DifferenceMaker’s DCU/Manning School Innovation Contest Draws Record 16 Entrants

Students William Fullbrook Hanna and Hannah Wright pitch their project Chip Away Image by Ed Brennen
Business students William C. Fullbrook Hanna and Hannah Wright answer judges' questions about their DifferenceMaker Innovation Contest project, Chip Away.

By Ed Brennen

Chip Away, a mobile app that helps recent college graduates pay down their student loans with small, daily payments, won the 2018 DifferenceMaker Innovation Contest, sponsored by Digital Federal Credit Union and the Manning School of Business.

A record 16 teams entered the sixth annual competition, which challenges interdisciplinary groups of students to come up with cutting-edge banking and financial innovations.

Entrepreneurial Initiatives Project Director Holly Butler says the record number of entries this year reflects the mindset and interests of today’s students.

“Students are starting to think more entrepreneurially and they want to get more engaged,” says Butler, who hosts several DifferenceMaker events across campus each fall to help students brainstorm ideas and form teams for the three college competitions.

For the Innovation Contest, six finalists (made up of 18 students) presented to a panel of judges at University Crossing’s Moloney Hall. The projects ranged from a financial literacy education program, to an app that allows you to withdraw cash from an ATM by using your phone instead of a bank card.

Members of the Chip Away team pose with DifferenceMaker judges Image by Ed Brennen
Members of the winning Chip Away team pose with Innovation Contest judges and, at right, Entrepreneurial Initiatives Project Director Holly Butler.

The Chip Away team, which includes senior business administration majors Hannah Wright and William C. Fullbrook Hanna, senior computer science major George Le and senior criminal justice major Peter Maitland, took home the top prize of $2,400. (Every student from the six teams in the finals earned $100, while each member of the winning team earned an additional $500.)

For Le and Maitland, it was their second DifferenceMaker win this year. In April, they won the Campus Wide DifferenceMaker award (and $6,000) for their project Iron Legion, a network of drones designed to aid law enforcement and other first responders.

Fullbrook Hanna, who did some behind-the-scenes “support work” for the Iron Legion team, says he and Le began working on Chip Away after they both read an article about the concept.

“We started spitballing to see how we could get to where we are now,” says Fullbrook Hanna, whose concentrations are in accounting, finance and management information systems.

As Fullbrook Hanna and Wright explained in their pitch to judges, Chip Away would work on several levels. The first is having a user’s debit or credit card purchases rounded up to the nearest dollar, with the difference going toward their student loan debt. It would also spread out monthly loan payments over daily increments, and eventually would include a component where an employer could contribute to daily loan payments.

Students John Lesack and Conrad Nelson pitch their idea, ATM Fast App Image by Ed Brennen
Students John Lesack, left, and Conrad Nelson pitch their ATM Fast App project to judges during the Innovation Contest finals.

The team members, who advanced a step closer to this spring’s $50K Idea Challenge, will decide in the coming months how to move the project forward.

For Wright, whose concentrations are in marketing and entrepreneurship, stepping out of her comfort zone and taking part in the competition turned out “way better” than she could have imagined.

“I’ve never done anything like this, so it was interesting to see what I could contribute and execute on marketing,” says Wright, who surveyed 135 students about student loan debt. “It definitely helped me.”

This year’s judges included a pair of alumni – DCU President and CEO Jim Regan ’88 and Michelle Silveira ’91, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union. Vasilios Roussos, managing director of the DCU FinTech Innovation Center in Boston, also returned as a volunteer judge.

In addition to providing the prize money for students, Regan also met with each of the six teams two weeks before the finals to provide feedback on their projects.

Judges Michelle Silveira and Vasilios Roussous deliberate at UCrossing Image by Ed Brennen
Volunteer Innovation Contest judges Michelle Silveira and Vasilios Roussos deliberate outside of Moloney Hall.

“It’s great to see students thinking outside the box and bringing some of their own experiences to how they can improve banking,” says Silveira, a management alum who served as judge for the first time. Silveira also advises the university’s financial wellness program and has an award named in her honor – the Michelle Silveira Heart & Soul Award – by the university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Dean Sandra Richtermeyer says the Innovation Contest is important to the Manning School because of the hands-on experiences it affords to students.

“This is something you can talk about on job interviews,” Richtermeyer told participants. “And hopefully it’s something you can talk about later in life when you’re mentoring young entrepreneurs yourself.”