Benjamin McEvoy ’21 Turns Winning DifferenceMaker Project into Startup

A young man in a baseball cap tosses a ball in the air while holding a blue plastic bat Image by Ed Brennen
Manning School of Business alum Benjamin McEvoy '21 developed his adaptable baseball game Benji Ball through UML's DifferenceMaker program. He's now introducing it to players of all ages and abilities across the country.

By Ed Brennen

Manning School of Business alum Benjamin McEvoy ’21 still has the loose-leaf sheet of paper, dated August 24, 2015, with the sketch of his dream.
It’s the rough concept of a plastic, paddle-like bat for Benji Ball, a game for people of any age or ability that is now played in close to 200 school districts in 41 states.
“It’s been awesome to see it grow into something that people enjoy and benefit from,” says McEvoy, who stopped by campus recently after peddling Benji Ball on a two-month barnstorming tour of 14 physical education teacher conferences across the country.
The Dunstable, Massachusetts, native came up with the Benji Ball idea while watching two kids playing Wiffle Ball at the beach. Instead of a regular ball, he imagined a multisided ball with baseball outcomes such as “out,” “single” and “home run” printed on each side. This would allow the game to be played by as few as two people — a pitcher and batter.
As a business major at UMass Lowell, McEvoy developed the idea through the DifferenceMaker program, which engages students from all disciplines in creative problem-solving and entrepreneurship. His team won three competitions, including the 2019 Idea Challenge, and netted $14,000.
“DifferenceMaker allowed me to think of it as a full-time business, to take a prototype and figure out my target market and understand how to turn it into a company,” says McEvoy, whose concentrations were in finance and management information systems.
A young man in a baseball hat holds a piece of paper with drawings on it Image by Ed Brennen
Benjamin McEvoy still has the loose-leaf sheet of paper, dated Aug. 24, 2015, on which he first sketched out the Benji Ball bat.
Commencement was a crossroad for McEvoy: either pursue a career in finance or keep developing Benji Ball on his own. He made it to the final round of interviews for what he thought was his dream job — a private equity position in New York City. When he didn’t get it, McEvoy committed himself to Benji Ball.
His first step was a five-day trip to California. During college, McEvoy became an avid listener of podcasts featuring entrepreneurs. His favorite was “Purpose in the Youth” hosted by Bobby Hobert. McEvoy followed the entrepreneurs on social media and direct-messaged 75 of them who lived in California, asking if he could meet them for coffee. Fifteen of them said yes — including Hobert, who let McEvoy crash on his couch and extend the trip an extra week.
“That trip convinced me that I have something really good going with Benji Ball, and it gave me a great network of people that I can lean on for questions or advice when I need to,” says McEvoy, who decided to move to Los Angeles in January of 2022 to build his e-commerce business.
He spent the first half of that year growing his social media presence, posting videos showing how Benji Ball is played. When he moved to LA, the Benji Ball account had six followers on TikTok. He now has close to 100,000 followers and 1.8 million likes.
“I didn’t have a product available to sell yet, but that really helped gain traction on my website and develop my mailing list,” says McEvoy, who started taking preorders that summer — while working on the logistics of getting the first 1,500 units shipped from a manufacturer in Asia to a port in California and then to a distribution center in Dallas.
Last January, he began shipping to customers.
“It was cool to see something that was a drawing in 2015 turned into something that was in people’s hands all across the country,” says McEvoy, whose initial goal was to average one sale per day.
A youngster in a blue baseball uniform sings a blue bat while a young man looks on Image by Benji Ball
Benjamin McEvoy '21, right, teaches a youngster how to play Benji Ball at an event in California.
When he struggled to hit his target, he started to second-guess himself.
“There were times when I had double-digits in my bank account, which was haunting to see. I thought I’d have to shut the business down,” says McEvoy, who drew on his experience as a walk-on goalie for the UML men’s hockey team to stay positive.
“Just being on the team and seeing that you may be down in the game, but you have all these people around you that all want to see you win, was a big help,” he says.
Then, two things happened to boost the business.
First, he got a sudden influx of orders from Nebraska last September. Unsure of why, McEvoy called several of the customers to thank them and ask how they had heard about the product. He discovered that a woman had demonstrated Benji Ball at a physical education teachers conference; that gave McEvoy the idea to go on his two-month, 16,000-mile tour of similar conferences.
Before he did, though, he consulted with alum Brian Rist ’77, ’22, ’22 (H), namesake of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute and founder of Storm Smart, the country’s largest manufacturer and installer of hurricane protection systems.
Four people wearing masks sit around a conference table in a room and talk Image by Ed Brennen
Benjamin McEvoy '21, left, talks about starting his company during a 2022 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge for local high school students at the UML Innovation Hub in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
“He’s the one who gave me the push. He told me how in the early stages of his business, going to conferences and selling in person was one of the most beneficial things he did,” McEvoy says.
Then, last October, McEvoy learned about a contest being held by the YouTube philanthropist MrBeast and Shopify that was awarding 10 founders $10,000 each. McEvoy entered a 30-second video about his business that garnered nearly 20,000 views. He then got a message from MrBeast (aka James Donaldson) notifying him that out of around 1,400 applicants, he was one of the winners.
“It was a big confidence boost and added a level of legitimacy to the business,” he says.
McEvoy, who is also applying to be on the TV show “Shark Tank,” has been able to fund Benji Ball on his own so far, with some support from family members.
In the next year and a half, he plans to get Benji Ball into retail stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target (at a retail price $59.99), while also expanding the product line to other sports like hockey and golf.
McEvoy is constantly applying the lessons he learned in his business classes at UML — especially from Assoc. Prof. of Finance Ravi Jain — to his startup.
“His class really helped me with understanding value in your business — their expenses, their revenues, their profit loss,” McEvoy says. “Now, I make sure that I know where every penny is going with Benji Ball.”
McEvoy enjoys sharing his entrepreneurial journey with others on social media and in person, and he’s still involved with the DifferenceMaker program.
“If Benji Ball is the one business I build in my life, or maybe I end up building a couple more down the line, now I know that I can,” he says. “I can say that I tried it — and I did it.”