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Become a Campus Catalyst

Interested in being a social change leader on campus?

Are you Passionate about making a change in your community?

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox (MVS) supports students to take a chance on a new idea and develop a profit or non-profit entrepreneurial venture.  Campus Catalyst provides seed grants up to $1000 to college students from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Middlesex Community College, Northern Essex Community College, Cambridge College and Merrimack College. Each student group can submit proposals for teams between 1-5 members.

Some projects may not be ready to use the seed grant in the Fall semester due to approvals or plans with partner organizations. Students are encourage to apply for project approval in the fall semester, with the indication that the Catalyst grant will not be used until the Spring semester. Students will be able to use the Fall semester to plan and establish partnerships, knowing they can use the grant in the Spring.

The Sandbox approves proposals on the following criteria:

  • Opportunity – Identifies a market or need that is relevant to the campus, community, or society as a whole (no matter how small the impact)
  • Social Responsibility – Accounts for community and environmental impact in addition to project’s main purpose
  • Innovation – Draws on a new idea, product, or service, or an innovative way of looking at an old problem
  • Sustainability – Shows potential to continue in financially sustainable way
  • Student Driven – Based on ideas generated and championed by students
  • Student Teams – Consisting of 1-5 enrolled students
  • Pracicality – Designed to used the grant in an efficient manner
  • Relevance to Lowell/Lawrence community

Stage 2 Projects:

  • Those projects that have completed Stage 1 are eligible for a Stage 2 Catalyst grant of up to $750.
  • At least one member from the Stage 1 project team must continue with the project.
  • Stage 2 must provide an evolution or expansion of the existing project.
  • Project approval will become more competitive and rigorous after Stage 1.
  • Past Campus Catalyst students may also submit proposals for new projects for Stage 1 support. 

How to Apply

  • Visit for an application or Contact Janin Duran
    Phone: 978/934-6619
  • Fill out the application form according to the directions on the application.
  • Each team should be comprised of members from the same institution
  • Submit proposal and all application materials on a rolling basis anytime between now and October 12, 2012.
  • Teams will be notified no later than October 19, 2012  if their proposal is accepted;  teams will complete the proposed work and submit their final report by April 11, 2013
  • NECC Students will have an opportunity to showcase their projects on December 10, 2012 in TC103 from 12-1PM on the Haverhill campus in conjunction with the Honors Project Poster Session.
  • Student projects will be presented April 11, 2012 at a Campus Catalyst project festival at a local educational institution. Various awards will be presented.
  • For on-campus questions and concerns, please contact:
  • STUDENT CONTACTS, Haverhill Campus:
  • Dina Brown at
    Nita Lamborghini at
  • STUDENT CONTACT, Lawrence campus:
    Dawna Perez at

Limitations and Restrictions

  • The MVS will not fund Campus Catalyst applications that already receive regular funding from an outside/alternative source
  • Catalyst grants cannot be used as a stipend or for team members
  • Project proposals may be part of a school course
  • All requirements for Campus Catalyst must be completed in addition to any course requirements.
  • Catalyst grants can be used to implement a new aspect of an existing program.
  • All team members must be enrolled students at one of the five partner schools.
  • Receipts must be submitted to MVS staff.

MVS and Deshpande Foundation 

    The Merrimack Valley Sandbox (MVS) Initiative began in December 2010 as part of the philanthropic vision of Gururaj “Desh” and Jaishree Deshpande. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship @ UMASS Lowell was created so the MVS Initiative could be anchored in innovation at the university level to foster student leadership and entrepreneurship in partnership with Middlesex Community College, Northern Essex Community College and Merrimack College.

The Deshpande Foundation, based in Stoneham, will provide $5 million over the next five years for the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, which will be one of only three of its kind in the world and modeled after programs the foundation supports at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in Northern Karnataka, India. Through student projects, training programs and the funding of innovative nonprofits, the MVS hopes to inspire entrepreneurship and innovation in Lowell and Lawrence and percolate into the entire Merrimack Valley. In addition, the Deshpande Foundation hopes to raise another $10 million from outside contributors to supplement its funding in the region. Lowell and Lawrence are slated to be the central focus of the projects and interventions of the MVS Initiative.


Fall 2011 List of Catalysts and Projects 
Summary-of-Funded-Projects from the first semester for a historical summary of funded projects.