UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Tamela Serensits left her job in 2017 to start her own business, she took her friend’s advice: Have a Plan B in case the venture doesn’t work out.
Serensits’ Plan B was a master’s degree in applied statistics through Penn State World Campus. Over the past two years as she worked toward starting her business, she has found that what she’s learning through her course work can help her startup grow.
In October, Serensits launched her product Trendable, a web-based quality-control reporting software tool aimed at small manufacturers. She said its trend analysis alerts quality-control managers about improperly manufactured parts, saving them time and money.
“My degree is more my Plan B, but it’s so fantastic that I’m taking this because my software is a stat software program,” said Serensits, who worked in quality manufacturing for 10 years. “The course work lines up well with the development of my statistical software.”
Upon leaving her job, Serensits made two plans for her future. One was to see her idea through and become the owner of a startup software company. The other was a master’s degree with the hope of working as a statistician for a business or consulting firm if the business didn’t work.
Serensits, who served in the Navy from 2001 to 2005, said her military experience has proven valuable, too.
“My service in the Navy early in my career gave me the skills to be an effective leader,” she said. “I’m confident in my ability to bring people together to achieve a common goal. Where I was lacking was in my technical background in statistics.”
To start working on her product, Serensits sought to take advantage of the opportunities at Penn State for aspiring entrepreneurs.
She applied for and received startup investment funding from the State College location of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide technology-based business accelerator. She also received a $10,000 startup grant from the Happy Valley Launchbox’s Summer Founders Program, a business accelerator program sponsored by Invent Penn State, and $3,000 from a National Science Foundation grant that is administered by Penn State.
But the course work has opened her eyes to her product’s potential as a statistical tool. The advanced analytics and predictive techniques can be directly applied to data in Trendable, which she said will make the product more valuable.
“Using statistics to find patterns that humans just don’t see is very powerful,” she said.
The degree program requires two semesters of consulting on statistical projects, and Serensits expects this to be a vital experience she can apply to her customers.
As the sole business owner, Serensits works around the clock. She carves out time during the day to complete readings for her course work, and she completes the homework assignments on weekends. She expects to graduate in fall 2020.
For her business, she hopes to eventually hire five or six full-time employees. She plans to integrate Trendable with existing, on-site databases so quality-control managers can see the data populating in real time.
“The master’s in applied statistics through World Campus has given me the flexibility to start my business and increase my expertise to create real value for small manufacturers today,” Serensits said. “Even though continuing my education was a Plan B, it has turned out to be an integral part of my Plan A.”