Inside Stories

These Final Pitches Are All Strikes

by Jen Myers

Lowell High School student Miah Oeur has a passion for lashes. Her research into and commitment to turning that passion into a viable business landed her the top prize this week in the Lowell High & UML-DifferenceMaker Final Pitch Challenge.

The program, funded by a grant from M&T Bank, is a partnership between UMass Lowell‘s Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, Project LEARN, Inc., and Lowell High.

Students participated in LHS Business kick-off event at the UML Innovation Hub earlier this year, and have been visited by local business leaders throughout the semester as they worked on creating their own business plans.

The program started with 140 students broken into 53 teams. On Wednesday morning the final seven teams competed in a Shark Tank style pitch contest in the Lowell High School Cafeteria.

The judges were:

Peter Martin (LHS ’99), Senior Manager of Development & Design for the Public Policy & Communications Department at Airbnb.

Charles Smith, Director of the Entrepreneurship Center at Community Teamwork (CTI).

Sandi DeRuntz, founder & CEO of DRIPI (Disability Research Innovation Progress Inclusion), which is working to revolutionize the assistive technology field by prioritizing empowerment and accessibility. Her invention Zipper Buddy, which allows those with disabilities to fasten clothing with one hand won the Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle Award at the 2024 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge.

Joshua Landis, a Graduate Research Assistant at UML who recently finished his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. His project, SparkCell Technologies – a sensor that detects defects in concrete structures such as bridges – won the top prize in the 2024 DifferenceMaker $50,000 Idea Challenge.

“Everyone has ideas,” said Lowell High School Head of School Mike Fiato. “Some of the ideas you come up with today may not go anywhere – others may change the world. These are the kinds of opportunities we like to see at Lowell High. The ideas you have today may lead to tomorrow’s innovations.”

Also in attendance to hear the pitches were UMass Lowell Provost Joe Hartman and Associate Vice Chancellor for Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Steve Tello, who brought the DifferenceMaker program to campus in 2012.

Oeur’s business plan is to create a salon that offers acrylic or gel manicures/pedicures, as well as a variety of eyelash extensions. She explained there are many nail salons around, but none that offer both nails and lashes.

The U.S. nail business earns $1.7 billion in revenue annually and is expected to grow 1.86 percent annually. The lash extension market earns $1.1 billion in revenue annually and is estimated to grow by 7.5 percent by 2032.

“It is a growing industry,” said Oeur.

According to Oeur’s research, 85 percent of women worldwide get their nails done, 36 percent have worn lash extensions or false eyelashes, and 13 percent have had lashes professionally applied.

Oeur said she plans to handle the lash services and she has a friend who can do nails.

What sets her business apart? They will provide an aftercare kit for clients, they offer the convenience of getting both services in the same location, there is a free consultation, and clients are seen by appointment only so they will not have to wait in a waiting room to be seen.

Oeur’s presentation included a breakdown of what she will need to open her business, as well as how much nail and eyelash professionals can expect to earn based on the number of clients they see in a day.

DeRuntz suggested Oeur consider offering mobile services – house calls for nails and lashes – a service she said was very popular where she previously lived in Virginia, but she hasn’t really seen in Massachusetts.

“It would really separate you from the competition,” she said.

Other teams that competed were:

2nd Place: Glove Merchants: Jake Descheneaux, Jack Soucy, and Nathan Dodge (who was absent)

Glove Merchants is a company that breaks-in baseball gloves for athletes. According to Nike, it takes a few weeks to properly break in a glove by using it during practices and games. The Glove Merchants promise to speed up that process.

“It just makes the experience better if you have a broken-in glove,” said Soucy. “It can prevent errors.”

A glove costs $100-$300; they would charge $35 to break it in.

“We can break it in to the specifications of the customer depending on what position they play,” said Descheneaux.

Martin feared the market may be small for such a specific service and asked if they considered branching out to offer other services.

Soucy said they could offer glove repair, and bat re-wrapping, as well as moving into servicing hockey pads and other equipment.

3rd Place: Zzocks: Walter Palacio & Bobby Pappaconstantinou

ZZocks are compression socks to treat ankle injuries. The sock has built-in photonic chips that analyze the part of the ankle injured, the extent of swelling, etc. and then delivers compression accordingly to increase blood flow to the area to heal the injury.

Palacio explained that ankle injuries are often ignored by athletes and then get worse and can create lifelong problems; effective and efficient treatment is key following such an injury.

He said they had visited MACOM where the photonic chips are made.

Their research concluded the cost of making one ZZock would be $315 with materials and labor; leading them to set a retail price of $441. If they sold 100,000 of them, they would reap $12.6 million in profit.

Honorable Mention: JK Smashers: Kevin Vann, John Khat

JK Smashers is like a mash-up of Nashua’s Rage Cage and Chuck E. Cheese, where people can destroy appliances, housewares, electronics, and other objects to release stress, while also winning prizes.

They said it is both a good way to clean up the city – people can donate unwanted items rather than illegally dumping them – and to reduce stress and rage. It also gives young people something to do that is fun.

Honorable Mention: Riff: Elijah Ngim & Chendon Sanquiche

Riff is a business that would manufacture musical instruments using recycled materials to create a less expensive product, fixing the problem of instruments being too expensive for some people to buy, while also lessening the amount of trash going to landfills.

According to their research there are 4 million students across the U.S. without access to musical instruments. They estimate it would cost $50 to make an instrument, which they could then sell for $60-$75.

Other finalist teams:

Click: Yarielys Negron & Alice Saraiva

Click is a translation device that connects to your smartphone. Their target consumers are travelers, health care facilities, and employers.

“With his device we are trying to simplify communication between people,” said Negron, explaining it will lead to easier traveling, better diagnoses, and increased productivity.

Kennel Kompanions: Lucas Scollin & Sereyrath (Max) Rith

A service that offers pet walking and care at your home rather than taking the animal to a kennel when you go away. They promise to follow specific instructions from the owners in an attempt not to disrupt the animal’s routines too much while their owners are out of town.

One response to “These Final Pitches Are All Strikes”

  1. […] Congratulations to the Lowell High students who pitched their business ideas in the UML DifferenceMaker Final Pitch Challenge. Miah Oeur won first place, and other students were also honored. or […]

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