Category Archives: Agora Updates

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.

Now That’s Some Good Tech!

What I love most about working with tech companies is (1) the passion their teams bring for building accessible products that improve lives (working with entrepreneurs is always the best part!), (2) their ability to rapidly iterate and develop new products/features, and (3) their significant potential for scale.

Since moving to Chile in March 2016, I’ve been consulting with four technology start ups driven to solve massive challenges across Latin America and the Caribbean. With the right technology, efficient sales channels, and the right team, they can achieve serious numbers in terms of people reached and value generated. To provide a glimpse of the teams behind the tech, here are the stories of my four clients at Agora Partnerships.

Brave UP

Education Technology | Launched 2015 | Chile

Brave UP, led by CEO Alvaro Carrasco and COO Robinson Salinas, is an education technology start up with a program and platform for revolutionizing the way school stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, administrators) communicate. After University Alvaro and Robinson set their minds to creating a solution to bullying in high schools. Although it started with the intent of giving voice to vulnerable children, Brave UP soon realized violence in schools is not just a stand alone problem, but an effect in schools with low social cohesion. To address bullying would require holistically addressing the widening holes in social fabric of schools throughout Chile. Meanwhile, schools started asking for more functionality in the application, to serve as a way to share information beyond abuses. Since 2015, Brave UP has grown into a mobile platform schools use to connect stakeholders along seven strategic lines ranging from sending announcements to parents, to sharing non-curricular opportunities with students, to Brave UP Mode abuse reporting. Together with in-person programming and support services to school workers, Brave Up is enhancing communication, inclusion, and participation of stakeholders, growing trust and social capital in schools, and thereby reducing learning issues and bullying. Brave UP is actively giving Chilean schools tools to thrive, and growing quickly.

Outlook: Brave Up is now in 10 schools with the aim to reach 25 schools and $60k revenue by the close of 2016. They are raising $300k in convertible debt or equity to grow the team, develop the product, and invest in sales and marketing.

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Credit: Brave UP

Veerhouse Voda

Housing/Construction Technology | Launched 2012 | Haiti

Brendon Brewster is the bold entrepreneur who after seeing the devastation of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti decided to do something about it. Veerhouse Voda, a Haitian manufacturing and construction company, produces disaster resilient, energy efficient buildings for institutional clients while also distributing materials to hardware retailers in Haiti and the Caribbean. Made from expanded polystyrene (EPS), the core Veerhouse product is converted from raw plastic beads into light-weight wall and roofing panels. Veerhouse also manufacturers the lightweight steel framing used to form the building structure. Veerhouse, with their Dutch-created, Euro code building system, designs and constructs beautiful, high-quality, earthquake resistant buildings in a fraction of the time of traditional building systems in Haiti, saving clients money and resources. The material is not only insanely energy efficient but can be recycled to form new materials in the future.

Outlook: Veerhouse Voda has grown quickly in recent years, is projecting revenue of $3M in 2016, and is currently preparing to raise $2M+ in equity or debt to provide the capital needed to continue to build the business.

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Credit: Veerhouse Voda

allGreenup

Environmental Technology | Founded 2013 | Chile

When it comes to going green, allGreenup is THE mobile platform citizens, companies, and governments turn to. The team is revolutionizing the relationship between citizens, businesses, institutions, and the environment, enabling reduction in resource consumption and expenditure while creating an engaged community of conscious consumers. The platform provides citizens with a CO2 emissions application that tracks behaviors and rewards users for reducing their emissions (through recycling, car sharing, non-petrol transport). Once users have enough allGreenup points they gain access to a range of discounts and award packages through allGreenup’s corporate clients, ranging from a discounted Coca Cola to free international travel. allGreenup also serves private companies with both an employee sustainability engagement platform and  environmental cause marketing partnerships. As part of the Poch environmental group, allGreenup is well positioned to grow quickly across Latin America.

Outlook: allGreenup is actively signing new contracts and attracting new users. They have a full-time team of 6 members, are projecting $293k revenue in 2016 and are currently raising $500k to invest in sales and marketing, operations, and product development.

