Category Archives: Impact

More Than a Bracelet: Wakami Disrupting the Fashion Industry – A Story of Hope and Prosperity

María Pacheco has always dreamt of a world that was green, with many trees and birds nesting and singing on them; with butterflies and frogs jumping from one twig to another; a world of peace and prosperity for everyone; a world with no poverty, a world in peace.

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But how could she make her dream world become reality, especially in Guatemala, a country hit by war?

She shared her dream world with a friend that came from the land of war. He loved it because he also had trees as part of his dream. However, in his dream he also wanted the trees to heat homes, to shelter the birds and rabbits and to hold water in the soil so springs and river would be alive. They worked together and taught communities how to find harmony with their land through its natural resources.

The people of Sacala now have their own association, Tikonel Taq Che, and their own Company, Sacala, that sells wood and wood products to markets.

Best part of all, by planting and caring for the Earth, María’s new friends were able to sell the wood and other things to make money to feed their families.

María was happy and kept dreaming of a better world:

 

“We dream of a world in which all communities have houses

And all houses have a window

That from all windows a garden may be seen

And that in all gardens there is a ball

That all balls belong to boys and girls who go to school

And that all schools have PTAs of parents that work

That all those who work may reach the markets

And that it is markets that multiply houses with windows

So that the sky may be blue and the sun bright for everyone”

 

That is the dream.  But what is the reality of the world?

  • Globally, 1.2 billion people live in poverty.
  • In Guatemala, 60% live in poverty.

Though these numbers are astounding, you need to tune into the lives of an impoverished family to understand what they truly mean.

In 2002, there was a famine declared in Guatemala, and María was invited to a village.  While walking there, a woman, Doña Santa, invited her into her home.  There was a 6-year old child lying on a mat on the floor. Maria was heartbroken and she told Doña Santa, “If you don’t take this child to the doctor he will die.”

Doña Santa said, “María, I have 5 dollars in my pocket.  With those, I can try to take this child to the hospital and save him or feed the other 7 children for the rest of the month.”

Hardly able to speak María asked her, “What do you really need, how can we help you?”  What Doña Santa said turned everyone around, “María, if you can sell what we produce, the rest we can do.”

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“But how do I find the market? How do I look for investors? How should I start?” wondered María. María’s questions were asked when she was introduced to Agora Partnerships.

“Agora strengthened my abilities to pitch to investors by teaching me how to structure ideas, prioritize business objectives and focus on return,” said María.

With the support of Agora Partnerships, María was able to increase the impact of her company, Wakami, and work towards the dreams she had envisioned.

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Wakami is a system that connect rural communities, especially women, with global markets, generating income and transforming cycles of poverty into cycles of prosperity!

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Wakami consists of two organizations that work hand in hand:

  • An NGO that gives professional training to rural groups of women
  • A social business that designs and exports products for the global market, handmade by those women

When Wakami first started, they sold any product made by the communities, but this was an inefficient system. The challenge was to finding a product line that had a growing market demand worldwide and could use the ancestral techniques of the communities. That is why Wakami chose the handmade fashion accessories market.

These handmade fashion accessories have created jobs and income for 486 producers, 95% of which are women, in a men-dominated Guatemalan society.

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Before being part of the Wakami system, many of the producers would work on coffee fields, with small and unpredictable gains. Through Wakami, their income is four times higher on average, consistent, and empowers the producers to become active members of the society.

So now this is how the system works:

Through the Inclusive-Business Methodology, groups of women with life-changing dreams are transformed into formal businesses through training by Wakami’s NGO. Then, the social business becomes their first client and products are exported across  the world. Once sales happen and the women have income, Wakami implements the Smart-Investment Methodology, where, with their income, their first dreams come true: feeding and educating their children.

With more sales the social business can grow and become the market the force that drives social change.

The income generated with Wakami is transforming the lives of entire families in Guatemala, investing in children’s nutrition, education, and in products that make houses safer.

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After eleven years of business these are Wakami’s results:

  • Creation of a transferable system that can be transmitted to other countries with communities facing similar challenges;
  • Exporting products to over 20 countries with sales for over 1 million dollars for the last 3 years;
  • Inspiring the new Corporate Social Responsibility model for three, billion-dollar Guatemalan companies;
  • Incubating 16 rural businesses benefitting over 2,500 people;
  • Contributing to 140% higher school attendance than the Guatemalan national average for Wakami children; and,
  • Providing for a 57% improvement of nutritional status for Wakami children.

Most of all, Wakami is DISRUPTING cycles of poverty and creating cycles of prosperity.

“Agora helped me share my dream and built a business than allow more dreams come true,” said María Pacheco

Wakami thanks Agora Partnerships for helping them become a fashion-industry DISRUPTOR!

