By Morgan Sewack
Dunmore, PA -- It used to be that when college students were asked what they planned on doing after they got their degree, most would say they wanted to land a traditional, full-time, 9-to-5 job in their chosen career field. Some might have had their sights set on graduate school. Only a very small percentage would say they wanted to start their own businesses that early in their careers.
However, thanks to advancements in technology and the new realities of our post-pandemic world, industry experts have noticed two growing trends – a surge in entrepreneurship overall and an increase in the number of those entrepreneurs being women.
As of July, 2022 the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.2 million Americans left their jobs in November, which is the highest level since the agency began tracking this data in 2000. Since then, many organizations may have experienced significant turnover, as team members leave for new opportunities, or perhaps starting up their own businesses.
And, between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, women entrepreneurs outpaced their male counterparts by 22 percent, making up 48 percent of entrepreneurs overall.
For three Penn State Scranton alumnae -- Ashli Daley, Franceska Sweeney and Katrina Foster -- these young women have not only taken the leap to establish businesses of their own, but are working in niche industries that require specialized skills and serve unique clients – making them trailblazers in their chosen fields.
Daley, a 2018 nursing graduate is a certified neonatal ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurse. After graduating from Penn State Scranton, she took a job in the NICU at Hershey Medical Center, in Hershey, PA, where she worked for until taking a leap of faith in July 2021. She quit her full-time staff job to become a traveling nurse through AYA Healthcare, taking on contracts in NICUs in Roanoke, VA, El Paso, TX and Port Charlotte, FL.
After working with a variety of families from diverse backgrounds, there was one common theme Daley found, and it was the lack of support for families -- especially first-time parents.
“I had a three month break from traveling where I picked up a job as a nanny for a little six-week-old baby whose mama was working from home but needed daytime help for her little one,” Daley said. “She loved the fact that my background is nursing, especially working with babies. She suggested to me that I should really look into being a baby coach because I had taken on the role of doing more than a typical nanny would.”
With that idea in mind, Daley did a quick Google search and stumbled upon The Mama Coach – a national network of registered nurses and nurse practitioners who work one-on-one with families to make motherhood easier by providing programs and support.
“I signed up to meet with the CEO of the company, Carrie Bruno, and was able to join in on her June training and eventually launched my own private practice using the brand The Mama Coach,” said Daley.
“I started my business because I genuinely love teaching families and I get a great sense of satisfaction when coaching and seeing parents have that ‘ah-ha' moment. I want to bridge the gap between what families learn during discharge from the hospital versus what happens when they get home with their little one. I am not a mom of humans, but I have so much experience in my role as a bedside nurse and I know that being a parent can be a challenging job -- and oftentimes, a little support goes a long way.”
As a Mama Coach, Daley helps families that are local to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area and, virtually, across the United States.
“I am still working full-time as a bedside nurse while dedicating my days off to supporting families in need,” Daley said. “I offer a variety of free and paid workshops ranging from prenatal classes, breastfeeding workshops, CPR/AED/Choking workshops, sleep seminars, learning how to start solids safely, etcetera.”
In addition to her workshops, Daley provides individualized consultations and plans for families who are facing bottle/breastfeeding challenges, sleep challenges and even those who need support with potty training.
“Since participating in The Mama Coach training and combined with my experience as a bedside NICU nurse, I have expanded my knowledge A LOT!” Daley exclaimed.
“I have been able to support the families even better I take care of in the hospitals by providing comprehensive breastfeeding and infant care education prior to discharge from the hospital. I absolutely love interacting with families, watching them enjoy their journey as parents, and empowering them to be well educated in the care of their little one.”
The past two years, especially working in the healthcare industry, has been a whirlwind of emotions for Daley.
“My services are truly best provided in person, but with everything going on-- virtual teaching and consultations have been a main option right now,” she said.
One of the largest challenges Daley currently faces in this role is community outreach and letting families know about the resources available to them.
“I have utilized social media as a huge tool and outlet for education and marketing purposes, but it can be quite difficult as a start-up nursing practice to compete with other established brands/individuals who offer similar services with no healthcare background,” Daley said.
Daley offers a judgement-free approach and bases her consults and plans on evidence-based science and empathy. “It's not my job to tell people how to raise their children or whether they should breastfeed or bottle feed-- but instead, support them through whatever decision they make and provide education to help them be successful in whatever path they choose.”