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Credit: allGreenup

Oincs

Safety and Transportation Technology | Launched 2013 | Uruguay

In 2013 Marcelo Wilkorwsky (aka Mr. Pig) was fed up with corruption, crime and traffic issues in the city of Montevideo. Since the government was failing to address the issues effectively, Marcelo launched the Mr. Pig Twitter feed in 2013 for citizens in Uruguay to post safety and traffic related incidents. It took off. Within a year there were more than 100,000 followers (3% of Uruguay’s population), many posting reports each day. Both the value of the idea and the need for a more dynamic platform became clear through user traction. The Oincs platform emerged. A public safety tech start up, Oincs is a real-time data crowdsourcing technology improving the city living experience, empowering citizens to navigate Latin American cities more safely and rapidly through their mobile platform.

Outlook: Since growing to 140,000 users (60,000 active in the past 6 months), Oincs has been generating revenue while developing new strategies built around value added services for their users and clients. Oincs is currently raising $300,000 in equity investment to develop their product, grow their team, and expand to new markets, beginning in Mexico.

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Credit: Oincs

Now that’s some good tech! While all four companies have created real value and are solving real problems through their products, in a way developing the technology is the easy part. It’s the entrepreneurs and their teams that are now tasked with the steep slope of turning smart ideas into brilliant businesses, supported by the strategy, operations, leadership, knowledge, and resources they need to grow. Agora is here to help.

For more posts from Brian Bell click here

2016 Retreat: 25 companies, 4 days, 1 community

Agora’s 2016 Entrepreneur Retreat was held from March 14th-March 17th in Granada, Nicaragua. We welcomed an extraordinary group of over 70 attendees, made up of entrepreneurs, investors, alumni, staff, and partners to kick off the 2016 Accelerator. 

The Retreat consisted of the four core themes Impact, Business, Growth, and Network that are essential to launching successful, impact-driven businesses. During the Retreat, entrepreneurs were able to build a sense of community with the broader Agora network, participate in peer-to-peer learning, and launch into the Accelerator curriculum alongside their consultant. Reflecting on this year’s Retreat, Agora’s Accelerator Director Erin Milley remarked, “The Retreat is one of those unique events where you leave refreshed, motivated and in awe of the strength of community. It was inspiring to witness the Agora network coming together to support a new class of extraordinary entrepreneurs working to make this world a better place.”

Below are some of the Retreat highlights:

Day 1: Impact

Highlights: Introduction to Agora Partnerships, how to create and measure change, hiking Mombacho Volcano, and entrepreneurs declaring their commitments to their businesses

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Day 2: Business

Highlights: Exploring and scaling innovative business models, entrepreneurs working on their business models and presenting them to a panel for review, and attending FuckUp Night

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Day 3: Growth

Highlights: Learning about the impact investing landscape through an investor panel, strengthening entrepreneurs pitches, and attending a special reception in Managua to present the Class of 2016 to the Nicaraguan business community

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Day 4: Network

Highlights: Building your brand and leveraging the Agora network, reflecting on the Retreat at Isleta el Corozo, and ending the Retreat with a closing circle and certificates

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The Retreat is the official starting point for the Agora Accelerator cycle, a place where entrepreneurs dive into a four-month process of financial models, growth strategies, network building, and personal reflection.

“The Accelerator provides more than information, coaching, and a network,” David Evitt of Agora ’16 company Estufa Doña Dora remarked. “The consultants join your team to help turn insights into actions that move the business forward.”

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After a successful 2016 Retreat, we are excited to see what the next four months hold as our Class of 2016 entrepreneurs refine their business models with their Agora consultants to prepare for growth.

Check out the full Retreat agenda here and learn more about our Class of 2016 here.

Entrepreneurial Success: 7 Simple Actions

enerselva3I joined Agora because I was inspired by its work to promote the development of social entrepreneurs in Latin America. After selecting entrepreneurs generating positive social impact in Latin America, Agora facilitates these entrepreneurs’ access to financial, social, and human capital to increase their success and impact. I am currently advising four social social enterprises in Peru: two in clean cookstoves, one in solar lamps, and one in organic smallholder agriculture.

