Heart of a Lion

A series of setbacks inspired Cain Mendoza to return to MATC where the former class clown learned to be a leader

Cain Mendoza in an office

Cain Mendoza shares his story to help Latino youth

Yesterday's Cain Mendoza would hardly recognize today's Cain Mendoza.

Back in the day, Mendoza was a slacker, more concerned about cracking jokes than cracking open books. He didn't care about taking care of himself and drifted through Milwaukee Public Schools' Alexander Hamilton High School before graduating in 2011.

"I was the class clown," Mendoza recalled. "I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life."

Today, the 30-year-old Mendoza is an MATC graduate, a successful businessman, a community leader and a devoted father. This transformation came through hard work, discipline and a fierce drive to not just survive, but thrive.

"I'm hardheaded and have an unwavering will," said Mendoza, who was named president of the Latino Entrepreneurial Network (LEN) of Southeastern Wisconsin. "I was going to get the skills I needed to stand on my own.....It was about going out there and doing it."

Real-life education

Mendoza was born in Fresno, California. He moved to Milwaukee when he was 7 years old and grew up on the city's south side. He enrolled at MATC right after high school, first to study nursing, then medical interpreting. But without any clear career plan, he dropped out.


Let's empower ourselves to become the change we want to see.

Cain Mendoza president of LEN of Southeastern Wisconsin

He took a job in sales that tapped a vein of entrepreneurialism he had inside him. He also discovered that simply thinking you can do something didn't equate to success.

"I certainly got a real-life education," he said. "Rejection became a friend. I learned to fail fast and fail forward. It was like stepping into the ring with a boxer. You can have the heart of a lion, but he knows things you don't. At some point you have to learn what he knows."

Mendoza began to reshape and refocus his mind, body and spirit. He joined a gym, lost weight and competed in bodybuilding. In 2019, he returned to MATC. Even though he was working full time and raising a son as a single father, going to school was just the challenge he needed to move forward.

"I live for stepping out of my comfort zone," Mendoza said. "I got around people who were goal-oriented. I have become a lifelong student because I know that knowledge is power."

While completing his associate degree in Business Management at MATC, he took a job as business development manager at Creative Marketing Resources (now CMRignite), a full-service strategic communications agency. He finds new business opportunities for companies by cold calling, connecting, networking and partnering. "I'm a hunter," he said with a smile. "And I love this kind of work."

Rising community leader

Among the connections Mendoza made was Nelson Soler, who founded LEN. Soler reached out to Mendoza about working with the network, which provides services and educational programs to individuals, entrepreneurs and business owners in Milwaukee's Latino community.

"He saw something in me," Mendoza said. "It was really the first time someone recognized me as a leader. I ignored any fears I had and said yes."

Mendoza was sworn in as president of the board in January and will serve one year. He aims to help the organization expand its bilingual entrepreneurial training centers and hopes to find forums to share his story with the city's Latino youth.

"The type of influence you have is based on the example you set," Mendoza said. "We want them to listen to us. Well, we need to listen to them as well. Telling them the truth and being super authentic is what they want to hear.

"We need to teach resilience, fortitude, and that it's okay to fail, we have all been there," Mendoza said. "Let's empower ourselves to become the change we want to see."