Tag Archives: agora

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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Agora Accelerator Provides Birds-Eye View for Entrepreneurs in Latin America


Luciérnaga distributes small solar lighting technologies that affordably meet the
lighting and device charging needs for energy poor populations in Central America. Luciérnaga fights energy poverty, delivers clean energy, and strengthens markets. The company has sold 3,400 solar lights, providing 17,000 people with access to light and allowing them to save up to $220 per year.

Luciérnaga participated in the 2014 Agora Accelerator. We interviewed the Founder and Managing Director, Sebastian Africano, to learn more about why he decided to apply for the Accelerator and what value he gained.

Continue reading Agora Accelerator Provides Birds-Eye View for Entrepreneurs in Latin America

Women Entrepreneurs Focus of New Collaboration Between Agora Partnerships and The Eleos Foundation

Agora Class of ’11 entrepreneur Aida Mayorga is the owner of Oscarito’s, a children’s clothing store based outside Managua, Nicaragua.

Agora Partnerships, a Washington, D.C.- and Managua-based nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the growth of early-stage, impact companies throughout Latin America, today announced a partnership with The Eleos Foundation that will unleash the potential of women in Latin America through the power of entrepreneurship.

The Agora-Eleos LatAm Women’s Fund, a collaboration between the two organizations, will provide gender-lens investing opportunities for early-stage impact investors to accelerate the success of women-run companies, as well as those that support the empowerment of women and girls, in Latin America.

“The Agora-Eleos LatAm Women’s Fund embodies the very heart of the Agora mission,” said Agora Partnerships CEO and Founder Ben Powell. “Leveraging the power of the market to create an environment ripe for social entrepreneurship gets at the core of what we do. And with a special focus on providing gender-lens investment opportunities, the fund with Eleos creates a special kind of economic and social force that will positively impact communities for years to come.”

Agora Partnerships, through its Impact Accelerator, surfaces high-potential

An employee of Kiej de los Bosques, an Agora Class of ’11 company run by Maria Pacheco of Guatemala.

entrepreneurs seeking to create impact and then provides them with the strategic consulting, mentoring, leadership development, and a community of peers. The Eleos Foundation, working with Agora, conducts due diligence on companies in the Accelerator that meet its investment criteria and then assumes the role of lead investor in those companies in which it decides to invest. Individual and institutional investors are given the opportunity to co-invest in selected deals through individual series LLCs set up by Eleos Investment Management LLC. The structure of this partnership fills a critical need for both entrepreneurs and investors.

Those interested in learning more about Agora Partnerships, the Eleos Foundation, or the Agora-Eleos LatAm Women’s Fund should contact Becky Bailey (bbailey@agorapartnerships.org) or Karla Newendorp (karlanewendorp@theeleosfoundation.com).

About Agora Partnerships

Agora Partnerships is an early pioneer of the impact-investing and -entrepreneurship movement, with a core focus on supporting ventures at the seed and early stages. Launched in 2005 as an alliance between entrepreneurs from both Nicaragua and Columbia Business School, Agora created the first impact-investment fund of its kind in the region, trained thousands of small-business entrepreneurs in Nicaragua and has helped drive approximately $5 million into more than 40 small businesses across Central America. Today, through its Accelerator program, Agora is committed to creating a pipeline of small-business entrepreneurs (between about $50,000 and $1 million in revenues) from across Latin America: entrepreneurs who are ready, willing, and able to build a more sustainable and successful economy. Agora’s mission is to unleash their potential and the potential of business’ new role in solving our common challenges.

Visit our website at www.agorapartnerships.org, follow us on Twitter @AgoraPrtnrships, and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AgoraPartnerships.

About The Eleos Foundation

The Eleos Foundation and Eleos Investment Management LLC, invest in and partner with social entrepreneurs who effectively implement high impact, early stage, pioneering market based solutions in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. Eleos provides opportunities for co-investors to invest in funds at the forefront of pioneering markets. Eleos also develops and facilitates partnerships with social entrepreneurs, negotiates alongside them, and empowers them to get to scale and attract the necessary capital investment.

