Curious about how trains, planes and cars work, Itua thought she’d study mechanical engineering. But in her investigation of various universities and their degree programs, she came across mechatronics engineering at the University of Waterloo and something just clicked.
"I can be pretty indecisive," says Itua. "I went in thinking mechanical and then I read up about electrical and computer engineering and thought wow, that sounds cool! But so did software and systems design - I just wanted to do them all. Mechatronics was the perfect choice because I got to experience multiple engineering disciplines in one program."
Now, four years later, Itua will cross the stage at convocation on June 16 to receive her Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc). Along with her newly minted mechatronics engineering degree, Itua graduates with a well-rounded student experience that has shaped her entrepreneurial ambitions.
Taking offItua describes her younger self as shy and introverted. When she arrived on the Waterloo campus in 2018, she decided it was time to break out of her shell.
"It was a bit of a shock how different it was to high school," recalls Itua. "But once I found my feet, I put my hand up for as much as possible and just gave stuff a go. I learnt a lot, like how to advocate for others and negotiate with people in positions of authority."
Itua soon discovered her aptitude for leadership in various roles such as class representative and vice-president of the activities council at her residence. She realized that Waterloo offered her a wealth of opportunities beyond the classroom and decided to balance her academics with other activities.
"There was no way I could carry on pushing my grades to the max if I wanted to enjoy more experiences," smiles Itua. "So I started weighing up how to assign my time, for example, there was a conference for advancing women in technology that I wanted to go to as I knew it would improve my networking skills. It was in Toronto so I skipped a whole day of class to attend it and I’m glad I did - it was worth it."
The more extra-curricular activities Itua did and the more people she met, the more she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur.
"I used to think that I’d have to wait until I had a degree, be older and richer, before I could start my own business," says Itua. "I took a Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (BET) course and sitting next to me were people my age and younger who had a couple of startups going already. I was like ok, time to launch."
Flying highItua got to do six co-operative work experiences during her studies. The first was at a large company, the following four were at startups and the final one had her working on her own business, Foodage.
"Waterloo is full of resources that foster entrepreneurship," says Itua. "Co-op, hackathons, WiE events, the BET courses and the Velocity Incubator Program - I took advantage of them all. And the most important lesson I learned is that being an entrepreneurial engineer is about designing for others, not for yourself, not because you have some cool idea but because there’s an end-user with a need."
Earlier this year Itua competed in two business pitch contests held on campus on the same day - the Velocity $5K Finals and the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design.
She won $5,000 at Velocity for her startup Foodage, a software solution for restaurants that predicts customer demand to make food stocks and preparation more efficient and less wasteful.
At the Esch Awards, Itua and her Capstone teammates won $10,000 for their project Bexter, an at-home robot that teaches non-verbal autistic children how to communicate using an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) board.
"It was a wild day!" laughs Itua.
Coming into landItua is keen to get as much real-world experience as possible, but her immediate priority is to explore the commercial potential of Foodage through Velocity’s Venture Ready program.
"I don’t think entrepreneurial people have to start their own businesses," says Itua. "Lots of established companies now recognize the business value of an entrepreneurial mindset and are trying to attract these personalities and skills. Maybe one day I’ll experience that opportunity but right now I want to focus on Foodage."
Thinking back on her degree experience, Itua has some advice for incoming students.
"You’re not defined by your grades so don’t spend all your time studying! Give yourself a broad education and you’ll have way more fun and become a better engineer. Just try things - network, apply for scholarships, volunteer, look for mentors and share your learnings in return. Remember who you are, your culture and where you come from. I’ve also learnt that persistence pays off so don’t be afraid to ask for help - you’ve got nothing to lose and more often than not, the answer will be yes."
Feature image: Osose Itua (second from right) at the What’s Next, What Now (WNWN) 2022 Women in Engineering (WiE) Conference at the University of Waterloo. Other panelists include fellow engineering students Jocelyne Murphy, Abby Tien and Anna VanderHeide.