Innovation Quest Sees Strong Engineering Participation and Success

Group of students
Members of Buteo, a student innovation project that is developing a bird detection and deterrent technology for berry crop farmers, took first place at Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s 14th annual Innovation Quest competition on April 27. From left are team members Ryan Dunn, Jackson Reznicek, Sean Wallace, Hayden Hudgins and Kyle Wuerch.

Eleven Cal Poly Engineering students and alumni participated in, and succeeded during, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) 14th annual Innovation Quest (iQ) competition.

Buteo, a student innovation project that is developing a bird detection and deterrent technology for berry crop farmers, took first place.

The team of six Cal Poly students received the Innovation Award and $15,000 for technology that uses autonomous fixed-wing drones to help vineyard managers and berry farmers protect their crops from birds and gain quantifiable feedback on the health of their vines.

The interdisciplinary team is made up of business administration students Jackson Reznicek, Kendall Melton and Rocky Tschappat, computer engineering students Kyle Wuerch and Sean Wallace, mechanical engineering student Ryan Dunn, and computer science graduate student Hayden Hudgins.

Nearly 50 teams comprising approximately 150 students and recent alumni applied for the iQ competition, with 11 selected as finalists competing for cash prizes in front of a panel of judges with a broad range of entrepreneurial experience. Four teams were honored at the event held April 27 at the San Luis Obispo Country Club for their innovative projects.

“The Innovation Quest competition motivates our students to utilize their strong disciplinary foundation and apply that knowledge and experience to start an entrepreneurial journey,” said Thomas Katona, assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in Cal Poly’s Biomedical Engineering Department. “Students need these opportunities to express their own creative desires, and this competition serves as a great way for them to get business experience and potentially win money to continue developing their companies.” 

The second place Rich and Jackie Boberg Innovation Award and $10,000 went to Santronics, which provides an automated, adaptable and caregiver-oriented hand hygiene compliance monitoring system for hospital infection control teams.

The team includes mechanical engineering students Samuel Lee, Sonya Dick and Taira Hovden; computer engineering students Christian Johansen and Boris Tam; and business administration student Daniel DeFilippo.

HealthBlock and Tulum Cosmetics tied for the $5,000 third-place prize and will each receive $3,100 after the judges agreed on the spot to contribute an additional $1,200.

HealthBlock is a code-free platform allowing health researchers to create and deploy remote studies while securely connecting them with consenting participants. The team consists of mechanical engineering student Eric Cuellar, computer science student Erika Kaplan, economics student Hari Krishna, business administration student Jack Pawela and graphic communications student Madalyn Pape.

Tulum Cosmetics is an FDA-approved direct-to-consumer brand of matte liquid lipstick containing the medical treatment to heal and conceal cold sores. The team is made up of business administration student Emily Penuen and art and design student Megan Steiger. 

Innovation Quest was started by Cal Poly alumni with a goal to develop an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset among Cal Poly students and to provide students with a springboard in developing sustainable businesses. Partnering with the Cal Poly CIE, the competition now serves as a primary catalyst for innovation across campus each year. 

For more information about iQ and the CIE, visit


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