Southeast Innovation Challenge Winners Announced


The Douglas C. Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Catapult Creative House at Southeast Missouri State University announced the winners of the second annual Southeast Innovation Challenge during a Common Hour program Nov. 15.

The program was held as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), a week in November during which thousands of entrepreneurial events and competitions take place in 160 countries.

The winners are as follows:

First place and People’s Choice Award:

Cape-Ability – Isaac Nash, a business administration major from Jackson, Missouri; and Jackie Wiles, a management major, entrepreneurship option, from Farmington, Missouri

Second place:

The Mural Project – Micah Cocco, an art major from Normal, Illinois; and Emalea Rieckhoff, a corporate communication major from Windsor, Missouri

 Third place:

Redhawk Research Perch – Ian Cameron, a history major from Cape Girardeau; Sonali Chilupuri, a computer science major from India; Shubroto Shuvo, a computer science major from Dhaka, Bangladesh; and James Waltz, a psychology major from Cape Girardeau

Isaac Nash

Cape-Ability is a proposal for campus-wide mental health empowerment, including the renaming of Counseling and Disability Services, increasing mental health awareness and training, and encouraging the use of support networks. Also proposed was the creation of an app, texting, and web-chat-based service for support and professional advice and to increase peer support networks.

“The idea came to me because the topic is something very near and dear to me,” said Nash. “I’m a non-traditional student who returned to SEMO after roughly nine years.  The reason I left college in the first place was partially due to un-diagnosed mental health issues, many of which stem from an accident I witnessed when I was 16, in which my best friend was killed.  I refused to seek help for a long time, but when I did, I was diagnosed with PTSD, general anxiety and major depression.  Anyone that knows me, or has spent any notable amount of time with me knows about it, because unlike most people who struggle with mental health issues, I have no problem whatsoever putting the spotlight on myself.  I’m reasonably well adjusted, and most people wouldn’t presume anything is wrong with me. I put myself out there in these ways to help others realize there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues. It’s just like seeking treatment for your blood sugar being out of whack if you’re diabetic or getting glasses or contacts if you can’t see well.”

Dr. Foster Roberts, assistant professor of the Department of Management and Marketing, said “Nash identified a true problem and issues, and applied an extremely practical solution, and it is feasible for the minimum amount of resources available while still making a huge difference in students’ lives. We could not have found a better representative.”

The Campus Mental Health Improvements project received $750 for first place and the additional People’s Choice Award.

From left are Emalea Rieckhoff and Micah Cocco

The Mural Project is a proposal to beautify a highly visible part of campus – the north wall of the boiler plant that faces Scully and the sand volleyball courts — while serving as a new tradition for students. Rieckhoff and Cocco worked together to create The Mural Project, which proposes converting it into a place to showcase student art and the University’s history through murals.

“We are really excited about this idea and think it will be incredible if executed properly. We do not want the wall to turn into an over commercialized execution of our idea,” said Rieckhoff. “We want it to be artistic and organic from the minds of students to represent Southeast and its students authentically.”

The Mural Project received $500 for finishing in second place.

From left are Sonali Chilupuri, Shubroto Shuvo, James Waltz and Ian Cameron

The Redhawk Research Perch is a proposal to create an online forum where professors and students can post research projects aimed at facilitating collaboration between students and faculty. The Redhawks Research Perch would create a search forum as an extension to, allowing faculty to post research projects they are working in an effort to recruit undergraduate students to apply as assistants.

“I think the biggest thing I’m hoping for is increased undergraduate involvement in research. I think research is so important when it comes to getting learning experience outside the classroom. Research forces you to think in a new way that’s more productive and meaningful,” said Waltz.

The Redhawk Research Perch project received $250 for finishing in third place.

The Southeast Innovation Challenge was open to both undergraduate and graduate students who formed multi-disciplinary teams of two or more people to research and propose an innovative program, initiative or service to improve the student experience in a meaningful way.

A panel of University and community professionals judged the 23 submissions based on how impactful, innovative and feasible the idea was, as well as the diversity of majors on each team. The top three teams presented their ideas and answered questions from the audience at the beginning of the program.

“The Innovation Challenge is an avenue to allow students to shape the value that we provide to them in class,” said Roberts. “We teach students to find the opportunity through problem recognition.”

Dr. Judy Wiles, interim dean of the Harrison College of Business and director of the Douglas C. Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said, “It was truly gratifying to have a very strong response from our students for our Southeast Innovation Challenge. We are proud of their efforts to develop and present their innovative ideas. We were also excited to showcase our entrepreneurial efforts to one of our alums, Anders Tjernlund, a successful entrepreneur from the Silicon Valley area.”

The program’s keynote speaker, Tjernlund, is a Southeast alumnus, co-founder and chief operating officer of Swiftstack, Inc. Originally from Sweden, Tjernlund started with highlights from his time at Southeast and his early work experience. He noted his belief that it was more important to find the right company to work for rather than a specific role as there would be opportunities from within that organization to advance.

Tjernlund then connected those experiences to his current startup SwiftStack. He went on to describe the six-year-old company’s humble beginnings and the innovative ways his small team was able to compete with data storage giants such as IBM. One of these ways was using open source, something none of the giants were doing. He also quoted HP co-founder David Packard when explaining why they chose to focus on three main verticals — Life Sciences, Media and Entertainment, and Gaming — saying “more organizations die of indigestion than starvation.”

The next Southeast Innovation Challenge will take place during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2018.