Why One Entrepreneur Had No Choice but the American Dream

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Sometimes chasing the American Dream is the only option you have. The following is a reflection on entrepreneurship, as told by Cris Mercado, CCNY alumnus and founder of  KeyJargon, a free web app that connects college students and professionals with career opportunities. Cris will share more about his journey on a panel of entrepreneurs at our upcoming Accelerator Demo

 

I had not choice but to become an entrepreneur, and startup life has served me well.

Immigration issues left me with no options to get a decent job, so in 2014 I took the leap and formed a company called GrantAnswers. I wanted to build on my success in helping hundreds of underserved Black & Latino students in NYC ascend to college and earn $1.5 million in scholarships & grants. 

The problem was that I didn’t know how run a startup. I was supposed to be an engineer coming out of high school, not an entrepreneur. No one in my family started their own business. I was a broke, first-generation entrepreneur.

Whenever we feel lost, we often have no choice but to go home. CCNY is home for me, and I learned it had a new addition: The Zahn Center. Even better, it was offering money for a social entrepreneurship competition. So I practiced my video submission for the contest in a room beneath The Great Hall at CCNY. Weeks later, I was invited to the bootcamp to develop my idea and compete.

One of my first tasks was to pitch my idea in front of the other entrepreneurs. I hated public speaking, but I had no choice. I had no choice but to hear feedback from mentors, Zahn Center staff, venture capitalists and fellow competitors. I was introduced to lean entrepreneurship methods, which forced me to go out and talk to strangers to validate my idea.

The idea won a runner-up prize with some much-needed cash, but I soon realized I won something bigger:

I won back some of the personal potential that was buried under years of poverty, housing insecurity & status as an unauthorized immigrant.

It is no wonder that in just 2 years after having no choice but to start a business I have:

  1. Been featured in major outlets like The Wall Street Journal, NBC;
  2. Become active in immigrant rights as Ambassador & Innovation Council Member of FWD.us, an advocacy organization founded by tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg;
  3. Been called into meetings with Members of Congress, and Presidential Candidates like Hillary Clinton, to contribute to immigration policy;
  4. Invited to keynote conferences & presentations across the country

I now run a free career platform KeyJargon, a free web app that connects college students and professionals with memberships to industry associations, career events, and high-profile jobs, internships & fellowships. It recently won a FUSE award, which is supported by luminaries like Univision’s Jorge Ramos.

In designing KeyJargon, the theme of no/little choice is still visible. We only list high-impact industry networks and career events. We also prime you to sign-in to access the high-impact jobs, internships, and fellowships we share. We also came up with a tagline, “On My Terms”, to empower our users to feel like the world has no choice but to pay attention to their skills, their values, and their dreams.

We helped dozens of college students earn free memberships to professional associations, and even helped cover costs for CUNY students to travel to Las Vegas for a national convention where students secured job offers. Our partnerships have helped us provide career development for hundreds, including cohorts for NYC’s Tech Talent Pipeline.

And when I think of all the impact of KeyJargon, and the impact that entrepreneurship has had on my personal development, it all came about simply because I saw no other choice.

In these times, and at this moment, I see no other choice but for you to unleash all the potential you have.