Having worked in microenterprise, small business training, and consulting in Africa and Latin America, I believe human and social capital are even more important to individual, company, and country development than financial capital. Here are the most important verbs I have identified for successful entrepreneurs:

Continue reading Entrepreneurial Success: 7 Simple Actions

Thinking Outside the Box in Latin America

“There has never been an example of an economy that has suffered as a result of giving women access to capital, knowledge, networks, and entrepreneurial tools. The only places where women don’t add as much to the economy as men are places they aren’t allowed to. The world has too many problems to only have half our brains working on them.” – Anne Welsh McNulty

Business has provided billions of people around the world with endless opportunities. From personal laptops to affordable air travel, innovative business models have provided us with a wealth of comforts the world over.  However, there are still those who live day to day without products, services, and opportunities that so many take for granted.

More than 20% of Peruvians (6.5 million) do not have access to electricity. 35% (16.7 million) of all Colombians are unbanked, as is 65% of the population of all of Latin America. (1) Nearly 54% (8 million) of Guatemalans live below the poverty line ($1.25/day), while 75% (11.3 million) of the population participates in the informal economy. (2)

Though these statistics may seem daunting at first, three regional innovators are successfully tackling these challenges – Alicia Kozuch, Founder of Buen Power (Peru), Ana Barrera, Founder of Aflore (Colombia), and Sophie Eckrich, Founder of Teysha (Guatemala). These entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of business to electrify remote rural communities, build trust in often uncertain financial systems, and create a direct connection between artisans and customers – all while making a profit and shifting the way their respective industries view success.

Alicia, Ana, and Sophie are all 2014 McNulty Fellows, an annual scholarship award funded by the McNulty Foundation. Each year, the McNulty Foundation selects three outstanding women entrepreneurs accepted into our Accelerator program and funds their participation in an effort to amplify market-driven solutions to pressing issues in Latin America.

LIGHTING UP PERU

IMG_5211 (1)In Peru, the combination of the Andean Mountains and Amazonian Jungle creates a complex geography that often prevents entire communities from connecting to electrical grids. It’s these conditions that motivated Alicia to look beyond the problem and look to a solution.

Buen Power doesn’t just provide an affordable and sustainable source of light to off-the-grid rural communities; the company has built a business model that creates local micro-entrepreneurs by integrating teachers as distributors of dLights. “We are utilizing teachers – since they are going to these remote communities anyway. While they are back in their home cities on the weekend, we train them in solar energy, and provide them with sample lights and specially created picture books which we have designed. They then hold community meetings in the communities where they work – and teach the community members about solar energy and its benefits and offer the lights for sale. These teachers earn a commission on sales. We are also creating other micro-entrepreneurs – by supporting about 50 other locals who buy our products at wholesale and sell at retail in their very distant communities.”

Q'ero girls with dlight - Buen powerAlicia recently received an email from a friend who works in remote Peruvian communities that stated, “Last week, we arrived in Q’ero well after dark. We saw a light in the distance which slowly moved towards us. These three beautiful girls came to meet us with you will never guess what – one of your dLights! What an amazing sight – never before have we been greeted in the dark.”

Alicia recalled, “The story brought tears to my eyes as I could clearly see, from an outside source, that our work was touching lives that we didn’t even know about. What an incredible feeling! It’s these moments that keep me going through the hardest days.”

Buen Power is currently in the process of opening 6 new locations in Peru. Next, the companies plans to replicate this distribution system country-wide. They recently received a $100,000 grant from USAID to pursue their “radical new distribution method for rural electrification”. (3)

BRINGING TRUST INTO FINANCIAL SERVICES IN COLOMBIA

IMG_4547 (1)Ana is thinking big. “Within the next 5-10 years I would like to see that Aflore has revolutionised the way of addressing the unbanked [adults who do not have bank accounts], in such a way that it has inspired others to innovate and develop other products and services to serve them properly.  After spending so many years working at the forefront of financial innovation in large investment banks,  I now believe that it is actually in this market segment where innovation should really happen, and most likely, the only segment where it really matters.”

