Building a business with skyward potential

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January 11, 2012

Skyler Ralston, BA’ 08, wasn’t sure she could have launched a thriving media company in a city like Boston or Miami — but she did just that in Panama City.

After working in advertising in Miami following graduation from Northeastern’s international business program, Ralston settled in Panama, where her parents had moved to retire. She started selling advertising for a tourist guidebook and an English newspaper and then created her own marketing firm called Sky Marketing to expand her reach into fields such as web marketing and taxi-top advertising.

“I think I did it backwards: I started with a job at the newspaper and the guidebook, and those presented me with more opportunities,” Ralston said. “I was able to start my own company and do a lot more than I’d be able to do if I was just working one job.”

A year after founding Sky Marketing, Ralston expanded her staff by hiring Northeastern international affairs major Jahangir Sharif as the venture’s first co-op employee. Sharif will work primarily for another one of Ralston’s ventures called YEP (Young Expats in Panama), which organizes events and activities for non-Panamanians living and working outside their home countries.

“I’m going to throw him right into planning events,” Ralston said. “YEP is a great way to learn marketing, because it’s a way to connect businesses with this growing demographic in Panama City.”

Moving to Panama City was not an entirely new experience for Ralston. After high school, for example, she volunteered in Chile and Costa Rica, where she learned how to speak fluent Spanish. At Northeastern, she spent a year in Madrid, taking classes and working on co-op for DaimlerChrysler.

But Ralston soon realized that she would much rather build her own business than work for a large firm. She saw her parent’s new hometown of Panama City, less than a three-hour flight from her job in Miami, as the perfect place to build something that she could call her own.

“I needed to find something that would let me keep an entrepreneurial mindset, that would let me build something for myself,” Ralston said. “Moving to Panama was the right time and place to do that.”