2023 Innovation Challenge – Recap

Brendan Candon '10 speaking

The Ciocca Center, in partnership with HC Launch, hosted the annual Innovation Challenge yesterday afternoon. Yesterday’s competition revolved around business solutions for SidelineSwap, the premier marketplace dedicated to connecting athletes and sports enthusiasts in the dynamic world of sports gear selling. Founded by Brendan Candon ’10 in 2015, SidelineSwap has a remarkable track record of facilitating transactions exceeding $250 million and has earned its place among the fastest-growing global marketplaces, as recognized by the esteemed Andreessen Horowitz A16z Top 100 list. Backed by influential investors, including strategic partners such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and eBay, SidelineSwap is not only a platform for buying and selling sports equipment but a community-driven hub that empowers athletes to access quality gear affordably. The recent addition of the Trade-in Platform further exemplifies SidelineSwap’s commitment to innovation, enabling retail partners to create circular shopping experiences and fostering a sustainable and accessible marketplace for sports enthusiasts worldwide.

Students were tasked with pitching one of three solutions proposed by the CEO himself: 

Identifying Potential Sales Opportunity:

Identify a sport with over $10 million annual secondhand gear sales potential, requiring research on market size and characteristics for a successful second-hand marketplace.

Creating a User Experience Using AI:

Design an AI-driven user experience to address user problems and drive positive outcomes for SidelineSwap.

Designing a Solution For Cleaning Bats and Clubs in Bulk:

Propose solutions for efficiently cleaning baseball bats, softball bats, and golf clubs in bulk before listing on SidelineSwap.

Integrating AI into the UI: Securing 1st place, API-tizer tackled the challenge by suggesting an innovative incorporation of AI into SidelineSwap’s user interface. Rather than taking the conventional route of directly enhancing the user experience, API-tizer put forth a groundbreaking proposal to integrate AI seamlessly into SidelineSwap’s UI. This integration, facilitated through an API, was specifically aimed at photo verification and data-related processes for enhanced verification. The team not only addressed the prompt but also demonstrated forward-thinking by devising cost-effective strategies for the smooth integration of this advanced tool. Their pitch underscored a profound understanding of how strategically deploying AI could fortify user trust and elevate the overall credibility of the platform.

Savvy Sam: Claiming the 2nd place position, Team Sam directed their focus toward creating a more personalized and efficient user experience. Their innovative solution involved introducing a virtual chat assistant, named Sam, to SidelineSwap’s website. This AI-powered assistant was conceptualized to facilitate personalized user interactions, streamlining the process for users to find customized sports gear more efficiently. Team Sam’s approach emphasized the importance of user-centric design and showcased a commitment to enhancing the overall journey for SidelineSwap users, aligning with the prompt’s objective of using AI to drive positive outcomes for the business.

Squeaky Clean Solutions: The Clean Team, securing 3rd place, devised a meticulous solution aimed at optimizing the cleaning process for SidelineSwap. Acknowledging the operational challenge of managing thousands of sports products, especially baseball bats, softball bats, and golf clubs, the team presented an innovative proposal. Their approach involved implementing ultrasonic cleaners for golf clubs, demonstrating a practical and cost-effective strategy to enhance efficiency and reduce costs in the cleaning process. The Clean Team’s pitch showcased a thorough understanding of the operational intricacies within SidelineSwap’s warehouses, highlighting the significance of maintaining product quality through streamlined cleaning procedures.

Thank you to our judges, Tom Brennan ’86, Terry Waters ’81, and Brendan Candon ’10 for their invaluable time, expertise, and thoughtful evaluation during the SidelineSwap Innovation Challenge.

Winners:

First Place team

API-tizers (Meggan Fourie ’25, Maura Switzer ’25, Ivor Teagle ’25)

1st Place – $1,000:  API-tizers (Meggan Fourie ’25, Ivor Teagle ’25, Maura Switzer ’25)

2nd Place – $500: Team Sam (Nico Corporon ’26, Sean Doyle ’26)

3rd Place – $250: Clean Team (Briana Sullivan ’24, Nico Popeleski ’26, Maya Kryzwda ’24)

Written by Liz Garfield ‘24 

From Liberal Arts to Co-founder and CEO: A Conversation with Brendan Candon ’10

Alumni Highlight Picture

The Innovation Challenge provides students with a unique opportunity to collaborate with local businesses or non-profits, addressing real-world issues and presenting innovative solutions. This year, the challenges are focused on SidelineSwap, an online marketplace for sporting equipment co-founded by Holy Cross alumnus Brendan Candon ’10. In a recent interview with Maeley Nakamura ’26, Brendan shared his journey from a political science major at a liberal arts school to becoming the CEO of SidelineSwap and how his experiences at Holy Cross shaped his entrepreneurial success.