Besides the unbanked, Ana has found that many of the people in Colombia who do, in fact, have bank accounts withdraw their money as soon as it lands in their accounts. She believes that this problem of financial inclusion is not an issue of access but rather one of engagement. Ana explains that, “Aflore’s main innovation is the channel: distributing financial products through a network of informal advisors. These informal advisors are people that are already trusted in their communities and who are seen as financial role models. We leverage these existing trusted relationships not only to get people to engage in financial services but also to access information about our clients (personal and financial) that allows us to do risk assessments of a demographic that the banks are not attending.”

Jeny, one of Aflore’s first clients, illustrates the success of this business model. Jeny has been unable to get a loan from a bank in the past because she withdraws her minimum wage salary each month as soon as it is deposited. In steps Yaneth, an Aflore advisor.

In addition to being an advisor, Yaneth is also one of Jeny’s closest friends. Yaneth has built a small but successful clothing manufacturing business from her home and has become a trusted source of financial advice for Jeny and other women in her community. When Jeny’s mother fell ill, Yaneth offered Jeny a $100 loan to visit her family. When Jeny repaid this loan, she was then extended a $500 loan to buy a washing machine. Jeny has also repaid this loan and is considering borrowing an additional $1,000 to invest in her husband’s business.

“This year, we are focusing on proving and building the channel. We aim to finish the year with a network of 120 advisors,” Ana concludes. “We aim to put in place an operation that will allow us to scale our business significantly during 2015.”

HUMANIZING FASHION IN GUATEMALA

IMG_5312 (1)The Teysha team “wants to see a fashion industry that values the creators of the goods just as much as the design and look”. They believe “that in order to create a more vibrant and prosperous world for all, we need to know each other better and value each other’s talents more”.

10250257_644211412316537_6710091512219631956_nWith this philosophy in mind, Teysha has built a business model that creates social, environmental, and economic value for all stakeholders, every step of the way. Sophie explains the Teysha business model: “We work directly with groups of artisans to connect them to our customization platform, combining the forces of textile makers, leather workers, shoe makers, to make one of a kind goods. Our customers are able to customize their goods by learning about the various villages and techniques we feature. Through this model, we create a direct connection between the customer and the maker, and create a bridge between cultures.”

10155167_640971995973812_3946401823499050900_nThis model has the potential to revolutionize artisanal fashion in the region because rather than simply analyzing market trends, producing a product, and selling it – Teysha is building a platform to connect the producer and the consumer and empowering them to work together to create a product that uses the skills of the artisans and satisfies the desires of the person purchasing the product. By bringing this human element to the fashion industry, consumers consciousness and product transparency is reaching an entirely new level. Sophie affirms that “we are working to make ethically and authentically made goods the norm within the fashion industry”.

IN CONCLUSION

These three women have overcome countless barriers in incredibly difficult business environments. The McNulty Foundation recognizes the importance of this type of innovation, values the passion, endurance and leadership these women have shown, and is committed to supporting the growth of these game changing businesses.

Anne Welsh McNulty, co-founder of the McNulty Foundation, believes “Women don’t need to be told to be leaders or to find solutions to economic and social problems in their communities. All they need is access to the economic tools and networks traditionally denied to them and they will build the solutions on their own, because that is a human desire, not a gendered one.”

Successful Impact Investment in Nicaragua

photo 1 (1) (4)Aida Patricia is the founder of Oscaritos, a textile business that she started in Nicaragua in 1996 with only 100 dollars from a microfinance loan. In November 2013, Aida completed the repayment of a debt investment from Pomona Impact, an angel investment group founded in 2011. We had the opportunity to speak with Aida and congratulate her on the successful repayment.

Aida, tell us a little about your history with Pomona.

I entered the Agora Accelerator so I could prepare my company to receive investment and had the opportunity to present my company to a group of investors. It was in Granada, in 2011, where we met Pomona. They paid a lot of attention to our company and when we spoke with them, they directly asked us how much we need, and that is how it happened. They gave us a loan of $30,000 that we invested as working capital. This investment has really helped us to grow, in fact we doubled our sales this year. We are working on a report where we document our significant growth and the impact is has had for us and on the lives of our many employees.

