Tag Archives: Agora Partnerships

Xinca discovers the potential of recycled materials

“Your social enterprise should be a part of you. It is always hard to separate the project from yourself, but use that to your advantage.”

Nazareno El Hom believes in a future where trash dumps are converted into forces for social integration. Attracted to the autonomy of running one’s own business, Nazareno quickly became a connoisseur of entrepreneurial ventures. He opened restaurants in Costa Rica, bars in his native Mendoza, and even a bike shop. But this is not just the story of Nazareno. This is the story of three friends, Nazareno, Ezequiel, and Alejandro, who came together four years ago in search of something different. They wanted to found a company that followed a different logic, whose success was defined not only by its profitability but also by its social and environmental impact. Upon learning about the existence of social enterprises as an industry, the three knew where their futures had to lie.

With no idea what they wanted to do nor how they would do it, they turned their focus to the local community. They became aware of the immense waste coming out of the tire industry, and visits to the disposal sites revealed mound upon mound of unused tires. They learned of and quickly became incensed by the number of individuals and groups that were excluded from the formal economy, realizing that there was tremendous productive potential lying unharnessed. The solution to this set of problems lay clear before their eyes; they had to found a shoe store. But it would not be just any shoe store, it would be Xinca.

The shoes Xinca produces and sells are absolute trash, and they are incredibly proud of that. Each shoe is produced from recycled materials, with soles made out of recovered tires. The individuals and organizations they partner with to create the shoes come from the most marginalized sectors of society, and they thus provide work for the physically disabled, single mothers, and rural families. Through a partnership with the penitentiary of Mendoza, they are giving a second chance to over 30 inmates, providing them with the opportunity to become productive individuals within society and raising their quality of life.

21,805 shoes later, Xinca continues to create an incredible impact. They have incorporated waste into their production while maintaining their standard of quality, proving to society that there is value and potential in recycled materials. They have partnered with several social organizations and workshops to empower dozens of individuals excluded from the formal economy. And they have aligned themselves with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, structuring their company to promote gender equality and responsible consumption and production.

Hoping to move their social enterprise closer to investment but wary of accelerators taking equity, the Xinca team looked to Agora. Equipped with a readily-available consultant and a wide assortment of materials for strengthening their finances, the team was able to tackle oncoming challenges head-on. They emerged from the Accelerator with a network of support and an improved growth strategy, closer to investment than ever before.

Xinca today is changing lives. Suffering from a physical disability, Ramón had not been able to get a formal job for the last seven years. After being connected with Xinca, he began to work producing their merchandise. In his new creative space, Ramón is able to manage his own schedule and satisfy his economic needs. Nazareno is continuously inspired by stories like Ramón’s, by the proof that the work he is doing with his team is in fact making a difference. He believes firmly in the importance of internal alignment and the power of his partners to successfully push each other through difficult moments. The Xinca team thus runs their company on the knowledge that honesty starts with oneself and empathy is crucial for generating impact, and they are changing the world, one shoe at a time.

Learn more about Xinca at http://www.xinca.com.ar.

Meso assists Mayan artisans in Guatemala

 “We had an objective but no idea how to get there. Agora taught us how to order our priorities, re-analyze our strategies, and achieve our goals.”

Marisa Umaña believes in the power of artisanal design to empower women and bring economic opportunities and development to rural communities. A student of international commerce and policy, Marisa moved her professional life quite naturally into the field of economic development. After acquiring a Masters in Belgium, she returned to Guatemala, deciding to take a job as the Director of the Handcrafts Division for the Exporters’ Association. As the leader of a USAID-funded project, she threw her energy into fostering economic development in rural areas and connecting the women to clients in international markets. It was there that she met Diego and Gonzalo, who, wanting to create contemporary handmade products with traditional techniques, had founded the Mayan Store in 2010.

With a fondness for art and design, extensive travel experience, and unmistakably strong Guatemalan roots, Diego Olivero had decided to create a diverse handcrafted collection to highlight his cultural tradition. Fascinated by the intersection between business and social impact, Gonzalo Pertile had worked in both the public and private sectors and was driven to create local development.