Like Daley, a similar experience happened to Sweeney, a 2012 Penn State Scranton business graduate who turned her love and passion for horses into a career -- FJS Quarter Horses, which is located in Clarks Summit and offers horse riding lessons, training and horse sales, and specializes in creating reliable barrel horses and competitive horse/rider teams.
As a young adult, Sweeney interned with a few trainers, learning how they ran their business and handled clients, while also getting a feel for how she would incorporate that into her own business.
After coming across a local job posting looking for an instructor to teach kids how to ride horses at a local farm, Sweeney was hired and realized how much she enjoyed seeing these kids reach their goals with the horses and accomplish things they thought they could not.
“I taught these children life lessons with horses and witnessed how much it brightened their day and changed their world for that minute,” said Sweeney. Seeing that process ignited her passion to start her own business even more. A few years later, she began the process of opening FJS Quarter Horses, but, like starting up any business, she faced many challenges.
“Money was a challenge, as I had to build from the ground up. I needed equipment, higher caliber horses and more; so that was definitely a challenge in the beginning phases.”
Competing was not an issue for Sweeney, but starting out on her own in a male-dominated industry as a professional trainer and having clients that would go on to show or learn how to ride was the most difficult for her.
“As a woman, you had to work harder than the men did [in order] to earn their respect and prove yourself,” said Sweeney.
“I appreciate that the industry is a lot easier now for women wanting to be trainers because the respect level is there,” said Sweeney, reflecting on how difficult it was starting her business 15 years ago. “You really have to keep persevering and believing in yourself to make it happen.”
From the beginning Sweeney was determined to start her business and often works 24/7 with few hours of sleep, depending on the season. She credits her strong work ethic and desire for helping others get acquainted with their horses as a key to her success.
She witnessed her first successes within two to three years of opening her business, as she watched her students shape and mold into exceptional riders. “You have to have a passion for this. I don’t even know if that’s a strong enough word,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s clients range from children to adults and she said she enjoys helping all of her clients achieve their dreams and goals.
“When I see the proud reaction of my clients accomplishing their goals, it is like the icing on the cake for me,” noting that it is the most rewarding part of her job.
Surprisingly, Sweeney originally did not want to go to college; it was her parents who pushed her to go as a back-up plan. “And I’m glad I did,” said Sweeney. “I had the best time at Penn State Scranton. The professors at Penn State Scranton, especially in the business program, shared real world experiences, some of whom were themselves entrepreneurs, which helped me tremendously with starting up my own business.”
She recalled many of these experiences and explained, “these are the main things I took away from my collegiate journey and still use to this day.”
Sweeney advises anyone wanting to become their own entrepreneur that “if it is something you go to bed at night thinking about and wake up thinking about, just keep being the squeaky wheel and get it done. Although it might seem like an eternity to be able to get the business rolling, all it really takes is one percent a little bit every single day,” she said. She also suggests setting a goal with a timeline and readjusting as needed.
Most importantly, Sweeney’s advice to anyone looking to start up their own career is to not listen to any naysayers. “If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I wasn’t going to make it, I would be a millionaire.”
Well-seasoned in entrepreneurship, Penn State Scranton alumna and owner of KKPR Marketing and Public Relations, in Milford, PA, Foster also faced many naysayers as a businesswoman and thrives off of what she learned from failure, saying that is what has led to her growth and success.
Foster began her career as a student before earning her undergraduate degree in business, management and marketing option in 2006. As a young woman, she worked at an auto body shop, where her innovative nature took over as she revamped its marketing materials and ultimately, she said, reorganized the whole business for the better. The experience sparked her interest in the marketing realm and led Foster to intern for a marketing and public relations company in New York City, where she soon realized that working in the big city was not the path for her.
“I decided to start my own business,” Foster said, “in part of desire for myself, and in part of making a living.”
She credits Penn State Scranton’s flexibility as one of the elements that helped her start her own business so early in life. It also helped that her studies coincided with her aspirations. She noted that many professors who helped mentor her “were in the industry and helped give me advice -- and that mentorship is really invaluable.”
Of course, no worthwhile endeavor is easy, especially at the beginning. Starting her career with a lack of resources, Foster faced many challenges, but did not allow those challenges to stop her from following her dreams. She had made too many sacrifices to simply throw in the towel, she said, and sure enough, the then 23-year-old Foster proved the naysayers wrong.
