Meet CEO Juliana Cardona Mejia ’13
Former Honors student Juliana Cardona Mejia ’13 has always been dedicated to selfless community service. Using that dedication, she has gone on to become the founder and CEO of Street Entrepreneurs, an organization that works to provide opportunities and work experience to people in low-income areas. Here’s how Juliana got her start.
What was your major?
Political science, with minors in Latin American studies and communications.
Why did you choose to attend FSC?
At the time I wanted to study music and Florida Southern has wonderful ratings in this subject matter.
What extracurriculars were you involved in?
I was involved with Speech and Debate, for which I was awarded best extemporaneous sales, Model Senate, where I was chosen as best senator, and Model United Nations, where I won best delegation.
Juliana (center) with a group of students at The Washington Center, where she worked with abused immigrants and homeless shelters.
What research did you do as a student?
I wrote an Oral History of the Colombian Armed Conflict, for which I interviewed a former Colombian secretary of state and the general director of the police and others crucial to the oral history of the past 50 years of internal conflict in Colombia.
Did you receive any awards or recognition during college?
I received the Congressional Bronze Certificate, which is given by the United States government to recognize initiative, service, and achievement in young people for voluntary public service.
How do you believe FSC contributed to your success?
I met Meredith Albury, Trenton Moore, Ricky Marton, and Jordan Arbuckle, without whom Street Entrepreneurs would not be the same. I met Kenya Brown, Ashley Myrberg, and Brook Myrberg, without whom I would not be the same.
What inspired you to start Street Entrepreneurs?
The philosopher Seneca and Matthew, a young man I met in a shelter. Matthew had a fantastic idea for an app that would allow people to find affordable hired work during weekends or late at night, but he had no means or education to make it happen. This inspired me to start Street Entrepreneurs to help people like Matthew get their starts. I search for Matthews every day.
What does Street Entrepreneurs do?
Street Entrepreneurs is a nonprofit that works to create entrepreneurship opportunities for people who are facing homelessness, unemployment, or poverty. We look for talent, drive, and grit in places where there are drug gangs. In fact, 40 percent of homeless youth are forced to sell drugs to make ends meet. This lack of opportunity is what we address. What if they could use their remarkable sales and marketing skills to sell a legitimate product or service instead? Street Entrepreneurs enters the poorest neighborhoods in D.C. and finds people with talent, hope, and heart. Then we provide business workshops, legal assistance, and personal coaching at no cost.
What do you like most about your job now?
We watch our Street Entrepreneurs go from ideas to income, then turn around and help others. What I love the most about my job is meeting participants. They have not always had it easy. Roughly 20-40 percent of them were kicked out of their homes because they came out as LGBT and another 45 percent aged out of foster care, yet they are strong. They have Steve Job’s fire in the belly and Muhammad Ali’s fight; they have all the potential in the world.
What does your day look like?
I cannot do any of this alone. Each day and night is spent building partnerships with shelters, community driven organizations, volunteers, coaches, small business, and professors. I am a constantly recruiting and providing business workshop in shelters and low-income housing. I am responsible and accountable to every participant and partner to ensure that our programs and services are constantly improving.
How has your experience working been different from what you planned while in college?
When I graduated, I decided I would change the world through public policy. I have chosen a more hands-on approach for now.
What are your plans for the future?
We are a very new organization and are learning and perfecting our model every day. I would like to launch 1,000 successful businesses and then figure out a way to scale our service model in national shelters.
What advice would you give current students or young alumni?
You will never be ready, at some point you just have to go for it. You will fail. Accept each failure and each day as a brand new start. You get to try again and again. The key is to be relentless in pursuit of your life’s mission. If you don’t know what your mission is, ask yourself three questions: what makes you happy, what is your talent, and where is the greatest need for what you have to offer (time, money, and passion).
Street Entrepreneurs is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit that is actively looking for donors, board members, and even volunteers looking to join us in the pursuit of our mission. If you are interested contact us at streetentrepreneurs.org