Alumnus Walter Gonzalez Supports FIU’s Young Innovators

Staff from the Center for Leadership and Service with student finalists of the iChange competition and donor Walter Gonzalez Jr. and judges pose at the final presentation. From L-R: Emani Jerome, assistant director, Center for Leadership and Service; Karley Chynces, student finalist; Daniela Cadena, program manager, StartUP FIU West Kendall and judge for iChange competition; Jessica Laguerre, student finalist; Andrea Saladrigas, iChange winner; Walter Gonzalez Jr., president, GOJA and iChange competition judge; and Gabriel Navarro, principal, MMG Equity Partners and iChange competition judge.

When it comes to startups, having the idea is the easy part. The hard part? Raising the money and getting the guidance required to make the idea a reality.

FIU alumnus Walter Gonzalez Jr. ’96 knows this firsthand. Almost a decade ago, he was launching his own e-commerce startup, GOJA. Today, Walter’s company is a top-100 seller on Amazon, but he clearly remembers the challenges that he and all young entrepreneurs face in the early days of launching a business.

In an effort to provide support to FIU’s young innovators, Walter teamed up with the university’s Center for Leadership and Service. Speaking to FIU Magazine, he said, “I want to get involved in something positive. I want to help make successful FIU entrepreneurs.”

Together, Walter and the Center for Leadership and Service launched the GOJA Social Innovation Challenge and iChangeFIU competition. The competition allows students to present their ideas to a panel of judges, with three finalists receiving $500 mini grants and a final winner receiving a $7,000 grant. Each finalist also receives mentorship from faculty and Walter himself.

In March of 2017, senior marketing major Andrea Saladrigas was the inaugural winner of the competition. In collaboration with her father, she created the company Master Honey, which trains women who are struggling financially or in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse to become beekeepers. The company not only provides these women an opportunity to have a stable career, but it also fuels the local economy and supports a bee population that is in worrying decline. In a conversation with FIU News, Andrea explained how winning the grant would help her young business, “It will be a big help. It will go toward buying hives, equipment, and resources to provide the women with education and training. Now that I have more capital, I can allocate more resources to more women.”

With the backing of Walter, expect to see more young FIU entrepreneurs like Andrea launch their businesses in the near future.

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