Nonprofit PandoLabs names new director
As an 18-year-old immigrant, Juliana Duran sat across the table from 40-year-old drivers, interviewing them for a position in her father’s company. It was in that moment that she realized she was going to start her own business one day.
Now, the 25-year-old University of Utah graduate is looking to help entrepreneurs around Summit County launch their businesses. She was recently named associate director of the nonprofit PandoLabs and will soon be named executive director after undergoing training.
Duran and her family fled to Park City when she was 10 to seek political asylum. She moved from Bogota, Colombia, where she said she lived with her family in a middle-income home. Her mother was a judge and her father worked for the country’s treasury department. Then, one day, everything changed when the rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) shot at her mother’s car — with Duran and her mother’s friend in it — and kidnapped her mother.
Duran and her mother’s wounded friend returned home with the help of a stranger, she said. After they spent three months negotiating and rounding up all of the money they could from friends and family to pay off the rebel group, Duran’s mother returned home.
“We gave them everything we had,” she said. “It was a miracle that she was released alive. The FARC told my family that if we didn’t pay them a certain amount of money every year that they would kill or kidnap the rest of my family.”
A little more than a week after her mother was released, Duran and her parents hopped on a plane to Park City to visit her sister, who was living in the city at the time. They received political asylum and remained.
But once they were here, things were never the same. Duran’s mother cleaned houses and was a teacher’s assistant, while her father worked at Walmart. Eventually, her father started a taxi company. Since he was not fluent in English, the task of conducting interviews for drivers fell on Duran.
“That is when the light bulb went off,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow, you can skip the whole climbing the ladder thing in the corporate world by starting your own business.’”
The recent high school graduate was not planning on attending college. But after her mother applied for her and she was accepted into the University of Utah, she thought she would give it a try.
Once there, she learned about the university’s Foundry program, which helps students turn ideas into businesses. She entered the program focused on her boyfriend’s startup sticker business and helped it grow for two years. Then, she started an outerwear clothing and accessories company.
“That was a huge learning moment, because it was that experiential, hands-on learning experience that really transformed the way I thought about education,” she said.
She started to apply the business classes she was taking to real-life scenarios. When she graduated in 2015, she found a job doing marketing for a software company. After working there for a few months, the company changed her duties to be a right-hand helper for managers. She declined the position and they laid her off.
Jobless, she returned to entrepreneurship. She helped an LED light bulb startup with sales and marketing, but still felt like the job was not “intellectually stimulating.”
What she did enjoy was volunteering with The Foundry and advising entrepreneurs on how to kick their ideas into gear. When given the opportunity, she started running The Foundry program at PandoLabs in the fall of 2016. The following spring, everything fell into place.
The marketing and program manager announced he was leaving, and Duran was hired by the former executive director, Ted McAleer, to fill the position in May. Having never managed before, she learned by hiring two high school students. During that same time, she also became the manager of the angel investing network Park City Angels.
By October, McAleer announced that he was leaving to do more consulting, and Duran was hired to take the helm as the associate director. McAleer said that PandoLabs has been fortunate to have found someone with Duran’s passion for making a difference in the community.
“The experiences that she already has in entrepreneurship and in coaching entrepreneurs through The Foundry program enables her to be a strong role model for our PandoLabs community of entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, mentors, freelancers and capital providers,” he said.
Duran said that she is thrilled to be on the path that she is now, leading an organization that can have an influence on numerous businesses, and even more proud knowing that she is a young, Latina woman.
Duran said that helping people realize their dreams and receive resources to help them is fulfilling. As she prepares to launch three peer-to-peer entrepreneurial cohorts, including one in Spanish, she is hopeful that the organization can make a difference.
“I’m excited to scale the impact that PandoLabs can have,” she said.
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