Three engineering students finalists in Mizzou entrepreneurship competition

November 07, 2023

From left, Andrew Kruszka, Felix Michael Oguche and Isaac Harmon

Engineers have big ideas and the training in technology, science and manufacturing to make them a reality. With the right instincts and opportunities, it’s easy for them to launch the next startup company or become the next entrepreneur.

This fall, three of the top 10 finalists of the Mizzou EntrepreneurQuest (EQ) Competition are engineering students. Their different areas of study and vastly different ideas showcase the infinite possibilities an engineering degree can open for students looking to change the world.

Andrew Kruszka, a junior studying computer science, is involved with Mizzou’s Collegiate Entrepreneur Organization (CEO) and is a former Mizzou Club Hockey team member. His business, Modern Hockey Training, aims to fully integrate virtual and augmented reality into off-ice training programs for youth hockey clubs.

Felix Michael Oguche is a doctoral student in biological engineering and a member of the Missouri International Student Council. He is introducing “Revolutionizing Smart Irrigation: The Affordable Ergonomic Agricultural Sensor Hub,” a solution that provides real-time soil data to farmers to optimize their production.

Isaac Harmon is a business finance student minoring in computer science. He is developing an app that offers AI-generated mental health support for teens.

Each project tackles a problem specific to participant’s unique expertise and was inspired by their interests in and outside the classroom.

From the rink to the metaverse

For Kruszka, the project was a way to give back to the community he’s been part of his entire life.

“I’ve played hockey for 13 years and have coached for more than 5 years,” he said. “Two things I’ve noticed are that few skills are taught the same by different coaches and that young players normally like practices because it’s an excuse for them to hang out with their friends rather than become better players. I thought it would be a good idea to create a centralized coaching platform that allows youth players to play video games with their friends while developing their hockey skills.”

He heard about the EQ program six months after starting his company. While looking over the application, Kruszka realized he had never written down any of his ideas to describe to an outside audience. That same night he decided to apply.

“Being a computer science student prepared me for this venture because I’ve mainly focused on problem-solving and programming for the last three years,” Kruszka said. “While some of the skills I’ve learned in class have directly contributed to my ability to develop software, my indirect skills, such as problem solving, working as a team and logical analysis, have really helped me in working with my customer base.”

Kruszka credits the labs and resources available through the College, the EQ program and the Griggs Innovation Center with inspiring his interest in the field and getting the idea off the ground.

“I really encourage anyone who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur to become involved with the Innovation Center and CEO club,” he said.

Growing into the future

Oguche first heard about the EQ program this fall and thought it would be a great opportunity to usher in a new era of sustainable agriculture.

“I believe in the power of technology to revolutionize traditional sectors, and agriculture is ripe for such change,” he said. “EQ presented a perfect platform to showcase my ideas and make a real impact.”

During his master’s degree, Oguche often visited with local farmers and found that estimating the water needs of crops was a common challenge that, if solved, could ensure economic and environmental benefits.

“It’s a game-changing solution tailored to farmers, enabling them to monitor real-time soil data based on crop need, ensuring optimal irrigation, and ultimately, maximizing crop yields while minimizing excess water waste,” he said. “We can help conserve a precious resource­­, water, ensure healthier crops and enable farmers to get better yields, which in turn supports food security.”

Oguche is just one of the engineers at Mizzou looking for innovations in sustainability. His participation in the EQ program has expanded his community and opened doors to new resources and pathways to engineering a better world.

“The EQ program offers a rich environment of like-minded innovators,” Oguche said. “The networking opportunities, mentorship sessions, and feedback from industry experts have been invaluable. And being a Mizzou Engineer has instilled in me a problem-solving mindset. The rigorous training, the blend of theoretical and practical skills, and exposure to real-world challenges have made me resilient and innovative. Our vision goes beyond just a product—we’re excited about the journey ahead and the changes we can drive in the world of agriculture.”

Bridging gaps and providing safe spaces

With his project, Harmon hopes to develop a safe space for people who want to seek out mental health resources without the fear of judgement from others.

“I first got the idea when ChatGPT introduced fine tuning of their models,” he said. “I envisioned this might help someone who feels they can’t open up to a real person about their struggles. And the thing I’ve enjoyed most about the EQ experience is seeing the positive impact and knowing that I’ve created something that genuinely helps people.”

Harmon says that his computer science minor is helping him keep a foot in the door in the tech world, and that the EQ program and recent advancements in artificial intelligence have expanded his worldview on possibilities for the future.

“I’ve always believed in bridging gaps of the business and artificial intelligence world,” he said. “With tools like ChatGPT, the possibilities are endless, and we’re just scratching the surface.”

The EntrepreneurQuest Top 10 Pitch Competition will take place at 4 p.m. on November 28, 2023, in Monsanto Auditorium at Bond Life Sciences Center. At the end of the competition, the top three ventures, as judged by local entrepreneurs, will earn part of a $30,000 prize pool that the founders can use to further expand their businesses.

Earn an engineering degree where you can put your entrepreneurial ideas into practice with institutional support. Choose Mizzou Engineering!