Navy veteran taps leadership skills to dive into entrepreneurship

April 15, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Before Penn State alumna Tamela Serensits got her entrepreneurial feet, she got her sea legs as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy – traveling the world protecting freedom and leading critical decision-making when lives were on the line.

That experience helped form her character, and commitment to her own startup company: Argolytics, a web-based software platform that helps manufacturers assess the quality of their products. The company’s first product, Trendable, which was launched in fall 2019, is a cost-effective and precision quality-control reporting software that alerts manufacturers to out-of-spec components.

Like the military, it takes a team to accomplish a mission. That’s why Serensits is leaning into her experience as a naval officer to manage the Argolytics team, many of which are virtual, contracted workers used as needed, including software programmers working internationally.

Serensits earned a bachelor’s degree in animal bioscience, today known as animal science, in 2001 from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. She attended the University on an ROTC scholarship.

“Because of my ROTC officer training and naval experience, I know what it takes to be a leader and how to get results in my company and in the community,” said Serensits.

She then set off to fulfill her commitment to the Navy. After her four-year tour of duty was completed, she set sail on a civilian career with Softgenetics, a software startup in the genetics analysis space, where she had to wear a lot of hats. After that, she worked at State College, Pennsylvania-based Minitab, which provides a digital statistics package for companies to help them increase efficiency and improve quality through data analysis. She’d spend the next decade in field sales and sales management roles with Minitab.

During this time a customer encountered a problem the company was not prepared to address, and a light went on in Serensits' head: She knew how to solve that problem. With that, the seed of what would become Argolytics LLC in 2017 was planted.

Soon after her idea was conceived, she visited Happy Valley LaunchBox — one of Invent Penn State’s 21 innovation hubs across Pennsylvania providing free or low-cost programs, services and legal clinics to spur economic development, job creation, and student career success.

She met Happy Valley LaunchBox Chief Amplifier Lee Erikson, who helps startups de-risk and grow their businesses. That was when Serensits shared her business idea. Erikson then encouraged Serensits to read, “Lean Customer Development,” a customer-discovery book aimed at helping businesses better understand target audiences and to assess the viability of their ideas for the real world.

She executed concepts from the book and soon after Serensits was accepted into the 2018 Fast Track Accelerator at LaunchBox and named an affiliate in the Ben Franklin Technology Partners TechCelerator program, a statewide technology-based business accelerator, which provided her with initial startup funds and operations guidance.

She participated in the Summer Founders Program in 2019, which awarded her $10,000 and enabled her to hire an intern who helped advance the research and development for Trendable. James Delattre, associate vice president for research and director for the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization at Penn State, also counseled her — helping her secure a $3,000 National Science Foundation I-Corps grant to help drive the company’s R&D efforts.

The Penn State entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to offer counseling and advice to Serensits. In particular, professors from the industrial engineering department, as well as Ted Graef, who recently was named director of Engineering Entrepreneurship (E-SHIP) program at Penn State, serves as a key adviser to Serensits for Argolytics’ go-to-market strategies.

Additionally, Smeal College of Business students have helped augment the services Serensits is receiving through Happy Valley LaunchBox by providing input about digital advertising, voice of customer research and general business planning.

“Working within this robust entrepreneurial system has helped me address many of the startup challenges I am or could be facing, particularly for how to best work with my extended team to bring people together to solve a problem,” Serensits said.

While Trendable makes its way to the market, Serensits is not sitting idle. In addition to the day-to-day management of Argolytics, she’s also working on her master’s degree in applied statistics through the Penn State World Campus with an expected graduation in Fall 2020.

While originally from Buffalo, New York, Serensits is now a State College resident. Her husband, Tom, earned his bachelor’s in turfgrass science in 2001 and his masters in agronomy in 2008 both from Penn State. He currently is the manager at the Penn State Center for Sports Surface Research.

Last Updated April 16, 2020