MN: As a political science major at Holy Cross, how did your liberal arts education contribute to your entrepreneurial success?

BC: “As an entrepreneur, there’s no blueprint. You’re constantly problem-solving and learning across a broad surface area. And the learning is often self-directed. There’s no better foundation for entrepreneurship than liberal arts because you learn how to learn and you have an opportunity to study a broad range of subjects – from economics and accounting to political science and psychology. 

Majoring in political science helped prepare me for an environment where the right answer is often far from obvious. I learned to think critically, consider multiple perspectives, understand multiplayer strategy, and communicate persuasively. 

In both politics and business, it’s up to the leader to ask the right questions, distill the information at hand, make the best decision possible and influence their teams to pursue that plan of action. As a political science major and history minor, I had an opportunity to study these dynamics through history’s most challenging conflicts and greatest leaders, and I think that prepared me well for life as an entrepreneur.” 

Long before Brendan founded SidelineSwap, he had a history of starting businesses and talks about his successes and failures along the way, and the story of how SidelineSwap started. 

MN: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Continue reading “From Liberal Arts to Co-founder and CEO: A Conversation with Brendan Candon ’10”

Unlocking Innovation – The Journey of Flare

Quinn Fitzgerald '11 speaking to students on zoom

On Monday, HC Launch warmly welcomed Quinn Fitzgerald ’11 as the distinguished guest for their first Founder Forum event of the semester. The audience, predominantly composed of aspiring entrepreneurs, had the privilege of hearing an engaging story that intertwined innovation with personal safety. Quinn Fitzgerald shared her journey from her academic exploration in peace and conflict studies to her foray into entrepreneurship, culminating in the creation of Flare, a revolutionary personal safety company.

Quinn’s leap into entrepreneurship wasn’t premeditated but rather spurred by a college assignment that tasked her with launching a startup. The result was Flare, a company designed to tackle personal safety concerns head-on. What fueled her passion for this endeavor was a deeply personal experience – an assault that ignited her determination to address a long-standing societal issue.

Throughout the event, Quinn stressed that entrepreneurship is not just a career but an approach, a unique way of problem-solving and confronting challenges. She also shed light on the soft skills she acquired along her entrepreneurial journey, which proved instrumental to her success.

Flare was in the spotlight during the event, presented as a company specializing in personal safety, with an innovative app and a wristband. Established in 2016 and recently acquired by new ownership, this transition marked a significant milestone in its evolution. Quinn’s current focus is on coaching and mentoring other entrepreneurs, following her successful sale of Flare.

Quinn shared her venture into an industry with a centuries-old history. Her aim was to offer a more comprehensive solution to multifaceted safety concerns, moving beyond conventional methods like pepper spray. She engaged potential users rigorously through surveys and focus groups, gaining profound insights into their needs and circumstances.To develop a product that truly resonated with the market, she began with product sketches and employed 3D printing technology. The search for the right engineers was pivotal, and she successfully assembled a talented team by offering them a modest stake in the company’s ownership. The initial 3D printed prototype evolved gradually, incorporating features such as a chip and a button to enhance functionality.

Quinn also discussed her journey to secure funding. She commenced with competitions as her initial source of financing, ultimately succeeding in securing three rounds of capital. The first round brought in $750,000, the second an impressive $3 million, and the third attracted even more substantial investments, thanks to the support of both venture capitalists and angel investors.

Quinn’s narrative provides a wealth of insights for budding entrepreneurs, illustrating the path from concept to funding. Her story is a testament to the transformative power of innovation and unwavering determination in addressing complex societal challenges, one step at a time.

Thanks to Liz Garfield ’24 for writing this HC Launch recap! 