“I had nothing to lose,” Foster explained. “I had to put my money where my mouth was, and that reputation followed me.” She learned a multitude of lessons as an independent entrepreneur in those early years and then began to see the first of her successes blossom within four-to-five-years of starting her business.
“At that time, my company was growing at a rate of 67 percent a year, I had won a lot of awards, my team was bigger, and I had a solid office space. I was valued in the community I worked in.” She then joked, “I thought I was even peaking before reaching 30-years-old.”
Although most people think that being your own boss is the best part of owning a business, Foster said it is the people you work with who really take the cake. She expressed profound gratitude for her clients and the people that have been a part of her team over the years.
"The reality of what makes you truly successful are the people you surround yourself with,” she said. “I have been extremely fortunate throughout the past 20 years to have worked with amazing people.”
After establishing KKPR Marketing and Public Relations and hungry for a new challenge, Foster started a handful of new businesses, including Lacquer Nail Bar and Chick’s Cleaning.
“I did it out of fear and not out of love,” she said. During this time, she was working seven days a week and not profiting from these businesses. “I was missing out on life.” After giving up an abundance of quality time with her friends and family, she decided to shut down her other companies -- being this busy was not what was important. “I had to reevaluate my life and focus on what fed my soul -- which was KKPR and taking on more clients rather than more projects.”
Having faced her fair share of hurdles in the beginning of her career, Foster encourages young entrepreneurs to not be afraid of failure. "Setbacks just teach you a lesson. We are all put on this earth to learn lessons. If you don’t face setbacks, you are missing out on a robust experience of life.”
Her advice to new entrepreneurs is do what you love.
"For someone that is young and wants to start their own business, being driven by fear of failing is a mistake. The reality is that failure leads to amazing things. Listen to your heart, do things from a place of love in all aspects of your life, and know you’re setting yourself up for success and growth.”
And, as a woman entrepreneur, Foster feels a desire to help other women succeed as well.
“Particularly in the advertising industry, women back then felt that they had to act like ‘one of the guys’ to be taken seriously,” she explained, admitting to drinking scotch and smoking cigars to get her foot in the door of the male-dominated business world. She even noted that the women back then had to be cutthroat and competitive just to be taken seriously.
Now, having successfully and securely established herself and her business, Foster’s mission in life is to mentor, uplift and empower her fellow females. She has nurtured the potential of countless young women through internships, voiced her support of up-and-coming businesswomen, and works closely with a non-profit organization that supports victims of domestic violence. “It’s the way I get through life,” she said.
Since the pandemic hit in 2020, Foster has closed her brick-and-mortar offices and is now operating KKPR Marketing and Public Relations remotely, with no plans to return to an office setting anytime soon. “I miss the everyday interaction with people but there are many positive aspects of working from home,” she said, joking that “I can start work at 7a.m. in my pajamas.”
And, with the growth in the number of new entrepreneurs over the past year, and trends pointing toward even more joining their ranks, Penn State has created a program to help them. Through its Invent Penn State initiative, the University has opened 18 LaunchBox facilities across the state, including one in South Scranton.
The Scranton Launchbox is a pre-incubator facility that assists early-stage entrepreneurs build their business ideas by providing no-cost resources and expertise through the local Penn State campus.
Anyone can request assistance and all help is free of charge. Those seeking assistance will be connected with individuals and community and University resources that can help them get their business ideas to the next step.
Over the past year, over a dozen students and community members have sought, and been given assistance by Penn State Scranton staff, faculty and student interns.
Inspired by our three women alumni in this article and think you might be interested in networking with Daley, Sweeney, and Foster? Check out their contact information below:
Check out Daley’s Mama Coaching services for more information. People can also follow her on Instagram: @themamacoach.ashlidaley and Facebook: The Mama Coach Ashli Daley.
Sweeney and Foster also both offer internships for anyone interested in working in these various fields. Direct message Sweeney on social media or call 570-702-3378 for more information about internships and/or to learn more about FJS Quarter Horses. Be sure to follow here on Facebook: FJS Quarter Horses, Instagram and TikTok: @franceskajsweeney
Interested in leveling up your business? Check out KKPR Marketing and Public Relations.