 

ENTREPRENEUR SPOTLIGHT: Jennifer Menegazzo of Korβáta

Korβáta is one of the 25 companies in the 2016 Agora Accelerator. The Agora Accelerator is divided into cohorts of entrepreneurs aligned around an impact theme or industry. Korβáta is part of our 2016 Ethical Fashion cohort, each cohort acts as its own ecosystem of experts, investors, industry professionals, and media all coordinated to accelerate the very best entrepreneurial solutions to social and environmental problems in Latin America.

Based in Guatemala, Korβáta is committed to promote traditional Mayan culture and community empowerment through their creation of unique handmade fashion accessories for men.

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Why did you start your company?

Korβáta started in September 2012. Together with my partner, we were seeking to create something unique, something with Guatemalan value and the idea of creating a tie using traditional textiles came out. We start working with various samples, involving ourselves in the whole creation process, the meaning of the patterns and the different techniques used by communities, we had to learn it all, from how to made a tie knot till the creation of a brand.

As people always ask me this question: how did you start this company? I always answer: Korβáta found me. It was not something I was looking for and now is everything I have ever dream of. I have put my time, knowledge, experience, love, craziness, tears and more to this incredible project that is just starting to rise…Wait for it #korbata.

What problem is your company trying to solve?

Poverty is extremely entrenched in Guatemalan society, around 59% of the population live in poverty and the majority are indigenous living in rural communities. Our artisans in rural communities lack the income generating opportunities to improve their quality of life and being native indigenous they have been long suffering from discrimination and rejection of their culture. This must stop! Additional, global consumers are unaware of the value chain of their clothes and the consequences of unfair job conditions and those who are aware do not have sufficient high-quality options to support ethical fashion.

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What is your vision for the future?

At first my vision was to create a Guatemalan brand to be recognized by fashion men all over the world. After the years I have learned how Korβáta has been making an impact in people’s life; from the artisans in different communities that create the textiles, to the workshop artisans that confection the products, to the Korβáta team and to the ethical fashion industry. I love to see men that proudly wear their Korβáta and know the story behind it.
After understanding the true impact we defined our vision and goal to share our Guatemalan passion, culture and traditions to all over the world and become a country product that supports rural community empowerment in Guatemala.

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Why did you choose the Agora Accelerator?

To be honest I did not really know what a business accelerator was, but now in a few words: best experience ever! I will describe it as “entrepreneur power”. I think at the end Agora choose me because they saw the potential in me and my business. Because they believed in me I choose them. A week full of adventures started with knowledge and networking with incredible entrepreneurs around the world. It was amazing to feel that even with different ages, locations and industries we are not alone. The inspiration and motivation that I got on the entrepreneur weekend is still in me and this is what keeps me going to pursuit my dreams. Some weeks have passed and work and dedication has become a challenge. I have learned so much in so little time, through the constantly perseveration of my mentor we have manage to put ideas into paper and proved with the Agora Accelerator that time has no limit when you are dreaming with your eyes open! #thanksagora

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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.

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Entrepreneur Spotlight: Carolina Salamanca of Baby Faves Organics

Baby Faves Organics is one of 25 companies in the 2016 Agora Accelerator. The Agora Accelerator is divided into cohorts of entrepreneurs aligned around an impact theme or industry. Baby Faves Organics is part of our 2016 Sustainable Food and Agriculture cohort alongside Advanced Biocontrollers in Panama, Cruz Campo Peru in Peru, Shanantina in Peru, Tecnatrop in Peru, and Viogaz in Costa Rica. Each cohort acts as its own ecosystem of experts, investors, industry professionals, and media all coordinated to accelerate the very best entrepreneurial solutions to social and environmental problems in Latin America.

Based in Bogota, Colombia,  Baby Faves Organics is committed to improving the health of children by selling  nutritious and natural baby food across Latin America. Below Carolina Salamanca explains why she started Baby Faves Organics and her vision for a more nutritious future.

INN04. BOGOTç (COLOMBIA), 05/05/2015. - Fotograf’a del 30 de abril de 2015 de la fundadora de la firma colombiana Odaco Group, Carolina Salamanca. La primera marca colombiana de compotas org‡nicas, Baby Faves Organics, busca competir en el mercado infantil de AmŽrica Latina con su propuesta de alimentaci—n natural y empaques amigables con el medio ambiente, que ya llev— a Ecuador y Panam‡. COLOMBIA.INN/LEONARDO MU„OZ

Why did you start your company?

I have always felt passionate about social entrepreneurship as a way to improve peoples’ lives and give them a better future. As a female entrepreneur, I am also passionate about empowering and inspiring women in Latin America to explore innovative ideas, take action, and follow their dreams. The idea for Baby Faves Organics came about when we discovered that the baby food products in Colombia were not transparent about the formulas and ingredients being offered to families. Babies were being fed with products that contained a high amount of added sugar and starches. Most baby food was made up of less than 20% fruit mixed with additives. We wanted to bring healthier, nutritious, and 100% organic fruit products to families and make it accessible and affordable for all families in Latin America.