Student Highlight: Nick Lazzaro ’23

Male student sitting outside

“Holy Cross helped foster my passions as an entrepreneur” shares Nick Lazzaro ’23, “and helped me to learn how to take risks.”  Nick was a long time participant in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program and heavily involved in HC Launch, the student entrepreneurs group.  “Encouragement from professors and advisors at the College’s Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society allowed me to network out of my comfort zone” states Lazzaro, “and created a space for me to flourish in business. I learned that taking risks academically and professionally are crucial to success and the best way to accomplish your goals is to be your unique self.”

In 2022, Lazzaro won first place during the annual Shark Tank Competition for his pitch on Nick’s On-Site Auto Detailing business.  The company not only details cars but we seek to help others via a scholarship fund for Millbury students, where the business has donated more than $1,500 to future college-bound entrepreneurs.  He was also named one of Worcester Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 in 2022.

Local Colleges Attend Inaugural Student Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit in Worcester

People chatting in circle

Last month at WorcLab, Worcester’s premier business incubator and coworking space, the city hosted the inaugural Student Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit (SEES) to bring the startup community together on Saturday, March 25.  Organizations and local businesses set up tables to share their resources with budding student entrepreneurs. The event brought nearly 25 students together from various colleges in the Worcester area including Holy Cross, WPI, WSU, Clark, Assumption, and UMass. Students had the opportunity to learn directly from local business owners, pitch their businesses and explore resources. SEES provided an excellent platform for students to gain practical knowledge and insights from the successful entrepreneurs next door. 

The event kicked off with food and networking on the 7th floor of the Printer’s Building on Portland Street in downtown Worcester. During the summit, students interacted with business owners from a diverse range of industries including biotech, gaming, and maker spaces. They learned about the challenges that these entrepreneurs faced when starting and growing their businesses, the strategies they used to overcome these obstacles and the many resources available to them in Worcester.  Continue reading “Local Colleges Attend Inaugural Student Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit in Worcester”

HC Launch Student Group Host Local Serial Entrepreneur

two men sitting at the front of class

This year, HC Launch has been connecting with the local Worcester startup community.  Recently, the club visited MultiScale Systems, Geisel Software, and is planning a visit to Redemption Rock Brewery later this spring. As with many startups though, one of the companies we were working with only had a desk at a coworking space.  This, we decided, wasn’t suitable for a site visit so we pivoted!

On Monday, March 20th, the HC Launch student group hosted local serial entrepreneur, Jonathan Lincoln. Rob Murner, director of the Ciocca Center and entrepreneur in residence, started the conversation and students were able to learn from Jonathan’s three ventures: Continue reading “HC Launch Student Group Host Local Serial Entrepreneur”

Ciocca Center Intern Interviews Rick Patterson ’80

Rick Patterson ’80
Founder of Coniston Capital

Rick Patterson ’80 was an economics major and currently serves as the chair of the Holy Cross board of trustees and is a director of Global Weather Corporation and RedShelf Inc.  Rick has been a trustee on the Holy Cross Board since 2011 and became chair in Aug 2018. As a first generation student, Rick’s time on the hill was dedicated to working hard and knowing he wanted a career in business.  After Holy Cross, Rick went on to earn his M.B.A in finance and international business from Columbia University.  Rick began his career in 1982 as a banking officer at Mellon Bank, where his first assignment was actually as a driver for a corporate golf event!  Before founding Coniston Capital, Rick was a founding partner of Spire Capital (1999-2015) and previously a partner at Waller Capital Corporation (1986-1999).  As founder of Coniston Capital, Rick drove investment opportunities within the media and communications sectors. Based in New Jersey, Rick dedicates much of his time to the Holy Cross community.  Since becoming chair of the board in September 2018, Rick’s visit to Worcester in February 2019 marks his 8th trip back to the hill.

Most important qualities of CEO/President:

Rick values natural leaders with a vision and the ability to express that vision.  The best CEOs are people who “can select and motivate talent.”
Continue reading “Ciocca Center Intern Interviews Rick Patterson ’80”

Student Incubator Success

Wilox, a student startup focused on making the world a cleaner place, is part of the Holy Cross student-run incubator.  Earlier this month (11/13/18) they competed at the Beantown Throwdown (part of Global Entrepreneurship week) pitch contest hosted at LogMeIn, sponsored by Nutter/John Loughnane ’87 P19.  The student team placed second, beating teams from MIT, Harvard, BC, BU, Tufts, McGill, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health, Wentworth, Brandeis, and Berklee.