The two partners were impressed with Marisa’s experience with the handcraft sector in Guatemala and invited her to join their project in 2016. The first, a natural in topics of innovation design, the second, fluent in the language of international development, and the last, an expert on coordinating local handcraft artisans, the team steadily expanded their business.

Over the years, they committed themselves to the preservation of Mayan cultural heritage. They partnered with wool weavers from the Momostenango municipality, women beaders in the Sololá department, and glassblowers in a recycling-based cooperative, providing artisans who had lived in conditions of extreme poverty with a sustainable income and access to the international market. They diversified their products beyond their renown woven rugs, expanding to chairs, glassware, and jewelry, and eventually changed their name to Meso, identifying their target market as Central America.

Despite knowing that they wanted to access investment, the Meso team had no idea how to become investment-ready. They struggled with creating a clear financial plan that would list their cost structures accurately, and did not know which direction to move in. So, in 2017, they applied to Agora’s Accelerator.

In the retreat and months of consulting that followed, they were shown how to achieve their objective. They emerged from the program with a re-analyzed growth strategy, invaluable investment contacts, and a stronger financial plan. With a company restructured in accordance with their goals, the team divided the work amongst themselves, relegating grants, design, and operative administration to the expert of each field.

The Meso team today continues moving steadily toward investment-readiness and expanding their network. Starting with three artisans in 2010, Meso now works with over 500 individuals, most of whom live in the northern highlands of Guatemala. They’ve focused their expansion on empowering women, moving female artisans into an agricultural group previously managed solely by men. In the process, they have brought an increased income and improved living conditions to all these families. Marisa has worked consistently to perfect effective communication with her artisans, many of whom have never been exposed to the need for quality control or deadlines nor understood finances. She happily reports that the process has become much smoother, and that she and her team have ambitious goals for growth. They plan to develop workshops where their artisans will be able to separate work from home in a space safe for dyeing and weaving, and thus reduce certain health risks.

Marisa believes that the diversity of her team has been the key to their success, each individual contributing a unique skill set to the company and inspiring the others to persevere. Despite the many challenges of working with rural Guatemalan artisans, Marisa is encouraged to continue driving social impact by her sense of responsibility to herself, her team, and society.

Marisa, Diego, and Gonzalo run their company on the values of teamwork, perseverance, and creativity, and they are changing the world, one beautiful wool-woven rug at a time.

Learn more about Meso at https://www.mesolifestyle.com

Promesa teaches students to value the environment

“My relationship with the consultant was the best part of the program; I felt comfortable enough to share every detail with him and he helped us to both restructure our program and strengthen our team.”

Julio Alvarez believes in the promise of an educational program to raise the environmental consciousness of a nation. While still a university student, Julio traveled often to Mexico’s beautiful Acapulco beach on family vacations. However, he was appalled by the apathy people had toward the environment. Visitors littered all over the sands, and the evening tide brought in plastic bags, diapers, and empty bottles. His frustration moved him to action; he started an organization that prompted beachfront restaurants to pay for the installation of trash bins, yet, 200 bins later, people still did not seem to care.

Julio was driven to do more. Over the next few years, he created environmental initiatives, green reports, reforestation programs, ecological holiday agendas, and environmental workshops for 26 companies. Again, however, the same stubborn apathy reared its ugly head. Realizing how difficult it was to change an adult’s mind about living a more sustainable life, Julio knew he had to craft a quality environmental education program targeted at youth. Thus was born the concept for Promesa.

Julio gathered a group of psychologists, biologists, and environmental engineers, who together formulated a K-12 program that not only involves every student, but also includes important milestones to measure progress. As an additional bonus, he structured the model so that it is completely self-sustainable by collecting and selling the recycling from the enrolled schools. Schools can therefore enroll in the program free of charge. Moreover, the ripple effect of this environmental initiative reaches beyond the students, touching their teachers, families, and administrators.

The results were stunning. Post-program surveys revealed steadily increasing numbers of students who recycle, and a partnered school has already developed a compost zone, vertical gardens, and pluvial water collection, with plans to install solar panels.

