’s Projector (Kristen Bauer, Eli Gukovsky and Kaitlyn Hanerfeld) and Friendli Finance (Thomas Stranberg, Bryan Desrosiers, Ethan Gariepy and Steve Alger). Each team member won $100 for advancing to the semifinal round.
LaLiberte, who earned her MBA from the Manning School, was impressed by the presentations of all four semifinalist teams.
“They were unbelievable. All four of these solutions could really come to market in the next 12 months,” said LaLiberte, whose Manchester, N.H.-based company specializes in marketing technology firms. “I’m excited to see what happens with them – and help them get their solutions to market if they’re interested.”
Montemurro and Seybert met at a Manning School networking event in September and soon began working on “True to You.” Two months later, they were making their five-minute presentation to an audience of more than 60 people at the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center. Now they’re moving on to the DifferenceMaker Preliminary Pitch-off this spring, where they’ll have a chance to advance to the $50K Idea Challenge.
“I’m a little overwhelmed. My brain is still processing it,” Montemurro said after he and Seybert received congratulations from the judges – and an invitation from Regan to join him for coffee in Boston to discuss their project further.
“You could try reaching out to someone like that and maybe get five minutes of their time,” Montemurro said. “But now they’re interested in us. It’s an awesome opportunity.”
The DCU Innovation Contest was one of three semester-ending DifferenceMaker competitions held during the first week of December.
At the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition, freshman biomedical engineering majors Jennifer Schultz, Cameron Albert and Jayden Hairston won the $1,000 first prize for their product “Handy Bandage,” an inexpensive “sock” that goes over a patient’s arm or leg to shield their wound from airborne pathogens while they are waiting to be seen.
In the graduate student category, Team CareerHawk (comprised of Jingchuan Zhou, Lina Wu, Ruizhe Du and Yongdae Kwon) won the $1,000 top prize for an application that makes it easier for students to find an on-campus job.
At the FAHSS Creative Venture Competition, the $5,000 first prize went to Project PACE, a counterterrorism website that aims to educate young people about violent extremism.