MALVERN, Pa. — This year's recipient of the Warren V. Musser Fellowship in Entrepreneurial Studies is Francine Way, a student in the Master of Finance program. Designed to help support full-time graduate students, the competitive scholarship is awarded to an individual whose focus is on starting a new business or taking an emerging business to the next level.
Growing up in Surabaya, Indonesia, Way was immersed in an entrepreneurial culture at a young age. Her parents purchased an old swamp and built their own lemonade and soy sauce factory, which eventually became the town’s third largest employer.
At age 9, Way spent her summer sweeping floors at the factory. She observed that the happiest employees were the most productive and smart, and began studying the work environment at the factory. At 12, Way supervised the manufacturing floor and accompanied her father to business meetings. “I carried my dad’s bag to those meetings and learned a few things here and there,” she mused.
At 17, Way learned how strong humans can be amidst adversity. A devastating economic crisis hit Asia in 1997, forcing Indonesia’s president to step down. There were mass riots and genocide in Indonesia, and many families — including Way’s — sent their children abroad for safety.
But her parents had taught her to survive and persevere. Way stepped off an airplane in St. Cloud, Minnesota, into a freezing, historic blizzard — an abrupt shift from the tropical climate of Indonesia. “I welcomed the ‘refreshing’ opportunity,” she laughed. While obtaining her bachelor’s degree in computer science at St. Cloud State University, she lived with a local farming family, teaching them about Indonesian culture and in turn learning English and ice fishing.
Way’s strengths are problem solving and execution; her resume is quite impressive. After college, she moved to Conshohocken to work for IKEA Technology and helped the company build an online supply chain warehouse system. She took on other roles including business analyst and project manager, and enrolled in Temple’s MBA program with a concentration in strategic management.
Way was later hired as a project portfolio manager at Independence Blue Cross, but wanted more opportunities where she could apply her newly-acquired strategic skills. She found a position with the vice president of corporate development to manage mergers and acquisitions; partnerships and alliances; divestitures; and equity investments.
Having been born to a business-owning family, Way’s entrepreneurial spirit drove her to continue to grow her knowledge and skills. She launched the Philadelphia chapter of Cleantech Open, an international non-profit accelerator for clean technology startups.
Inspired by her work with the startups, Way knew she wanted to build her own social impact business. But she wasn’t ready yet, so she worked for a few months at a healthcare startup to gain experience. “I was fortunate that a former boss, who knew of my aspirations, invited me to learn the ropes at her new startup,” Way remarked. “By giving me open-ended exposure to entrepreneurial life, she taught me how to avoid costly, rookie mistakes.”
As a tribute to both her time spent on a Minnesota farm and her Indonesian heritage, Way founded Tamans — Indonesian for ‘gardens’ — in early 2015. Described as a “21st-century approach to the farmers market,” area residents could shop online for local produce, meats and baked goods directly from farmers and select a convenient pick up location at a nearby YMCA or school.
Way designed her business with two missions in mind: to help family farms survive and to assist neighborhood non-profits with their own social purposes. 75 percent of Tamans’ profits went directly to the farmers, who make substantially less from retailers or wholesalers. While Tamans retained the remaining 25 percent, a portion went to the local non-profits.
Unfortunately the competition was stiff. Large companies like HelloFresh have huge advertising budgets, and Tamans found it difficult to acquire new customers. In May of 2016, Way put her business on hold.
From her interactions with startup leaders and business-owning friends, Way identified raising capital as a common problem, and one that she too experienced. “I’ve seen this problem from both sides—as a corporate investor and as an entrepreneur,” she added.
Looking to gain additional financial and economic acumen, Way applied to Penn State Great Valley. She was excited to learn about the Warren V. Musser Fellowship and its close alignment with the campus’ new REV-UP Center for Entrepreneurship.
She has already taken two courses this fall: accounting and financial modeling. “When I applied to Penn State, I thought about exploring a career with a venture capital firm or a corporate venture team as the next chapter of my life,” said Way. “While that desire is still there, the classes here have opened my mind to new possibilities. My accounting course taught me universal concepts like earnings quality and cash flow analyses that could be applied to numerous opportunities.”
As this year’s Musser Fellow, Way is helping the REV-UP Center for Entrepreneurship launch and grow. She assists Doug Schumer, the Center’s faculty director, with the various projects needed to launch a startup incubator from strategic planning, to generating awareness among angel and venture capital investors, and to encouraging participation in a Lion Cage competition for new entrepreneurs to pitch ideas.
Way will finish the Master of Finance program in June. While unsure of her plans for after graduation, Way’s move will undoubtedly be carefully considered. “It is important for me to work in a role I enjoy, where I can contribute while being challenged,” she remarked. “Life is short, and you should work for something that gets you up happily in the morning.”