From the age of ten, instead of going home after school, Mark Wasuwanich (C ‘23) spent his days in his parents’ Thai restaurant in Orlando, Florida. Washing dishes, talking to customers, and assisting chefs in the kitchen each day, Mark dove headfirst into the hospitality industry. “It was a very enjoyable time. That’s really why I’ve always wanted to work in the food space and maybe even start my own restaurant,” Mark says.
Now, Mark has relocated his “food space” from his hometown to Philadelphia, taking on the role of the chef of his friend group by hosting cooking parties and experimenting with new recipes.
In the summer of 2021, Mark received a newsletter about Penn’s Food Innovation Lab: a startup accelerator and 800–square–foot facility, equipped with a full chef’s kitchen and geared towards the food space. Students who are interested in food entrepreneurship, founding restaurants, or creating consumer packaged goods, can receive mentorship and work alongside other founders. Mark’s friends—and guests of his frequent dinner parties—encouraged him to apply to the Food Innovation Lab. What enticed him, Mark says, “is that you’re around a crowd of people who all love food and also want to build something in that space.”
Inspired by his parents, Mark dreamed up a concept for a vegan Thai restaurant and frequented the lab to experiment with menus and synergize with other founders. Throughout the process of recipe development, he organized and hosted numerous pop–ups around Philly. Dozens of people lined up to try his food and then reacted to his dishes by responding to survey questions regarding initial impressions, taste, presentation, and aesthetics.
“The funny thing was that while I was making all of these Thai foods, the thing that got the most positive feedback wasn’t the Thai food. It was the vegan ice cream I made alongside it,” Mark says. He created six different flavors, including corn, peach, ube, and matcha. Motivated by the overwhelmingly positive feedback, Mark decided to enter the ice cream world.
So, “Wanich Ice Cream”—vegan and Southeast Asian–inspired ice cream—was born.
As the founder of Wanich Ice Cream, Mark creates his products from scratch and enjoys innovating and embracing creativity. “I have no set menus. I'm very spontaneous in the way that I work with the food that I create,” he says. As Mark invents different ice cream flavors on the spot, such as five–spice ice cream and ketchup–flavored ice cream, he says, “There [are] limitless flavors and limitless direction to go about it. The most fun part is that I can take this anywhere I want. I have total autonomy over how I want to run this ice cream place.”
Mark’s spontaneity extends to other aspects of his life as well. Passionate about climate entrepreneurship and combating climate change, he and his peers came together and decided to found a climate tech organization called Penn Climate Ventures, working to support startups dedicated to sustainable solutions. “When I want to do something, I usually just go for it,” he says, “My decisions just flowed with how I was feeling.” After switching his academic path multiple times, Mark landed on a major in mathematics. Though math has no obvious connection to any of his other endeavors, Mark finds peace in working on concrete problems, including environmental ones.
As an entrepreneur, Mark has reeled in immense support whenever he has tried to launch an initiative and is grateful for the support he has received over the years. “If you want to build something, there will be people who are so willing to give you extra footing in the door,” he says. At Penn, peers have offered Mark support with graphic design and product photos for Wanich Ice Cream, and professors have introduced him to venture capitalists to support him with Penn Climate Ventures.
After countless hours working in his parent’s restaurant, experimenting in the Food Innovation Lab, founding Wanich Ice Cream, and jumpstarting Penn Climate Ventures, Mark lends the following advice to fellow entrepreneurs: “Just go for it, petition for it, lobby for it. Try not to let other people’s perceptions and thoughts push you down. Just go for the things that you actually care about.”
Mark’s post–graduation adventure remains unplanned. But whether he decides to work in venture capital, continue his entrepreneurial pathway, create a climate tech startup, or continue developing Wanich Ice Cream, he plans to live by his own advice and “just go for it.”