For the first time, Missouri University of Science and Technology students will compete this month in a national entrepreneurship challenge against other finalists from colleges and universities across North America. Judges chose the Missouri S&T team, named Spark, as one of 25 undergraduate student teams for the e-FEST competition based on a video business pitch submission in a preliminary online competition.
The students envision a robotics business that will solve real-world education needs for K-12 students in public or private schools and homeschool settings.
“We are all from rural or suburban areas that did not have many opportunities for pre-engineering classes,” says Edward Koharik, chief executive officer of Embyr Technologies, the company the students created. “We realized that we could come up with an idea through our robot and online curriculum that could prepare kids for subjects such as electrical engineering, physics and mechanical design in a way that is engaging and fun.”
The students say the key to their project is the online learning modules, which are similar to a Khan Academy or Wikipedia model and would let students direct their own learning according to their interests.
“It allows student learning to be motivated by self-interest and curiosity because you can follow down whatever holes you want as far as you go and learn things that no course is designed to give you because it’s impossible to make an all-encompassing curriculum that’s not traditional,” says Matthew Healy, chief technology officer for the group.
There are similar educational robotics products on the market, but the students say their model is more versatile and expandable, connecting to a potentially wider range of technologies. They also expect to offer a cost savings to parents and schools based on lower manufacturing costs and a lower price point than competitors.
Team advisor Dr. Bonnie Bachman says events such as e-FEST help create a culture of entrepreneurial thinking for students to better prepare them for working in the real world.
“Most of our students are not going to become entrepreneurs when they leave this campus. However, they all need the same opportunities to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set that will be useful for any company or startup,” says Bachman, economics professor and director of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site program at Missouri S&T. “Employers want employees who are not only technically rigorous, but also creative, collaborative, thoughtful risk takers who understand effective team dynamics.”
The Spark team will receive an expenses-paid trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to participate in the competition April 12-14. Students will compete for a chance to win over $250,000 in cash prizes.
The challenge features several events, including a team pitch to industry leaders and potential investors. There’s also an individual competition where the team members are split up into new groups for a building task to test how quickly they can adapt. A third challenge requires the students to make a 30-second elevator pitch of their business with the winner chosen by other competitors.
Spark team members include:Jack Kufa, a sophomore in electrical engineering from Carlinville, Illinois, and vice president of marketing and design for Embyr Technologies Matthew Healy, a senior in applied mathematics and computer science from Sunrise Beach, Missouri, and chief technology officer of Embyr Technologies Edward Koharik, a senior in economics and computer science from Belleville, Illinois, and chief executive officer of Embyr Technologies Lucas Mefford, a sophomore in engineering management from Carlinville, Illinois, and chief administrative officer of Embyr Technologies Caleb Jett, a junior in electrical and computer engineering from Butler, Missouri, and vice president of research and design for Embyr Technologies
The competition is sponsored by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas and EIX, a non-profit online platform for entrepreneurship education. The winning team will be announced on April 16.