Tag Archives: entrepreneur

ChurecaChic empowers women through fashion

“Agora has acted for us as a seal of approval to get other accelerators, organizations, and investors to be interested in us.”

Andrea Paltzer believes in the power of innovative fashion to drive hundreds of women into the formal economy. She spent much of her 20s working in various NGOs across Central and South America, dealing with children’s health, poverty, and education. Eventually, she arrived at a NGO focused on educational infrastructure in Nicaragua, and found herself enraptured with the question of how to help generations of adults without any formal education access stable careers.

It was around this time that she learned of La Chureca, a municipal and industrial landfill, more aptly described as the largest garbage dump in all of Central America, and home to a shockingly large, impoverished community. This community worked and played amongst the trash, making their living sorting through the scraps for bits of metal and plastic. Andrea’s heart was touched by the perseverance of these people, surviving in such terrible conditions, and she decided she had to help.

Andrea knew that their greatest challenge was not a lack of money, but a lack of the education required to make a living in the formal economy. Furthermore, as officially listed residents of La Chureca, these individuals carried a debilitating label, earning them only discrimination and scorn from potential employers. The solution, therefore, had to go beyond simple welfare payments. Andrea had to change the individuals. She thus launched the Earth Education Project (EEP), a job-skills education program specifically catered to La Chureca’s women, funded by a series of scholarships from its community recycling business.

The program enrolls women with neither formal education nor experience in the formal economy in a year of reading, writing, and computing classes. It extends beyond the cultivation of these hard skills, teaching self-esteem, conflict resolution, and household management to psychologically empower the women, allowing them to successfully hold onto employment once they enter the formal economy. Upon completion of the program, graduates are placed through organizational partners into steady jobs across the country.

Despite the EEP’s laudable mission and initial success, Andrea knew from experience that NGOs are hard to sustain. A steady source of income was necessary if she was to maintain the Project, and so she came up with an idea for how to generate profit. And, just like that, Chureca Chic was born.

Launched in 2013 as an independent fashion label and registered officially in 2015 as a social enterprise, Chureca Chic takes recycled materials from the dump and transforms them into beautiful pieces of unique jewelry. The company provides full-time employment to several EEP graduates, and its profits are funneled back into the Project to expand its scholarship program. Andrea’s greatest achievement, however, is that her company has empowered dozens of women, placing 150 graduates into formal jobs and employing seven women itself. Fany Guerrero, who used to work for $5 a month at a jewelry co-op, now makes $220 a month, running the production line at Chureca Chic and more confident in her abilities than ever before.

Hoping to expand her vision, Andrea applied to Agora’s Accelerator and was accepted to its 2016 class. Her company, just founded, was an exception, a couple years behind the rest of her social entrepreneurial peers. But with the help of a patient and committed consultant, Andrea bridged this divide. She reorganized her projects and financial statements and emerged from the Accelerator with a clear investor report, a strengthened growth strategy, and contacts for potential sources of funding and partnerships.

Today, Andrea is focused on increasing national sales and expanding throughout the region. She plans to incorporate recycled plastic and wood into Chureca Chic’s raw materials, diversifying her products and eventually reaching the European market. Andrea hopes to one day absorb all running costs of the Earth Education Project, and is well on her way to meeting that goal.

Andrea is inspired everyday by the women she sees transformed through the EEP and empowered by formal employment. She believes that persistence, resilience, and consistent innovation have transformed the idea of La Chureca from something detestable into something beautiful. Andrea runs her company on the values of commitment, responsibility, and honesty, and her team of women are changing the world, one recycled string of beads at a time.

Learn more about ChurecaChic at www.eartheducationproject.org.

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

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.

Completing the Puzzle: how the Agora Accelerator helped PACE MD piece together a complicated business model

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.

Continue reading Completing the Puzzle: how the Agora Accelerator helped PACE MD piece together a complicated business model

Retreat 2014: Accelerating the Shift Toward a New Economy

IMG_6749 (1)

John Kohler, Co-Founder of Toniic and leader in the field of impact investing, stated it bluntly: “I’d rather fund a medium business plan with excellent people, rather than a great plan with medium people.” When it comes to entrepreneurship, particularly at the early stage, the founding team of entrepreneurs plays an absolutely indispensable role. They are the ones making the decisions, taking the risks, and creating businesses that have the potential to shift the way that business functions in society. They bring a unique energy that is truly indispensable, an energy that could be felt powerfully throughout the week of January 27 in Granada, Nicaragua during the Agora 2014 Entrepreneur Retreat.

