All posts by louisa

Cocotech transforms coastal Colombian communities

“Agora teaches you not only the financial components, but also the personal and emotional components necessary for success.”

Germán Mejia believes in the incredible potential of the coconut shell to be the vehicle of prosperity for coastal Colombian communities.

For nearly twenty years, Germán devoted his energy to cultivating his homeland’s most famous export, beautiful flowers.  During these two decades in horticulture, he had the opportunity to explore the hydroponic cultivation of flowers with coconut fiber substrates and realized that the shell of this fruit had an incredible potential for improving the cultivation of vegetables like tomatoes, ornamental plants, vertical orchid gardens, and ‘green’ roofs.

Excited by the many uses and benefits of coconut fibers and substrate, Germán remembered the family trips to the Caribbean coast in his boyhood and the innumerable coconuts he had seen strewn across the department of Córdoba. He had not returned to the region in decades and decided to give it a visit. What he saw opened his eyes to the monumental opportunity awaiting him.

To avoid snakes nesting, the local communities were disposing of the coconut shells by throwing them on the beach or burning them completely, a practice that was severely polluting the air. Germán’s raw material, shockingly abundant, was thus not only being discarded but also contributing to the environmental degradation of the region. Moreover, these communities were living in abject poverty, the worst residing in homes of cracked plastic, with no access to clean water or electricity, and no sanitary bathroom or a functional area for cooking. Seeing the conditions for the first time through adult eyes, Germán was appalled. The man who, as a child, had told his mother at least once a week that he wanted to become a doctor and help people, was moved to action. And thus, Cocotech was born.

Cocotech buys coconut shells from these impoverished coastal communities, recycling them and transforming them into substrates for use in agriculture and horticulture. It thus simultaneously reduces the environmental contamination of the region and brings employment and additional income to families in desperate need of resources.

Since its conception in 2012, Cocotech has consistently progressed, entering the competitive market for coconut fiber substrates, and gaining a share substantial enough to break even. It has developed a buffering agent to treat the coconut shells and added coconut chips to its production line, further expanding its opportunities. In 2016, Cocotech became a finalist for Innpulsa, a Colombian entrepreneurial competition, and won first prize for sustainability with Corporacion Ventures, receiving national recognition for its incredible work.

Ambitious and ready to expand, Germán applied to Agora’s Accelerator program on the recommendation of an important potential client. The Accelerator provided him with invaluable materials, a methodology for growth, months of support from a consultant who was consistently well-prepared and committed to his company’s development, and the opportunity to present himself before investors and credit lenders in the hope of acquiring financing.

Newly equipped, Germán’s company today is poised for rapid growth. Germán hopes to continue expanding the plan of benefits for Cocotech’s employees that has thus far improved his workers’ education, health, living situation, and even their diet. In five years, he wants to acquire a major American client and develop a partnership with weavers who make artisanal products with coconut fibers, further unlocking the infinite possibilities of this little fruit.

Germán has brought hope and opportunity to an area that has remained virtually unchanged for the last 45 years. Within a population trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, he is changing lives. He runs his company with the sense of responsibility and empathy that have so guided his life, and he is changing the world, one coconut at a time.

Learn more about Cocotech at cocotech.com.co.

Advanced Biocontrollers assists farmers in Nicaragua

“Agora teaches you not only the financial components necessary for success, but also the personal and emotional components.”

Demetrio Diaz believes in the necessity for both a balance between conventional and organic agriculture and an increased environmental consciousness among farmers. Demetrio’s fascination with organic agribusiness has guided his adult life, leading him to enroll in Masters courses in Agribusiness. Upon completion of his classes, his awareness of the pervasive use of chemical contaminants drove him to create a venture producing organic fertilizers and developing biopesticides for Panamanian farmers. But he wanted to do more, dreaming of a company dedicated to providing farmers all throughout the region with eco-friendly products. These products would adapt to each producer’s needs, reduce the chemical contamination of the environment, and, eventually, change the industry.

In 2014, he was ready to actualize his dream. Demetrio pulled together a multidisciplinary team of chemists, biologists, and businessmen dedicated to this mission of improving agricultural production with eco-friendly biopesticides. Thus was born Advanced Biocontrollers.