What problem is your company trying to solve?

5.9 million children under the age of five are overweight in Latin America and 1 in 4 children suffer from stunting globally. These issues are partially caused by a large number of avoidable problems that are created by inadequate diets in the first years of babies’ lives. We are focused on improving the health of babies and avoiding longer-term health conditions like allergies, malnutrition, and stunting. Our goals for impact are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture, ensuring healthy lives, and promoting well-being for people at all ages. We integrate these goals into our business by developing and selling all natural, organic, and nutrient-rich baby food that is free of pesticides and residual toxins to contribute to the well-being of babies and give them a bright and healthy future.

What is your vision for the future?

We envision a future where all mothers, babies, and infants have access to healthy, nutritious,  and all natural baby food options regardless of where they were born or what their income level is. A big part of creating that future is educating consumers about the benefits of choosing natural, organic foods and the impact that their choices have on developing healthy babies that grow up to live healthy adult lives.


With regards to Baby Faves Organics, we want to continue to innovate and develop exciting products that will accompany our consumers as they grow, ensuring that no matter what age they are there is always a healthy, nutritious baby food, cereal or fruit snack available to them. Apart from Colombia, we are about to launch in supermarkets in Ecuador. Hopefully over the next 12 months we will continue to expand the number of countries to increase our positive impact.

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Why did you choose the Agora Accelerator?

Entrepreneurship is not easy. What I have learned is that you can make things a little bit easier by surrounding yourself with good people with experience. These people understand the unique challenges of a start-up environment which is not just running your own business, but living and breathing that business 24 hours a day.
I felt that being part of the Agora Class of 2016 would give me access to the right kind of advice and experience, as well as accessing networks of fellow entrepreneurs and social impact investors that understand our business and can really help us grow our model and impact. My expectations have been exceeded and I am extremely happy with the support and professionalism of the Agora team!

Entrepreneur Spotlight: David Evitt of Estufa Doña Dora

Estufa Doña Dora is one of 25 companies in the 2016 Agora Accelerator. The Agora Accelerator is divided into cohorts of entrepreneurs aligned around an impact theme or industry. Estufa Doña Dora is part of our 2016 financial inclusion cohort alongside Sensei, Asesores de Créditos from El Salvador. Each cohort acts as its own ecosystem of experts, investors, industry professionals, and media all coordinated to accelerate the very best entrepreneurial solutions to social and environmental problems in Latin America.

Based in the remote city of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Estufa Doña Dora is committed to selling safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective cookstoves to Guatemalan families. Below David Evitt explains why he started Estufa Doña Dora and his vision for the future.

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Why did you start your company?

Energy for home cooking is one of the most pressing needs of our time. The World Health Organization estimates that household air pollution from cooking with biomass and coal on traditional stoves kills 4.3 million people around the world annually, more than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS combined. The national-level statistics are similar for Guatemala. For example, household air pollution kills over 5,000 people every year and acute respiratory infections aggravated by household smoke are the leading killer of children under five. Addressing this challenge with a commercial, market-based approach through a social enterprise is the way to scale impact and start building momentum behind solutions that work.

What problem is your company trying to solve?

In Guatemala there is a lack of cooking solutions that are clean and efficient while still being easy to use and appealing to cooks. Estufa Doña Dora is filling that hole with a modern kitchen appliance burning a traditional fuel. Since 2012, 1,288 families have decided to buy a Doña Dora stove, paying the market price. That means a smoke-free kitchen for 6,311 people, 3,220 tons of CO2 emissions avoided per year, and an annual savings of $160,582 on firewood.

What is your vision for the future?

A Guatemala where the kitchen is a center of strength for families.

Estufa Doña Dora New Stove

Why did you choose the Agora Accelerator?

I wanted to be a part of the Latin American network and get to know other entrepreneurs in the region. I was impressed by the Agora focus of investment readiness and the active participation helping get businesses to the next level.

From the Mayan Biosphere to the World

The Pat family is demonstrating how it is possible to insert a rural indigenous community into the global economy and to preserve the environment at the same time.

I have to admit that I have often regarded ventures of this type as exercises in nostalgia rather than as serious business propositions. Also, too many of us in the development community are in a constant quest for scale and large numbers instead of measuring the intensity of impact for those affected. This project made me look at things in a new way.

