One of Meri Birhane’s earliest memories is that of her family trying to sell its jewelry at a U.S. airport.

“We didn’t have anything when we landed,” she said.

Birhane’s family emigrated from East Africa to the United States when she was 4 years old. They had been living in Eritrea. The country had been at war with Ethiopia. Birhane’s family got a chance to come to the United States, and they decided to make a new life in San Diego.

Thirty years later, with the help of San Diego State University’s M.B.A. program, Birhane is deeply entrenched in San Diego’s tech and business cultures, at the intersection of sales and technology.

“I love sales,” she said, particularly the parts involving building relationships and helping people. She said she was able to close $3 million worth of sales using LinkedIn leads while working for corporate clients. But entrepreneurship was calling.

Out on Her Own

By March 2020, Birhane decided it was time to turn a part-time sales consulting business, founded in 2017, into a full-time pursuit. Since then she has generated $30,000 in revenue. “I just closed three clients this month,” she said, adding that she is projecting $100,000 in revenue during 2021.

Meri Consulting Services helps sales professionals better use online tools such as LinkedIn. Especially during COVID, “your digital presence is huge,” she said. Salespeople can’t attend conferences or trade shows.

Meri Consulting also holds monthly networking events for minority business owners, on the third Wednesday of every month.

Rising to the Top

The thing that took Birhane from that day at the airport to the world of corporate sales was education.

“We were definitely on public housing assistance,” Birhane said of her family’s arrival in 1990, adding she is grateful for the resources the government provided. The family settled in North Park “before North Park was cool,” Birhane said.

“My parents pushed me to get an education. … I took school very seriously.” She volunteered, played volleyball at San Diego High School and was president of the Black Student Union. She had one of the best grade point averages at the school.

Birhane was able to win a scholarship under the Gates Millennium Scholar program. That took her to UCLA for both undergraduate and graduate studies. She received a master’s degree in public health.

During her time in Los Angeles, she started the first Eritrean-Ethiopian student group. “It was controversial at the time” but it was ultimately successful with 200 members, she said.

A New Approach to Grad School

Following that, Birhane decided to get her M.B.A., opting to study at San Diego State. She decided to approach her second master’s degree differently by networking all she could. She attended every speaking engagement available. Her mentors steered her toward sales.

“In my first sales job I was terrible,” she said. Then she got the hang of it. Pretty soon her supervisors were noticing she was getting the most meetings, and wanted to know her secrets. It was LinkedIn and messaging, she said.

Birhane also discovered there is money to be made in sales training, as companies want to reduce the amount of “churn and burn” among their sales forces.

Birhane’s San Diego experience may have begun in public housing, but it recently came with a small victory.

In an example of the American dream, Birhane and her sisters bought their mother a house in a San Diego suburb in 2018.