“Being an entrepreneur is almost a spiritual experience; you have to know clearly what you want so your inner demons will not counter you at any stage of your project.”
“If you have a dream, pursue it. Nothing in this world is impossible. I made my company from zero, with no knowledge of business management to guide me, but I learned along the way.”
Rosa Cruz believes in sharing the benefits of the native Peruvian tubers, yacon and aguaymanto, with the rest of the world. Born into a family of farmers, Rosa Cruz always had a special place in her heart for the rural community. And though she was familiar with the Peruvian yacon from a young age, any thoughts of it remained relegated to her rural childhood as she progressed through university. Upon graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, however, her attention was suddenly drawn back to this tuber, so under-researched and under-cultivated, yet brimming with invaluable health benefits. Hoping to bring its benefits to the diabetic community and beyond, Rosa effectively became one of the first individuals to study the yacon.
Over the course of the following decade, Rosa collected seeds, conducted research, expanded her study to include the aguaymanto tuber, organized a farmers’ association, and, eventually, began large-scale organic cultivation. From this, Cruz Campo was born.
Dedicated to bettering the environment through promoting biodiversity, organic cultivation, and environmental conservation, Cruz Campo brings healthy alternative products to its customers, a higher quality of life to its employees, and exposure to a larger market for its farmers.
Hoping to both expand her company and expose herself to the world of international entrepreneurship, Rosa applied to the Accelerator and was accepted. She left her native soil for the first time to go to the opening retreat in Nicaragua, where she found inspiring speakers and a group of burgeoning female entrepreneurs. Over the course of the next four months, Agora’s consulting allowed her to drastically improve productivity and management. But, above all, the Agora Accelerator connected her with Kiva, a microfinancing platform that enables individuals to give and receive loans, through which she was able to receive a $35,000 loan in a week. This loan has allowed her to invest in more raw materials and purchase a new piece of land, on which she hopes to build a secondary processing plant.
Strategically placed to give the greatest number of rural women easy access to a steady job, avoid raw materials losses incurred during transportation, and facilitate direct contact with producers, this plant will allow Rosa to continue creating the incredible impact she makes with Cruz Campo.
Rosa’s company has empowered many rural women. Cruz Campo has given life to a supportive community of single mothers who have fallen victim to domestic violence while also providing them a consistent income and the opportunity to educate their children.
She hopes to continue addressing the Sustainable Development Goal of ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’ and to acquire the funding necessary to develop another industrial plant closer to other areas of cultivation, exporting beyond the confines of Peru’s borders to the greater world. Fueled by honesty, fairness, and perseverance, Cruz Campo is changing the world, one yacon plant at a time.
Learn more about Cruz Campo at http://www.cruzcampoperu.com.
“With Agora, it was great to have a consultant doing things with us, as opposed to just telling us what to do.”
Bruno Aracaty believes in the necessity of civic engagement to reduce the disconnect between governments and their citizens. Despite starting his early career in entrepreneurship, Bruno moved quickly into the investment sector, fascinated by how foreign capital could be invested in Brazilian assets. He heeded the entrepreneurial call again in 2011, leading the digital tsrketing campaigns for political candidates and indulging his personal passion for politics. However, as he worked, he grew increasingly aware of the widespread disenchantment with politicians and the growing distance between government and citizens.
Believing in the power of technology to solve such a serious problem, Bruno wanted to bridge this gap with a mobile platform. Thus was born Colab.
Colab is a civic engagement platform that connects citizens with their local governments, allowing them to report problems and incentivizing them to participate in the solutions. Bruno believes that the lack of effective communication creates a vicious cycle perpetuating government inefficiency and popular discontent, and thus developed an app to facilitate issue reporting. Citizens who notice problems ranging from sewage buildups to broken sidewalks can use Colab to communicate the issue to the municipal office responsible, allowing officials to quickly address the problem.
Bruno was off to a great start, developing municipal partnerships with cities all over Brazil, but he wanted Colab to be stronger. Exposed to various accelerator programs, he was fully aware of their potential to change a business. He began to look for one that would strengthen Colab’s impact management and expand its Latin American network. He wanted an involved consultant who would not only identify areas in need of improvement but also help him to improve them. This led him to Agora’s Accelerator. Many months later, Bruno emerged from the program with a stronger vision of impact measurement, countless new community connections across Latin America, and an improved growth strategy for his company.
Following his participation in the Accelerator, Bruno has secured a million dollars of investment, closed contracts with three new municipalities in Brazil, and launched a revamped version of his platform. Users praise the efficiency with which government officials notified through Colab have addressed problems like wires left on the sidewalk and dangerous potholes. They also commend its ability to digitally raise participation in a simple municipal budget hearing from 300 individuals to over 10,000.
The enthusiastic responses of citizens and government officials both show that Colab has already grown much bigger than Bruno initially imagined. Making his business profitable as early as possible and surrounding himself with a talented team of individuals have enabled Bruno to expand Colab across 130 cities and dream far beyond Brazil. He envisions a future where his platform reaches all across Latin America, addressing discontented populations and bridging the gap between governments and citizens regionwide. Run on the values of ethics, creativity, and accountability, Colab is changing the world, one city at a time.
Learn more about Colab at https://www.colab.re.
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
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
On July 26th, 2013 Peter Buffett wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that caused a little brouhaha in the philanthropy and social entrepreneurship worlds. The piece drew praise and criticism, notably from Matthew Bishop, and some buzz for a time, and then faded away. For me, the criticism missed the point, which I thought was right on. I decided to write about the topic when one of our young team members from Nicaragua forwarded the op-ed to our whole team. The piece did for him what every good piece will do: it made him feel and it made him think. Even better, it energized him and made him realize that he was not alone.
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.
La Aceleradora Agora está diseñada para emprendedores con potencial real para hacer una contribución importante y positiva al mundo. Cuando se seleccionan nuestras clases, nos fijamos en una serie de factores que incluyen que tan innovador es el modelo de negocio, la escalabilidad y el impacto social; pero el factor más importante es la calidad del emprendedor. Averiguar quienes son los emprendedores más prometedores para la Aceleradora es una de nuestras tareas más difíciles, sobre todo en vista de la enorme energía y la innovación que estamos viendo entre emprendedores que trabajan en América Latina. No pretendemos tener todas las respuestas, pero hemos encontrado que el uso de una serie de valores fundamentales como marco puede ser increíblemente útil para comprender la motivación de un emprendedor, para impulsar su empresa al éxito.
Marcelo Hernandez Mahecha y Alexander Valencia participaron en La Aceleradora Agora 2014. Su negocio, CAIA Ingeniería, provee servicios de consultoría de energía y emisiones para empresas en industrias de alto consumo energético en Colombia. Luego, CAIA brinda servicios para implementar las mejoras recomendadas, a través de innovadores contratos de rendimiento de ahorro energético, que reducen o hasta eliminan las salidas de flujos de sus clientes.
Hablamos con Marcelo sobre su experiencia en La Aceleradora Agora y esto fue lo que nos contó.
In Mexico, more than 3 million neonates die in their first month of life, almost 300,000 women from complications at birth, and more than 750,000 children die of diarrheal illness each year. And this is just the beginning. Haywood Hall, founder of PACE MD, discovered that a significant amount of these deaths can be averted with proper training. Mexico suffers from a “Medical Knowledge Gap” in which health care providers lack fundamental training and/or continuing medical education opportunities to provide consistent high quality care.