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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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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.

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.

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.

Continue reading A Brighter Idea for the Future

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

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!