How was the process of working with Pomona?

The link was Agora. Agora was always aware of our relationship and served as an intermediary, helping us communicate with Pomona and prepare the right documentation throughout the entire process. Sometimes, as a SME it is hard for us to understand what investors need and their way of thinking. Agora helped us establish the relationship with Pomona and was there every step of the way. However, the relationship became more than just a business deal. Our colleagues told us that it is amazing what we have with Pomona, a relationship was more than just about a loan. They really came to be part of the Oscaritos family. It was a successful investment and we thank them very much for that trust they had in us. I want to send Mark and Rich our deepest appreciation from everyone at Oscaritex. I do not have the words needed to thank all that we have achieved thanks to Pomona.

Richard Ambrose, co-founder of Pomona Impact, added a few remarks on Aida and the investment process:

In our opinion, Aida represents the untapped entrepreneurial energy in Central America that is ready to be unlocked. I credit her and Oscar (husband) for the courage, vision and uncompromising honesty needed to get the business started WHILE delivering on her social mission.  Instead of mimicking the harsh working conditions that many garment manufacturers use to drive production, she built an open-air production facility that invites natural light and fresh air as well as a respectful working environment for her employees.  

Agora was instrumental first in identifying her as a worthy candidate for its accelerator and second in providing the additional training necessary to help get Oscaritos ready for investment.  Throughout the life of the investment, Pomona even received additional support from Agora to assist with some reporting issues that Oscaritos was having trouble completing.  This translated to both cost and time savings for us (Pomona).  Quite simply – Agora continues to impress!

We received the final repayment of the loan from Oscaritos on time and with an equitable financial return. We maintain a close relationship and look forward to collaborating on future projects. Thanks to all involved!

Retreat 2014: Accelerating the Shift Toward a New Economy

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John Kohler, Co-Founder of Toniic and leader in the field of impact investing, stated it bluntly: “I’d rather fund a medium business plan with excellent people, rather than a great plan with medium people.” When it comes to entrepreneurship, particularly at the early stage, the founding team of entrepreneurs plays an absolutely indispensable role. They are the ones making the decisions, taking the risks, and creating businesses that have the potential to shift the way that business functions in society. They bring a unique energy that is truly indispensable, an energy that could be felt powerfully throughout the week of January 27 in Granada, Nicaragua during the Agora 2014 Entrepreneur Retreat.

IMG_6030 (1)The Entrepreneur Retreat serves as the launch event for the Agora Accelerator, an intensive, 3-stage program designed to give entrepreneurs access to the knowledge, networks, and capital they need to scale their business models and their impact. The 2014 Retreat was designed with the intent of strengthening three key components of the early stage ecosystem: the community, the business, the individual. The agenda challenged the entrepreneurs to dive deep into both their business models and their own decision-making as leaders. However, as the week came to a close, the development of the community became a top priority for many present

IMG_4441“Back home we are already feeling SAUDADES, a word in Portuguese that describes the feeling when you miss people who, for some period of time, were a part of your life, and for whom you will forever have wonderful memories,” Raquel Cruz, Co-Founder of Brasil Aromaticos, recalled. “I want to convey my gratitude for the opportunity to be with people so special. People who are ahead of the times with their businesses; who are creating both profit and impact…and above all, people who know that it is always possible to do more. I feel honored to have been in a group of people who believe, share their dreams, and are ready for action AGORA (Agora in Portuguese means NOW)”.

At Agora we believe that building this community is critical to accelerating the shift in business from business that focuses solely on profit creation to models that create value for all shareholders. Each of the entrepreneurs in our Accelerator is taking an enormous risk. They are challenging traditional models and building new approaches in some of the most difficult environments in the world. They are creating platforms for marginalized farmers to access and share invaluable data; they are employing prisoners to produce hammocks in high demand; they are bridging the gap between tourism, indigenous communities, and the exquisite natural beauty of Mexico; they are revolutionizing mobility in Brazil with the first ever electric car sharing program; and they are re-foresting Mexico by selling and re-planting carefully-extracted, live Christmas trees. These entrepreneurs are are doing it because they truly believe it is possible to build a dynamic, competitive, and inclusive economy that creates value for all and walks the often misunderstood line between purpose and profit. The Agora Retreat is just one step on the journey of these modern-day pioneers towards accelerating the full impact of that collective vision.

IMG_4382“I returned to Mexico with a complete paradigm change,” 2014 Entrepreneur Kitti Szabo, Co-Founder of La Mano del Mono, concluded. “Now I can dream big.”

 

 

 

 

WANTED: High Potential Impact Entrepreneurs In Latin America

We are currently in search of 30 high-potential early-stage impact entrepreneurs from throughout Latin America to join our growing community of world-changing businesses (Agora’s Class of ’12 is pictured above).

Entrepreneurs around the world are joining a growing movement to create positive, sustainable impact through private enterprise. At Agora Partnerships, our mission is to accelerate those visionary entrepreneurs who are redefining the role of business in society.

We are in the middle of an ambitious recruitment effort for our 2013 Impact Accelerator. This highly selective program provides access to human, social, and financial capital for a unique community of entrepreneurs throughout Latin America. The Accelerator kicks off with an entrepreneur retreat in Central America, followed by strategy consulting and investment readiness services, and admittance to the Impact Investing in Action conference hosted in the United States.

Over the past two years, we have worked with 18 company operating in some of the poorest regions of the Western Hemisphere. Over 70% of or Class of ‘11 received millions of dollars in investment, propelling these impact companies to an average 80% growth rate.

Now, we are expanding from our base in Central America and searching for 30 new companies spanning the whole of Latin America to help accelerate impact for the region.

If you are an entrepreneur interested in applying to our Accelerator or if you’re interesting in helping us spread the word, please contact Inga Schulte-Bahrenberg at ischulte@agorapartnerships.org. You can find more information about how the Accelerator program worksformer entrepreneurs, a summary overview, and the results of our Accelerator on our website.

Furthermore, we’ve prepared ready-made Twitter, Facebook, and blog copy for you to share with your networks.

The deadline to be considered for scholarships is October 8. The final deadline for all applications is October 22. So, Click here to apply now!


Agora DCIMPACT League Forms, Holds First Event

Agora DCIMPACT League members, left to right, Ann Winstead-Derlega, Katie Riedel, P.K. Tran, Julia Patton, Nadia Marquez, and Arlene Alvarez pose with Agora CEO Ben Powell.

The DCIMPACT League joins Agora Partnerships in its goal to raise $10,000 within the next year to support, empower, and unite impact entrepreneurs throughout Latin America. Agora is leading the charge to find real solutions to real problems in Latin America. We are joining their mission to accelerate the growth of early-stage impact entrepreneurs in the region.

When I first met Agora Partnerships’ co-founder and CEO, Ben Powell, he explained to me the Greek origin of “Agora;” a marketplace for exchanging goods, ideas, and great conversation. He outlined the need for human potential alongside access to capital to address the world’s most pressing socioeconomic and environmental issues. I was immediately enthralled.

As a Latina, I find unique meaning in the term “agora.” In addition to its Greek etymology, I cannot help but be reminded the word’s Portuguese meaning – now. It evokes a sense of urgency, an imperativeness that is so needed in today’s change makers.

The mission of DCIMPACT is to support and engage local thought leaders and young professionals with the growing global need for impact. Hosting events around the District, we can begin to bring light to the world’s most pressing socioeconomic needs addressed by Agora Partnerships and engage our network with needed solutions.

I am joined by a group of stellar board members and supporters throughout DC. We unite in our shared vision for equity, access, and solutions to the gross socioeconomic disparity experienced by individuals not just in Latin America, but around the world.   Each of us brings a unique excitement to DCIMPACT, Agora Partnerships, and  Agora’s impact entrepreneurs from Mexico to Chile as they are facing and solving some of the region’s most intractable challenges.

We held our kick off event on August 23 in DC, a cocktail party that featured a short film on Agora Class of ’11 company CO2 Bambu, a silent auction, and plenty of Latin food!

To learn more about the DCIMPACT League, our mission to raise $10,000, and how you can get involved, email us at agoraleadershipcouncil@gmail.com.

Un saludo cordial,

Nadia Marquez
President, DCIMPACT
agoraleadershipcouncil@gmail.com

In Search of Early Stage Impact Entrepreneurs: Agora in Guatemala

Left to right, Neela Pal, Maria Rodriguez, and Sara Lila Cordero during a campus visit to the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, a leading private university in Guatemala City.

I joined Agora Partnerships for this summer, tasked with answering the question (more or less): Where are all the women impact entrepreneurs?

This seemingly simple query led me to…Guatemala. Over the past month, I designed and implemented a series of recruitment presentations for Guatemala—the country that has yielded two of Agora’s most successful and charismatic women business owners: María Pacheco of Kiej de los Bosques and María Rodriguez of ByoEarth (“the Marías,” as we affectionately call them in-house). My recruiting team included: the effervescent Sara Lila Cordero, who heads all things marketing and communications in Agora’s Nicaragua office, and Rodriguez, an Agora Class of ’12 entrepreneur who is locally known as “the worm girl,” thanks to her on-the-rise organic composting business.

During our week-long “roadshow” in Guatemala, we spread the word of Agora’s 2013 Accelerator program, making stops at the major metropolitan—and entrepreneurial—centers of the country: Guatemala City, Antigua, and Quetzaltenango. The level of individual activity and collective energy we encountered during our visit far surpassed expectation.

At the HUB in Guatemala City.

In five action-packed days, we met with: international NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance and Counterpart International; regionally-focused investor groups like Grupo DNA; and dynamic local change makers, including Nikki Bahr (founder of CSR consultancy Sustainable Strategies), Daniel Buchbinder (founder of rural entrepreneurship group Alterna), Gabriela García Quinn (Guatemala director of Central American social change outfit Glasswing International), and Ivan Buitrón (leader in AGEXPORT, which supports, literally, thousands of export-ready Guatemalan businesses). We also met with prospective entrepreneurs, paying a visit to the ultra-cool Campus Tecnológico in a gritty corner of the city, as well as presenting at the up-and-coming, “green” HUB space.

Sara Lila presenting to 120 rural women at a Vital Voices conference in Quetzaltenango.

Everywhere, we shared our vision—to be a one-stop shop for early-stage impact entrepreneurs serious about scaling their business and, in turn, their social impact. And everywhere, we heard the same story: while there are many one-off interventions, there are no comprehensive solutions like Agora’s Accelerator that gets small to mid-sized enterprises ready for growth capital and connect them with a growing network of impact investors.

As I met with actual entrepreneurs, I was struck by their hunger for additional resources and supports. At Quetzaltenango, for instance, Sara Lila presented on the Accelerator to a group of 120 rural women, largely micro-business owners, affiliated with the Vital Voices network. We had the enviable position of presenting right before lunch. However, the interest lasted far beyond our ten-minute “pitch.” Dozens of women approached us afterward. Hidden in their questions, I heard hope—that the Accelerator would be the solution for their businesses.

In Guatemala, the market of scalable social enterprises may be finite, but the vision and collaborative attitude of its leading players is anything but. Take, for example, Philip Wilson’s award winning company Ecofiltro, which is popularizing a simple yet effective clay filter as an ecological solution to water filtration. We toured his factory at the base of Antigua’s volcanoes, which he hopes will serve as a model operation for emerging countries globally.

“The Marias” are generous-spirited leaders, who when they encounter problems or gaps, create smart solutions. In addition to her innovative business venture, María Rodriguez is in the process of helping to incorporate the HUB in Guatemala City, which will provide much-needed convening space for start-up talent. And, María Pacheco brought international women empowerment non-profit Vital Voices to the country to tackle economic disparities along gender lines. The secret sauce to Agora is its people, and the human potential in Guatemala last week felt limitless.

Neela Pal joins Agora Partnerships from the Yale School of Management, where she is studying social sector management and organizational behavior. For her summer internship, she is helping Agora develop a recruitment strategy to increase women-owned and managed business enterprises in its Accelerator program.