The Pat family lives in the Mayan community of Tankuche of about 1,000 residents in the state of Campeche in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They have taken what was formerly a hobby –beekeeping – and turned it into a business that produces as much as 10 tons of pure organic honey a year. The bees are raised on communal and public lands within the Los Petenes biosphere reserve, and their cultivation requires the preservation of the ecology of reserve, thus aligning economic incentives with conservation. Don Vidal, the father of the Pat family, is currently in the process of formalizing the company as a cooperative, which will allow for easier access to financing. Getting past the bureaucrats who delight in making things as difficult as possible is just one of the many challenges he has to overcome.

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Don Vidal is a highly spiritual man and a visionary. He wants to provide an example to the rest of the village of how hard work can help people raise themselves out of poverty. His whole family is entrepreneurial. His wife, Isabel, is involved in providing healthcare, formally and informally, especially to pregnant women in the village. One of their daughters, Josefa, runs an outsourced garment operation employing women of the village and their other daughter commercializes the honey in Cancun. Their son, Rogaciano, currently manages the beekeeping with the help of three employees. Last year, with some public funding and a reinvestment of profits, the family began constructing a collection center. The center still needs about $50,000 to install the bottling operation and to build the warehouse and shipping center that will allow the family to manage not only their own production, but that for another 32 family producers, 8 of whom already produce with Vidal. The idea is to eventually incorporate as many honey producers in the village as possible.

The commercialization of the Pat family’s honey is being assumed by Mercado delaTierra, an entity formed by The GreenSquids, a company created by architect turned social entrepreneur Enrique Kaufmann who is dedicated to developing sustainable businesses in rural communities. The GreenSquids in turn has participated in Agora Partnerships’ Accelerator program and remains an active member of the Agora community. The GreenSquids is also working on a comprehensive community development project in the Mayan community of Nuevo Xcan in the state of Quintana Roo.

Mercado delaTierra is positioning the honey as a premium, pure organic product. Honey can also be differentiated by qualities such as acidity, color, and flavor derived from the type of flower that produced the pollen. Mercado delaTierra has already signed a contract with Thrive Market to distribute the honey in Thrive’s California stores and is seeking additional contracts for the remainder of the Pat family production. Due to declining U.S. production of honey, attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the causes if which are still being debated, honey prices in the U.S. have risen more than 80% since 2006 and about 65% of US supply is now imported. In addition, much of the product marketed as honey is impure or adulterated.

However, in Campeche, the very biodiversity of the Los Petenes reserve appears to protect the bees from natural enemies. There is a great opportunity to increase production. With a small amount of additional financing for the collection center (anyone thinking crowdfunding?), this business can be taken to the next level. This would indeed produce a sweet result for the Pat family, their village, the biosphere, and very satisfied honey lovers all around the world.

A Brighter Idea for the Future

One idea lights a thousand candles.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imagination and light go hand in hand. A bright idea is commonly depicted with a light bulb, or more specifically, a traditional incandescent bulb – the very same kind that was invented more than 100 years. Our ideas have evolved greatly over the past 100 years, so why has the object used to depict them remained static?

Try to imagine a solar lamp of versatile and sustainable design, a base from which to explore your creativity, adaptable over time to fit the needs of the future. This is a much more accurate representation of the ideas emerging from society today.

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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:

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There’s a Lot More to Coffee Than Beans

I set off with Luisa Lombera and Gates Gooding, the founders of a company named Pixán, (which means happiness, soul or essence in Maya), joining them in their quest to find the raw material that had thus far eluded them. Fresh from Agora Partnerships’ Entrepreneur Retreat held in Granada, Nicaragua, we were infused with an invigorated sense of purpose.

Gates and Luisa applied to the Agora Accelerator with the aim of turning Pixán into a flourishing business that will double the income of coffee farmers in the Pixán supply chain. Searching for an opportunity to create impact in the coffee sector in Latin America, they were inspired by the Yemeni traditional practice of making a drink called kishr (or qishr), which is a kind of chai made with coffee fruit, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Luisa and Gates took to the idea and are now looking to produce a beverage made with an infusion of dried coffee fruit, also known as “cáscara” (skin or peel – in Spanish).

Continue reading There’s a Lot More to Coffee Than Beans

Shared Values: what we look for when selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator

Ben Powell - Impact Investing in Action 2013 (1)The Agora Accelerator is designed for entrepreneurs with real potential to make a significant positive contribution to the world. When we select our classes, we look at a number of factors including business model innovation, scalability, and social impact. But the most important factor by far is the quality of the entrepreneur.  Figuring out who are the most promising entrepreneurs for the accelerator is one of our hardest jobs, especially given the tremendous energy and innovation we are seeing among entrepreneurs working throughout Latin America.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we have found that using core values as a framework can be incredibly helpful in understanding the power an entrepreneur will eventually wield to propel his/her company to success.

Continue reading Shared Values: what we look for when selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator