Tara Opalinski, MBA/MA COEX’24, Earns Second Place at Brandeis’ Premiere Start-Up Event

May 03, 2024

Tara Opalinski, MBA/MA COEX'24, accepting her second place SparkTank prize
Tara Opalinski, MBA/MA COEX'24 (far right), accepting her second place SparkTank award

On April 16, the Brandeis Innovation Center hosted its annual SparkTank pitch competition, an experiential learning community that provides seed funding and mentorship to turn innovative ideas into viable businesses. Unique among collegiate pitch competitions, SparkTank is open to students, faculty, and staff from across the university. At this year’s event, Heller student Tara Opalinski’s proposed anti-bullying video game was awarded second place.

Candor, Opalinski’s project, is a video game that teaches youth conflict resolution skills, empathy, and open and honest communication to ultimately mitigate harm and enable healthy conversations. Intended to be implemented in schools, the video game “meets youth where they’re at” by leveraging a medium they already find engaging, and provides schools with a sustainable and effective solution to reduce and prevent bullying. Opalinski’s long-term vision is for the video game to have a track record of positive, long-term effects on mitigating harm amongst school-aged children, not only in their day-to-day lives, but in equipping them with conflict resolution skills to serve them through adulthood. 

Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Director of the Heller School’s Social Impact MBA Program, commented, “Tara’s innovation, a social impact anti-bullying video game, promises to help address a root cause for the violence and divisions that are so worrisome in today’s world. The medium of a video game generates fun and meaningful engagement with the potential for genuine learning and growth. We all need ‘Candor’ in the world!”

Tara Opalinski, MBA/MA COEX'24, delivering her pitch to the SparkTank committee
Tara Opalinski delivering her pitch to the SparkTank committee

“Participating in the Brandeis SparkTank has been a fast-paced and rewarding experience,” says Opalinski. “I’m grateful to the Spark team, made up of entrepreneurs and experienced Brandeis staff, who have provided unparalleled advice over this past semester to help me fine-tune my business venture.” Opalinski says that her second place prize of $2,500 will be used towards further research, identifying schools to pilot with, and game development.

As a graduate student pursuing an MBA and MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence, Opalinski is passionate about finding an innovative approach to make conflict resolution skills accessible at scale. The concept for her project, Candor, originated with her idea and desire to help people in conflict step into the other person’s shoes and see the issue from the other person’s point of view, to ultimately enhance their understanding and value in the other person and their perspective. “Video games by nature enable this capability,” says Opalinski, who intends for Candor to prioritize serving youth. In the long term, she envisions further iterations of the game to also serve adults.

“Starting with youth is important if we think about today’s social complexities and political climate,” says Opalinski. “Even as adults, how comfortable do we really feel having open and honest conversations with people who have a different perspective from our own? If there’s a disagreement, can we be kind in response while staying true to ourselves? Are the intentions of our words matching their impact? How honest, sincere, and kind are we with other people? If we’re struggling with this as adults, where does that leave our youth? Kids are the foundation of our society, today and tomorrow, and how they treat each other will shape the trajectory of their lives and ours.”

2024 SparkTank competitors and judges
2024 SparkTank competitors and judges