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Cultivating Women Entrepreneurs


Tuesday, February 7, 2017
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UNH students Kate Aiken and Devin McMahon pose with their prize and research poster for the 2016 Holloway Prize competition entry, LilyPad.

Kate Aiken (left) and Devin McMahon pose with their research poster for the 2016 Holloway Competition.

When Devin McMahon '18 was still a high school student in East Hampstead, New Hampshire, she started her own business. Not babysitting or lawn mowing: A full-blown nonprofit global initiative that raises funds to support science education in Ethiopia.

“To date, my venture, Your Eyes Wide Open, has directed $5,000 to sponsor 20 Ethiopian school children,” McMahon says.

More Holloway Prize Winners

The 2016 Paul J. Holloway Prize Competition winning team, NH DreamTech, included an equal mix of women and men, a fact not lost on faculty mentor Jeff Sohl, who says women need “more role models” as well as more successful female-owned businesses “to cash out and fund new women’s ventures.”

Third place in the competition went to BeetleBoards, the brainchild of another all-women’s team, Lyndsay Levin ’16 of Kingston, Massachusetts, and Erica Warish ’16 of Raynham, Massachusetts.

Levin and Warish explain that they “combined their love of the outdoors and environmentalism to creatively use otherwise-condemned 'beetle-kill' trees in the construction of custom-made snowboards.”

Meanwhile, less than an hour’s drive away in Manchester, another then-high schooler, Kate Aiken '17, was launching her own nonprofit organization, Project Play, which, Aiken says, “has sponsored more than 200 children to participate in organized sports and redistributed almost 6,000 pieces of sports equipment in New Hampshire.”

Little did the two know their paths would merge at the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, where they would meet, become fast friends and grab second place in New Hampshire’s premier business competition, the 2016 Holloway Prize Innovation-to-Market Competition.

At a time when The Kaufman Index reports that “women are still less prone than men to taking the entrepreneurial plunge” — by a 63 to 37 percent margin in the U.S. —  how does Paul College measure up as a proving ground for tomorrow’s female entrepreneurs? If the Paul J. Holloway Prize Competition offers any clue, the answer is “very well indeed.”

This year, three of the six finalist teams were comprised solely of women, and all but one included women and men. 

McMahon and Aiken competed in the product innovation track after hatching the idea to develop the LilyPad, an innovative design for a sanitary pad. Current pads, Aiken explains, differ only in thickness and absorbency and overnight pads add length. The flat surface does not adapt to the curve of a woman's body. LilyPad's raised absorbent strip fits this curve to prevent leakage.

The two students came up with the idea for their venture after taking part in Paul College's First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE).

FIRE's goal "is to introduce students to experiential learning, a hallmark of the Paul College curriculum,” explains associate dean Neil Niman. “We also want to inspire students like Devin and Kate to pursue entrepreneurism as early as possible.”

From their new “corporate headquarters” in The Gables apartment they now share, McMahon and Aiken are working on launching a beta platform for the LilyPad Company. They admit that bringing their innovation to market will take lots of work and some luck, but passion and focus are in huge supply.

“My biggest goal right now,” McMahon says, “is to make LilyPad a reality and, balancing that with my schoolwork, to graduate with more amazing UNH experiences. I’m ready to take on the real world!”

Photographer: 
Perry Smith | Freelance Photographer

This article is part of the series:

Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at UNH
News and features out of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics