Alumni “flying high” from awards for drone business start-up

Three Penn State Berks engineering alumni are "flying high" after receiving two different awards for their innovative plan for a start-up company, Onuku Industries, which builds customizable drones using open source software: One award was from the college and the other was from the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce.

Kyle Moyer, Anthony Rothenberger, and Jason King, all Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology majors who graduated from Penn State Berks in December 2014, entered the New Student Enterprise Award Contest when they were enrolled as students at the college. They were notified that they would receive the award in the amount of $2,400 on April 24, 2015.

The New Student Enterprise Award Contest is the Penn State Berks version of Shark Tank: Students present their ideas for a business start-up, and the college's Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development (CEED) Center presents the winning team with the New Student Enterprise Award. The purpose of this award is to provide seed money to support an enterprising and innovative student or student team. Funding for the award is provided by Gregory Flemming, retired IBM executive and member of the Penn State Berks Advisory Board.

The team also entered the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Business Idea Challenge and received their first place award on April 27. The Challenge offers local college students and recent alumni the chance to showcase their entrepreneurial talents in head-to-head business competition. It is open to students and recent alumni of Albright College, Alvernia University, Kutztown University, Penn State Berks, and Reading Area Community College. Dr. Sadan Kulturel-Konak, Coordinator of the Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development Center and Professor of Management Information Systems, was the team?s faculty adviser for the Business Idea Challenge.

It all began when Moyer, Rothenberger, and King were enrolled in the same two-semester engineering course, Electromechanical Design Project Preparation and Electromechanical Design Project. They were tasked with designing and building a project, so they worked as a team to build a drone.

Then Rothenberger enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Leadership course, taught by James Laurie, Instructor of Business. Laurie asked the students to write a business plan for a start-up company, so Rothenberger decided to focus his attention on a fictional company that would build the drones that he and his teammates designed in the engineering course. Suddenly, the company became a reality in his mind.

Although all three alumni are now employed; Moyer as an Application Designer at Reading Bakery Systems; Rothenberger as a Manufacturing Engineer at Micro-Coax; and King as a Dietary Aide at Genesis Healthcare; they work on their drone business, Onuku Industries, whenever they have free time in Moyer?s garage.

Moyer explained during the presentation to the Student Enterprise Award committee that each member of the team has an individual role: he was the theorist or idea person. Rothenberger stated that his main role was implementing the intended functionality of the drone by taking the ideas and bringing them to life. King explained that he built the frames and handled the manufacturing and modeling of possible parts for the project.

Currently, they have three drones built: an efficiency-based drone that uses a battery, a photography drone, and a lifting drone. All three drones use open source software.

When asked what makes their drones different from their competitors, Moyer responded, "Adaptability. They will never be obsolete because of open source software."

The second phase of their business plan focuses on research and development and open source fleet expansion. They are also planning to offer drone piloting and engineering services for a variety of industries.

 The New Student Enterprise Award Committee is composed of the following individuals: Dr. Sadan Kulturel-Konak; James Laurie; James Shankweiler, Lecturer in Business, Penn State Berks; Elizabeth Wiggins-Lopez, Lecturer in Engineering Technology, Penn State Berks; Gregory Flemming; and Todd R. Schorle, President and Account Manager, TS-Technology.

"It was extremely gratifying to see this team of engineering students augment their talents with business skills which Anthony gained in Entrepreneurial Leadership,? states Laurie. ?Achieving such synergies through a cross disciplinary approach is a major objective of Entrepreneurial Leadership and our Entrepreneurship Minor."