Computers 4 People, Haverhill Promise, Lawrence Public Library Win Digital Equity Challenge

Participants, winners, hosts and judges of the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge, from left: Jonathan H. Dowst, Pentucket Bank; Kate Machet, Essex County Community Foundation; Jessica Kallin, Haverhill Promise; Jess Vilas Novas, JVN Management Solutions; Dylan Zajac, Computers 4 People; Sophan Smith, EforAll; Janelle Abreu, Lawrence Public Library; Susu Wong, Tomo 360; Mike Sweeney, Vital Tools; Mia Crabbe, Tech Goes Home; Stephanie Guyotte, UMass Lowell. Back: Louie Rabinovitz, See Yourself Health. (Courtesy photograph by Kimberly Jones Photography).

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Computers 4 People, a startup nonprofit that refurbishes computers and gives them to those in need; Haverhill Promise, aimed at helping students achieve grade-level reading proficiency; and Lawrence Public Library, planning a laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot loaner program, were the top three winners during last week’s second Digital Equity Challenge pitch contest.

The contest took place last Wednesday at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub in downtown Haverhill with $10,000 in cash prizes to startups and non-profits for projects that create digital access and improve digital literacy in Essex County. It was organized by the iHub in collaboration Essex County Community Foundation and its Digital Equity Initiative.

“Tapping local innovators for digital equity solutions that are for, from and by the community is what ECCF’s Advancing Digital Equity initiative is all about,” said Kate Machet, the Foundation’s director of strategic initiatives and government relations. “So, it was exciting to be a part of this very inspirational and entrepreneurial challenge once again. We heard so many great ideas and we can’t wait to support the winners as they bring their digital equity solutions to life.”

Computers 4 People, founded by Dylan Zajac, a Babson College sophomore, will use the $5,000 first place prize to expand into Essex County. Haverhill Promise Executive Director Jessica Kallin said the organization was seeking money to launch an evidence-based digital literacy program for preschool-aged youth in Haverhill. Janelle Abreu, Lawrence Public Library director, said that while the library has been offering loaner laptops, the lack of a hot spot means residents are not receiving the full digital access they require.

The audience also awarded the fan favorite prize to Beverly-based See Yourself Health, a startup that has created the Hope App, a digital tool that support patients with diabetes.

“At UMass Lowell and the Innovation Hub we help foster ideas and support entrepreneurs as they launch and grow their businesses,” said Stephanie Guyotte, iHub Haverhill associate director. “It was a natural fit to create this challenge. This effort is about using entrepreneurial thinking to develop innovative solutions to this countywide issue.”

Event judges were Tech Goes Home Chief People Officer Mia Crabbe, Pentucket Bank President and CEO Jonathan H. Dowst, JVN Management Solutions CEO Jess Vilas Novas and Tomo360 CEO Susu Wong. Additional partners were UMass Lowell’s Rist Differencemaker Institute and EforAll Merrimack Valley. Pentucket Bank sponsored the challenge.

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