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DifferenceMaker: Change through entrepreneurship

Al Gentile
Connector Editor

Have you ever had an idea for a business or a non-profit that, with just a little help and guidance, could turn into the next big thing? Have you ever wanted to bring the right people and resources together to work towards a positive change in the community? Is there an entrepreneurial spirit inside all of us that just needs a little push?

Enter DifferenceMaker.

Located next to the Starbucks on North Campus, DifferenceMaker is equal parts think-tank, resource center and counseling service to bring big ideas to life.

“DifferenceMaker is a program that aims to create an innovation and entrepreneurship environment on campus,” project manager Ha Pho says. It invites students with innovative ideas to work with them to build those ideas into organizations or start-ups to begin making a difference in the community.

DifferenceMaker offers a wide range of services for those with the entrepreneurial itch. Workshops for building ideas, identifying problems and drawing solutions are the backbone of what they do.

“We examine the problem the solution is trying to solve and what kind of opportunities that come out of that problem that haven’t been served,” Pho said.

They also offer coaching for student and community teams for whenever problems arise in their process. Holly Butler, entrepreneurial initiatives and project director, brings up the Idea Challenge, a competition that is independently judged where groups vie for seed money.

At this competition teams compete to win funding for their ideas, money which comes from alumni and other donors who want to give students and community members resources to encourage change in society.

Butler talks about leading teams to this competition to develop their ideas: “If they come to us, we guide them through the idea challenge process, teach them more the business way of defining problem, opportunity, talking to people.”

“Our main goal is to try to create an environment for entrepreneurship and innovation on campus,” Pho says. Pho and Butler measure their success by how many people approach them to seek out success, not by counting winners.

“I think one of our goals is to create a social responsibility ethos within our students,” Butler said.

Pho and Butler couldn’t stress enough that DifferenceMaker is open to all majors, and that they look to bring students from all studies to engage in interdisciplinary ideas to live that ethos.

On Thursday Oct. 9, DifferenceMaker will be having their season kickoff from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center at Perry Hall; students will showcase their ideas and have a vital opportunity to network with other students, faculty and alumni.

For more information on DifferenceMaker or the Idea Challenge, contact Holly Butler or Ha Pho at and 

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