To learn more visit www.theeleosfoundation.com.

The Man Who Dreamed of Growing Oysters

We have been working with entrepreneurs in Nicaragua since 2005. The first entrepreneur we worked with was a man named Jaime Salazar. Everybody loved Jaime and everybody loved his dream – to build a world-class oyster farm off the coast of Nicaragua to sell to an eager population in El Salvador. I tried to help him raise money by pitching the idea at Columbia Business School’s Outrageous business plan competition – which consisted of a one minute pitch for a crazy business idea. With an oyster in one hand and copies of signed letters of intent to buy from Salvadorian restaurants, I tried to argue that this business was not only outrageous, it was outrageously awesome – with gross margins to die for. This is how the Q&A went down:

NYC Venture Capitalist Judge: Why Nicaragua?

Me: The entrepreneur lives there and oysters grow well there.

(pause)

NYC Venture Capitalist Judge: Thank you. Next.

Nothing ever came easy for Jaime, despite having masters in marine biology and being one of greatest experts on oysters in Nicaragua, he found it hard to convince himself – and his family – that he could pull off his vision. We believed in him and connected him to resources and volunteers. His business plan got better. We helped him apply for funding to go to Chile to learn world class production techniques. They could be brought to Nicaragua, easily. But before we could invest money in him – he needed a place to grow his oysters. That meant finding the perfect location and getting the proper government permits. He found the right location with a friendly owner who supported the companies ecological mission (to save natural oysters that were being overfished in El Salvador). He started the permitting process, investing time and money to go from one agency to the next. He got one permit. Then another. He needed just one more permit. Then there was an election. The government changed. The new government ordered that all public permitting currently in process be immediately suspended. Then it decided that the permitting process itself of the former government could not be trusted. That included the marine biologists who issued the permits, who lost their jobs. All Jaime needed to do was start from scratch — just as soon as the new staff could be hired and trained and new processes put in place.

Jaime had a decision to make. Some might say it was this: Forge on or surrender.

I myself would put it differently, I would put it this way: this is bullshit. And that’s exactly what it is.

Jaime never even got a chance to try – to compete or even to fail – because his dream was destroyed by the forces that fear and discourage entrepreneurship. Like most things in life, there was no conspiracy to destroy Ostras del Pacifico. I doubt the government had any idea of Jaime’s dreams, or what they could do for the impoverished youth on the coast desperate for a job.

Whatever the policies intention is actually not even the point. The point is that there was not enough cultural capital in Nicaragua to say: Stop! This is madness! Crushing the dreams of our best would-be entrepreneurs through regulatory inconsistency and caprice is not a good way to development a country or attract investment. It’s not just bad strategy – it’s born out of a culture that is inhospitable to innovation, that at best does not value and at worst actively fears entrepreneurship. It is this culture, which is prevalent across many parts of the world, that we need to fight tooth and nail because it is preventing millions of people from getting out of poverty because entrepreneurs aren’t pursuing their dreams and creating jobs in the process.

My sense is that Jaime — who is a pretty Zen, glass-half-full kind of guy — is doing just fine in his current job. He has gotten over it and moved on. I haven’t. We will never know what the business could have achieved, the lives it could have impacted. Why does it have to be so hard to try to do things differently?

When this happened to Jaime, we sat in shock, feeling frustrated and helpless, and pissed off beyond measure after investing more than two-years and hundreds of man-hours alongside him. If something like that ever happens again to an Agora entrepreneur, we want to be able to rally our entire community and confront the forces opposed to entrepreneurship on the battlefield of ideas. Win or not, it will be a good fight, because we know, utterly and truly, that this is what developing countries need help create better lives for more people.

Ben Powell

Founder