At 18, Paloma De La Cruz might be considered too long in the tooth to play in a sandbox. But the Greater Lawrence Technical High School senior is doing just that, and hoping her new-found passion earns her a $1,000 prize.
About 45 youth entrepreneurs on Friday will have 90 seconds at the University of Massachusetts Lowell to score bragging rights and cash prizes. De La Cruz entered the competition in hopes of winning enough money to bring her concept to market. The budding entrepreneur has developed a towel embedded with magnets, allowing wearers to use their hands without worrying about a wardrobe malfunction.
“It could save kids in college dorms and swim team members a lot of embarrassment,” De La Cruz said. “I have some prototype towels, but I want to move forward and try to patent the idea.”
During the first round of the competition, the teams will pitch their ideas, from a reading app to a youth mentorship program and De La Cruz’s magnetic towels. Twelve teams will make it to the finals, where a panel of judges and audience members will evaluate the students’ proposals.
Prizes range from $250 for the audience favorite to $1,000 for the idea deemed to be the best by a panel of judges that includes Sophy Theam, an assistant vice president at Enterprise Bank and board member of the Parker Foundation, and Raymond Riddick, executive director of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.
Jordan Tye, 23, and Adam McLaughlin, 24, mechanical engineering graduate students at UMass Lowell, think the competition could help them start their own business, a goal they hope to achieve before they graduate in May.
During the Sandbox contest, the college buddies will be pitching their customized crutch grips, which are created using three-dimensional imaging and printing technologies. Each grip is based on the user’s handprint and features embedded technology — a flashlight and the ability to control an iPod — making the crutches more functional.
“The Sandbox network is made up of enthusiastic, top-notch local business people,” said Tye. “Being able to connect with them has been really helpful because we’re just learning how to start and run a small business. We’ve been able to look at our concept from a business perspective and refine our design.”
Started in December 2010, the Sandbox is a project of the Deshpande Foundation, a global think tank based at MIT that champions entrepreneurship and innovation as catalysts for sustainable change. The initiative has more than 30 partner organizations, including the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, the Merrimack Valley YMCA, and the UMass Lowell.
Through its catalyst program, the Sandbox provides connections, support, and seed money to high school and college students so they can test their entrepreneurial ideas.
This is the fourth semester of the program. Since the start of 2011, the catalyst program has provided grant funding to more than 600 student and youth entrepreneurs.
Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote @gmail.com.