Working with a system of direct distributors to personally communicate with farmers, Advanced Biocontrollers addresses the problem at its source. These distributors are tasked with bringing the eco-friendly products to the countryside and instructing the farmers in the need for and use of these tools. Combining traditional and biologically-enhanced agriculture, Advanced Biocontrollers thus raises the environmental consciousness of its customers, empowering them with tools to increase agricultural efficiency while simultaneously improving their health and that of the environment.

Eager to develop his business, Demetrio applied and was accepted into Agora’s 2016 Accelerator Class. Through the retreat, consulting, and investor roundtables, Demetrio acquired a stronger and clearer business plan, a partner with both financial and operational expertise, and invaluable contacts with interested investors.

This newfound competence and financing allowed Demetrio to rapidly expand into neighboring nations. Nicaraguan peanut farmers were among the first to benefit. Combatting a blight of white mushrooms that was resulting in an annual crop loss of up to 40%, these farmers had been using a standard biopesticide harmful to both themselves and the environment and largely ineffective. After being introduced to Advanced Biocontrollers’ biopesticides, they changed tactics. The results were remarkable.

Those who treated their land with Demetrio’s biopesticides reported successfully harvesting 100% of their crops. At the same time, they reduced their own risk of exposure to harmful chemicals and the environmental contamination from chemical runoff.

Working everyday through the innovative techniques of nanotechnology and applied biotechnology, Demetrio has created a successful business out of a simple dream. His team is blazing trails and opening doors, researching new ways to better equip the agricultural industry and empowering an ambitious 20-year-old whose monthly salary has risen from $500 to $1200.

Demetrio is motivated every day by both his family and customers, and by the gratitude of his customers, whose lives and agricultural practices are being changed for the better. In five years, he hopes to be operating out of ten countries in the region and offer 15 different products to his clients, and he is well on his way to reaching this goal.

Demetrio runs Advanced Biocontrollers on a stubborn belief in his dreams and the irrefutable need to help others, and it is changing the world, one field at a time.

Learn more about Advanced Biocontrollers at http://www.abiocontrollers.com.

GPSGAY improves the lives of Latin American LGBT communities

“Before Agora, we knew that we were causing impact but had no idea how to track it. The Accelerator taught us how to measure and explain the impact we were having on the LGBTQ community.”

Magdalena Rodríguez believes in the power of social inclusion to change the lives of the LGBTQ community.  With a background in web design, Magdalena launched her career in the tech world, founding a web design and development company in Uruguay with her wife in 2006. Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of change she was making in a tech agency, Magdalena began to search for new ideas of social impact. She wanted to add value to the LGBTQ community she was a part of, and make a difference to the individuals who were still frequently excluded from society.

Upon reviewing the many applications and platforms already available to the LGBTQ community, Magdalena realized that there was something missing. Many were focused solely on finding a sexual partner, and those that did provide valuable information and consulting services to individuals did not take advantage of the community’s potential as a unique market. Thus was born the idea for GPSGAY.

As the largest and most comprehensive platform for the LGBTQ community in Latin America, GPSGAY is simultaneously a safe space where individuals can solicit advice, support, and consulting services, a medium through which companies and organizations can engage with the community, a source for relevant content including upcoming events, news, and health information, and a marketplace for products including healthcare, travel, and entertainment.

Looking for impact investors who would help take GPSGAY to the next level, Magdalena applied to Agora’s Accelerator and was accepted to its 2016 Class. The retreat and months of consulting that followed brought invaluable benefits. Magdalena and her team learned to better measure the impact they were creating, developed a stronger business plan that catered to addressing the health and self-esteem of individuals users, and connected with impact investors in a market less familiar with LGBTQ startups.

Following the Accelerator, Magdalena has secured $300,000 from a Swiss investor, strengthened GPSGAY’s internal system to better organize its sales, and made the decision to set up offices in the U.S. With plans to further expand the networks of support and information and strengthen self-esteem, GPSGAY is poised to continue its rapid expansion.

With GPSGAY, Magdalena hopes for nothing more than to make the world a little bit brighter for the LGBTQ community. She hopes that participation in this platform can make her users happier and more confident, and shares that the grateful messages they receive from the community are her greatest source of motivation and inspiration.

GPSGAY is run on its founders’ honesty, accountability, and respect, and it is changing the world, one user at a time.

Learn more about GPSGAY at gpsgay.com.