Much like our beloved Magic City, Maria Peralta ‘05 has a warm and sunny disposition. As she opens up about her blossoming business, Flower Fanatic, she radiates enthusiasm, compassion and kindness.
For Maria, each day is an opportunity to create a more vibrant and loving Miami. Her imaginative floral arrangements reveal unmistakable talent and creativity, but she isn’t stopping there. Marrying her passion for beautiful flowers with her dedication to empowering our community, Maria is teaching the art of floral design to women in local shelters. She is offering women skills that can be put to use in a short amount of time, while cultivating a learning environment mindful of their recovery – and she hopes to create a business model that will encourage a new generation of socially responsible entrepreneurs.
Read on to learn more about Maria’s years as an FIU student and the incredible work she is doing in our community. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your years as an FIU student. What were your goals? What obstacles did you face?
I came to FIU as a sophomore, extremely excited to start my real college experience. The International Relations Faculty was something to be really excited about, and to this day, I can share that they have never disappointed. My goal was to become a diplomat. I questioned whether or not I should transfer to a college with a reputation for graduating well-known diplomats, but after visiting American University in D.C., I realized that FIU not only offered a similar program with great faculty, but the tuition at FIU would make it possible for me to stay away from debt while getting my degree.
I decided to work while going to school full-time, and that decision resulted in many obstacles. In retrospect, I had a desire to grow up and join the workforce quickly, but my GPA suffered tremendously as a result. As a college student, your GPA is your reputation – your report card for a future employer, the key to graduate scholarship opportunities and a forecast of how successful you will be.
Tell us a little about your career journey and how you ended up where you are today.
My first employer gave me an opportunity as the result of a solid interview. I can attribute that successful interview to confidence in my ability to tackle the job, plus all the tools I gained from FIU’s Career Center. The position was with the State of Florida as District Aide for Honorable Juan C. Zapata. For me, a diplomat at heart, this was a dream come true. I appreciated the protocols, the formality, the high expectations and the desire to gain trust by serving.
My training to become a public servant started very early in my career and has shaped me into the professional I am today. I have a genuine interest in empowering my community. After working for the State, I went on to pursue opportunities at University of Miami and Camillus House, a local non-profit with more than 50 years in caring for homeless individuals.
Did FIU support you in meeting your career goals? If so, how?
Absolutely. When I reached out, faculty and advisors were always there to guide me, but I didn’t reach out enough. I felt embarrassed disclosing my performance as a student. I know better now, and I would encourage any student who feels they are struggling in a particular academic area, or even personally, to reach out.
From your work experience with Camillus House and University of Miami, it is clear that you are passionate about helping people and giving back to our community. When did you discover your passion for floral design, and when did you realize you could combine both passions by training and hiring women from local shelters in the art of floral design?
Over time, I became the go-to person whenever it came to putting together flower arrangements, so I knew I had a hidden talent. Growing up, my mother always said, “Where a woman lives, flowers should be present.” I agree 100%.
Beyond being a fan of flowers, I realized that the skill of floral arrangement could be learned; the way I learned the summer I visited my parents in Nicaragua. The first step is to learn the techniques. Then, you put those techniques into practice and allow your creativity to guide you. I chose the name Flower Fanatic because I believed that I could become an expert and share my love and passion for flowers with others.
While working at Camillus House, I identified a gap in the recovery process of an individual who has been homeless. The problem lies in finding these individuals employment, which encourages self-sufficiency. As much as we would love to see individuals go back to school and get a degree, it is not the reality. We need to teach skills that can be put to use in a short amount of time and we need to create learning environments that are mindful of recovery. This requires some extra steps, and as the owner of Flower Fanatic, I am committed to making this part of our story.
We consider employing individuals once they have participated in our workshops. As we continue to grow and successfully incorporate this model, we will create a business plan that other companies can look to for inspiration.
Why is it important for you to be a socially responsible business owner? Do you have any advice or creative solutions to offer young business owners who want to give back to our community, but may not be financially ready or large enough to hire staff?
In my case, I would not be able to continue working hard on any project if I didn’t have the fire to help others. My purpose is to be a successful business owner who understands that giving back will only bring more layers of abundance. The more mindful I am of my family, my team and my community, the greater the chance that they will be mindful, too.
When it comes to creative solutions, I recommend identifying a cause that it is important to you as a business owner. If you are passionate, then your team will likely follow your enthusiasm. Once you have determined your cause, consider creating strategic alliances with any entities directly supporting that cause. Make sure that you are able to meet their needs in return, and that you are clear on what you are able to contribute – whether it’s time, talent, or funds.
I also encourage you to look into tax credits offered by the Federal Government to businesses that employ veterans, individuals with disabilities, and other special categories. I have talked with my own accountant, and for my business, it makes sense to consider tax credits once we start hiring full-time employees.
So far, what accomplishments, both personally and professionally, are you most proud of and why?
By far, the greatest accomplishment is being the wife to my amazing husband and the mother to my Cecilia and Matias. Feeling loved by them really fuels my desire to be better. They inspire me to go out and conquer the world.
Professionally, I am proud of the legacy I have left as an employee. I give my all in every role and have learned so much about myself and the different industries I have been involved in. Now, in this chapter as a business owner, I am SO EXCITED to test my limits and challenge myself in every way possible. I am finding my own voice and my own style – and I couldn’t be happier.
What is your ultimate dream project/client?
My ultimate project is to own a venue that will allow me to provide all the services necessary to make any event a success. I dream of building a team of men and women who have the desire to live again, people with a purpose and with a passion to learn.
I am humbled by the clients who have given us the opportunity to offer our creations and inspire with our fresh approach to floral design.
Of course, I would love to work with clients who want to transform their event into an enchanted garden – who are mesmerized by our flower variety, their fragrance, their beauty and our Flower Fanatic Team.
I am working to make my reality even better than my dreams.
As an alumna, how are you staying connected to FIU and why do you think this is a valuable connection to maintain?
I must admit, I would be thrilled to be more active at FIU. As an alumna, there is value in sharing what I have learned since graduating. The power of relationships and networking with individuals who share similar values and the desire to make a difference is imperative to strengthening our communities.
Any advice for students looking to get the most out of their time at FIU, both professionally and personally?
Focus on making the most of your Student Life, keep up with the trends of the industries that are showing growth and compare it to the area of study you have chosen.
Internships are super important, so try to spend your summers wisely.
Personally, I have to say that your college years should be about YOUR experience so do not feel pressured to base your decisions on what others are doing.
Two books that have impacted me:
For all the ladies, I recommend reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I read it when it came out. I was already a working professional, but the book offers a great message for anyone in high school or starting college.
A classic for all entrepreneurs is Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The book gives a wonderful perspective on building the life that you want based on gaining investing knowledge.
Maria’s final words to students and young alumni: “Have passion, have a purpose and don’t be afraid to fail.”
To connect with Maria or purchase a beautiful arrangement, visit the links below.
Maria, thank you for sharing your Worlds Ahead vision with Miami. We are so proud to call you an FIU alumna!