Julio was ready to scale. He applied to Agora’s Accelerator, looking to gain valuable consulting on how best to expand his company. With access to a network of successful social entrepreneurs, a consultant whose hands-on approach showed him his full potential for growth, and an experience at SOCAP where he was confident enough to ask for larger investments than ever before, Julio’s ambition was fully unleashed. He emerged from the Accelerator program with a stronger financial model that could be pitched to international investors, a clearer idea of the team he needed to scale his company, and a more solid communication strategy that allowed him to successfully secure investments six months later.

Promesa is now on the fast track. With an astonishing 100% retention rate of enrolled schools and a rapidly expanding team, Julio hopes to reach 250 schools in the next two months, 1000 schools by 2018, and 7000 schools by 2022. He is building connections across Mexico and the U.S., joining with foundations and associations to champion his environmental cause.

Julio wants to share his passion with everyone, believing that the program is the key to awakening the environmental consciousness of its many students. Promesa is fueled by the passion of its incredible team, and it is changing the world, one school at a time.

Learn more about Promesa at www.grupopromesa.com.

Indigo Impacto ensures access to safe drinking water

“As a social entrepreneur, you need to spend time on understanding the community you are impacting. You have to understand that market, and thoroughly understand their individual needs in order to best be able to help them.”

Israel Amezcua believes in the basic right of humans to access clean, affordable water. Throughout his life, Israel has always cultivated his natural entrepreneurial spirit, founding several ventures that sold products ranging from jewelry to organic coffee. But for the last decade, he dedicated his time to a civil association, working with safe water, management of natural resources, and rural development. Israel became increasingly drawn to the monumental importance and rising value of water. Faced with the quickly approaching effects of global warming, he knew that rural communities were most at risk and least capable of accessing clean, safe water.

Israel learned that, despite being one of the world’s largest consumers of freshwater per capita, Mexico still had over 20 million of its citizens living without access to clean water. This was causing a massive portion of the population to be extremely vulnerable to serious gastrointestinal diseases. Israel knew that something had to be done, and accordingly put his entrepreneurial spirit to work.

Working with Fermín, a friend from the same civil association, the two men decided that they wanted to empower these rural communities in the management of their own natural resource while simultaneously bringing them access to safe drinking water. Out of this idea, Indigo Impacto was born.

Conceived with a clear focus on these rural communities, Indigo Impacto builds on the existence of water purification kiosks in urban areas, adapting the models to more remote areas and using them to bring opportunity and autonomy to marginalized individuals. By selling the kiosk franchise for women to operate on their own, Indigo Impacto ensures a stable stream of income for individuals who were unlikely to ever own their own business. Additionally, the kiosks keep the price of safe water low and affordable for all of the community. They have even become a source of pride, proof that natural resources are being efficiently managed.

In addition to the purification kiosk franchise, Indigo Impacto sells simple systems that collect and purify rainwater for individual households. With these diverse services, Israel and Fermín are changing lives. Maricela, a resident of the rural Francisco Sarabia community in Chiapas, is a single mother who used to make a living cleaning houses. Introduced to the purification kiosks, she formed a group with four other women, installed a model, and began to run her brand new business. She now makes an income stable enough for her to spend time at home with her children and address their daily needs.

Inspired by Agora’s Latin American vision and focus, Israel applied to the Accelerator program in 2017. In the months that followed the initial retreat, Israel was guided by an invaluable consultant, readily available for support and consistently connecting him with new individuals and organizations that could push his business further. Indigo Impacto today is stronger than ever before, with a clearer pitch, message, and mission that have drawn in several interested investors.

Despite the rapid expansion of his company, Israel’s thirst for creating impact has not been quenched. He envisions Indigo Impacto operating in ten states throughout Mexico, installing between 300 and 500 kiosks to be operated by women, and selling 100,000 household purification systems. Israel runs his company driven by the need to create a better future for his family, and he is changing the world, one drop of clean water at a time.

Learn more about Indigo Impacto at http://indigoimpacto.mx.

Estación Vital fights chronic diseases in Nicaragua

“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.”

Continue reading Estación Vital fights chronic diseases in Nicaragua

Cruz Campo empowers rural women in Peru

“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.

Colab connects citizens and governments in Brazil

“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 marketing 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.

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.

Is Philanthropy Ready For System Change?

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.

Continue reading Is Philanthropy Ready For System Change?