A UChicago student finds connection and career path in Berlin

Meeting with alum during career trek inspires entrepreneurial journey

Editor’s note: This story is part of Dispatches from Abroad, a series highlighting UChicago community members who are researching, studying and working around the world.

Back in the winter of 2022, Dannerys Peralta was in Berlin on career trek as a University of Chicago student. The trip was the culmination of a desire to study abroad, but as it turned out, it was an experience that would fundamentally impact her career.

The opportunity to travel to Berlin “was actually one of the reasons why I chose UChicago, because of its international programs and the number of students that studied abroad,” said Peralta, AB’24, then a second-year student in the College. “So the first moment that I could, I said to myself: ‘I'm going abroad.’”

Erwin Paderanga oversees the trek program at Career Advancement. Each trek is a career exploration experience during which groups of students meet with potential employers throughout the United States and around the world. Paderanga said it’s an excellent way for undergraduates “to experience a ‘day in the life’ of their dream job and get help finding jobs and internships.” This turned out to be exactly Peralta’s experience.

In Berlin, Peralta met Deborah Choi, AB’07, who co-founded Founderland, a Berlin-based nonprofit organization that helps women of color in Europe break down barriers and build connections to make their entrepreneurship journeys successful.

Peralta would later be an intern at Founderland, an experience that inspired her to apply to business school in France.

“I don't want to sound corny, but I think it really did change my life and kind of what I wanted to do,” she concluded.

Founding Founderland

While connecting to others in the European founder community, Choi and her two co-founders decided to start an organization that specifically helped women of color. This type of targeted outreach was unknown in Europe at the time.

“My path to Founderland was really coming from a place of personal frustration,” said Choi. “I was, at the time, running a company that I was trying to fundraise for. This one was, I felt, a venture case, and I wanted to go for VC funding. I just kept hitting so many different walls.” Choi later sold her company via a merger and said that Founderland’s supportive community bolstered her fundraising confidence.

“Less than 0.3% of venture funding goes to women of color in Europe. So a lot are trying to make their businesses run on very, very lean teams,” said Choi. “We exist to increase the number of funded and resourced businesses run by diverse leadership.”

It was during her time in UChicago that Choi dove into her passion for entrepreneurship. Choi’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria when she was very young, and she grew up in Ohio.

“In my home, education was the key to everything— the key to having a great life in America. And going to a good university could really unlock doors,” Choi said. “For me, UChicago was the No. 1 choice.”

A virtual beginning

Because it began just as COVID hit, Founderland started its work virtually. Choi reached out to her network to help, which naturally included UChicago. She collaborated with Career Advancement to include Founderland in career trek visits to Berlin, and also to offer potential internships to UChicago students in Founderland-affiliated companies.

This is how Peralta met Choi in 2022. During the second day of the Berlin trek, Choi came to speak to the cohort. “She spoke about her career trajectory—how she ended up in Berlin coming from Nigeria,” said Peralta. “She was so inspiring, and I thought if I could get to work with her in some capacity, that would be amazing.”

Peralta was accepted for an internship with Founderland during the summer of 2022—a frenetic period for the organization. It was beginning a steep ramp-up in in-person programming, and Peralta was instrumental in making these activities happen. She decided to continue her internship with Founderland during her third year at UChicago, when she studied abroad in Paris, and returned to Founderland again in the summer of 2023.

When Peralta started work with Founderland, she had little experience in venture capital or entrepreneurship. The main reason she joined was because of her relationship with Choi. The two bonded over their UChicago connections but also because of their similar backgrounds. They are both first-generation immigrants and the first in their families to attend university.

However, by the time she completed her internship, the next steps in her future had become clearer. Her interest in studying abroad intersected with her experience at Founderland, and she was recently accepted to HEC Paris, France’s grand ecole business school. She will begin this coming fall, after graduating this June from UChicago.