Congratulations to the Wilox team!

Pictured from left to right: Joe Egan ’19: Business Development, Mike Brown ’19: Director of Sales, Luke Knox ’22: Co-Founder/CEO,  Mary Anne Wiley ’22: COO, Paul Wiley ’20: President/Founder, Eric Lane ’21: Product Manager, John Bowen ’22: User Research, and Nolan Howard ’19: Market Research

“Tremendous job by the student team in competing so effectively! Congratulations to all involved! Great job too by the entire team from the Ciocca center for Business, Ethics, and Society at the College including Director David Chu and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Ja-Naé Duane.”  – John Loughnane ’87 P19: Partner, Nutter


The Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program, led by Ja-Nae Duane, provides students the opportunity to utilize and build upon their liberal arts education while learning the fundamentals of starting a venture and keeping a company relevant in this fast-changing world.  The new Certificate of Entrepreneurship offered through the Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society provides students with comprehensive and structured programming to acquire technical business skills and experiences.

The Incubator started in 2018 with two student entrepreneurs, Paul Wiley ’20 and Joe Egan ’19. They currently have over 40 members and work with 4 different student ventures. Their goal is to teach the entrepreneurial method across campus which in turn will allow students to make their business dreams a reality as a part of the E&I programming.

Thanks for reading! Cassie

Cassie Gevry, Associate Director of Student Engagement
Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society

Ask Alumni Anything

Holy Cross alumni thriving as entrepreneurs and business leaders respond to real student questions about how to find success and satisfaction in the business world. Read student questions posed to alumni through Slack, HC Startup’s online message board, to learn what it takes to navigate the business world and find success as a modern entrepreneur.

Want to be a part of the community? Have answers to student questions? Join the conversation and meet us on Slack!

 

>> Q: Kit Mullen ’21, international studies major, asks “Lots of times people are torn between doing what they love and doing what will guarantee them successful in the eyes of others. As entrepreneurs how did you make the choice to leave the more normal, reliable lifestyle of working for a company for the riskier task of starting your own company?”
A: Rob Petrosino ’10, Director of Social Commerce Marketing at Peak Activity, answers Sometimes it comes down to a gut call but job satisfaction and fulfillment typically out weighs a “normal” life.”


>> Q:  Gavin McNamera ’21, political science major, asks “Early in your college experience, how did you find direction on where you wanted to take your career in business or entrepreneurship?”
A: Dan Barrett ’13 at Madaket Health, repliesGood question… the classic response is “follow what you enjoy doing”.  It’s classic for a reason though: it’s true. Reflect on the classes that appeal to you, the assignments that appeal to you, the “aha” moments and the deep curiosities as you encounter new ideas in the classroom. Pursue those things.
Entrepreneurship is hard.  Working is hard. If you’re not doing something that fundamentally aligns with your interests you will burn out in a snap.  Entrepreneurship is not flashy, it’s a grind. It usually involves grinding into a headwind, uphill. But it’s also a race. And if you hate the field you’re in or find it a total bore, it will be next to impossible to race against the people who happen to enjoy doing it.”


>> Q: Max Krause ’21, economics major,
asks How do you make sure your idea is a good idea before you go and invest your time and money into realizing it?

A: Rob Petrosino ’10, Director of Social Commerce Marketing at Peak Activity, answersIf your idea solves a problem you are most likely on the right track. How you execute is more than half the battle however.”
A: Stacy Chin ’12, Co-founder & CEO at HydroGlyde Coatings, responds “ Listen to the market and you will see if they agree to your solution.”

Thanks for reading! Cassie

Cassie Gevry, Associate Director of Student Engagement
Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society

Fullbridge Professional Edge at Holy Cross!

“I really enjoyed the overall experience of Fullbridge. It definitely proved beneficial to my understanding of the business world. I really was unsure about continuing in the certificate program, however after this program I definitely will continue.”

– English Major, Class of 2019


Registration now open for the May and August 2018 sessions! Find more info at fulbridge.com/holycross