IMG_6030 (1)The Entrepreneur Retreat serves as the launch event for the Agora Accelerator, an intensive, 3-stage program designed to give entrepreneurs access to the knowledge, networks, and capital they need to scale their business models and their impact. The 2014 Retreat was designed with the intent of strengthening three key components of the early stage ecosystem: the community, the business, the individual. The agenda challenged the entrepreneurs to dive deep into both their business models and their own decision-making as leaders. However, as the week came to a close, the development of the community became a top priority for many present

IMG_4441“Back home we are already feeling SAUDADES, a word in Portuguese that describes the feeling when you miss people who, for some period of time, were a part of your life, and for whom you will forever have wonderful memories,” Raquel Cruz, Co-Founder of Brasil Aromaticos, recalled. “I want to convey my gratitude for the opportunity to be with people so special. People who are ahead of the times with their businesses; who are creating both profit and impact…and above all, people who know that it is always possible to do more. I feel honored to have been in a group of people who believe, share their dreams, and are ready for action AGORA (Agora in Portuguese means NOW)”.

At Agora we believe that building this community is critical to accelerating the shift in business from business that focuses solely on profit creation to models that create value for all shareholders. Each of the entrepreneurs in our Accelerator is taking an enormous risk. They are challenging traditional models and building new approaches in some of the most difficult environments in the world. They are creating platforms for marginalized farmers to access and share invaluable data; they are employing prisoners to produce hammocks in high demand; they are bridging the gap between tourism, indigenous communities, and the exquisite natural beauty of Mexico; they are revolutionizing mobility in Brazil with the first ever electric car sharing program; and they are re-foresting Mexico by selling and re-planting carefully-extracted, live Christmas trees. These entrepreneurs are are doing it because they truly believe it is possible to build a dynamic, competitive, and inclusive economy that creates value for all and walks the often misunderstood line between purpose and profit. The Agora Retreat is just one step on the journey of these modern-day pioneers towards accelerating the full impact of that collective vision.

IMG_4382“I returned to Mexico with a complete paradigm change,” 2014 Entrepreneur Kitti Szabo, Co-Founder of La Mano del Mono, concluded. “Now I can dream big.”

 

 

 

 

How Tegu is using Social Media to Fight Poverty in Honduras

Tegu founders Will and Chris Haughey

MARKETING, MEDIA, & DEVELOPMENT
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – social media terms now dominate the language of mainstream marketing. Companies around the world have adopted a barrage of digital tools to debut new products, gain feedback from consumers, and, more generally, communicate in interesting and compelling ways with their consumers. Though social media has emerged as the go-to toolkit for traditional profit-seeking companies, could it also be one of the key components of impact-oriented businesses to fighting poverty in the developing world? Agora entrepreneurs Will and Chris Haughey, along with their wooden toy company, Tegu, seem to think so.

TEGU, MAGNATES, & HONDURAS
Will and Chris launched Tegu (short for Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras) in 2009 out of the desire to create jobs in Honduras and to become the employer of choice in the impoverished nation. The company, which now employees 56 people in Honduras and six in the United States, has reinvented the traditional wooden block by incorporating magnets into its design. This simple addition allows for more play possibilities beyond simply stacking blocks one on top of the other.

Tegu Products

“Our first priority when we started Tegu was to address unemployment in Honduras,” Will explains. “The more products we sale, the more jobs we create. If we can engage people with our story, then we can engage people with our products. Engaging people in our products and story ultimately results in more employment opportunities for people living in Honduras.”

LIKES, FOLLOWS, & VIEWS
Will admits he had limited experience in the social media space before starting Tegu. In fact, he did not create a Facebook account until 2008. However, over the past two years, Tegu’s social media accounts have grown appreciably. Currently, the company amasses over 3,600 Facebook likes, more than 1,800 Twitter followers, and nearly 30,000 views on its branded YouTube page. Though Tegu’s digital presence is strong across multiple platforms, Facebook has emerged as the centerpiece of its digi-strategy.

“We like to use Facebook to highlight new products and share images of what we’re doing in Honduras,” Will notes. “We currently have two products that were named on Facebook. We posted a new product and asked our followers to help us name it. We took their suggestions and acted on them.”

Tegu product named by Facebook fans

Will adds that Facebook has been a critical outlet for receiving feedback from customers, ultimately helping the company craft even better products. Just a quick scroll through their page reveals countless company “@mentions” by followers and a stream of shared photographs and videos from customers around the world. Tegu often responds to many of the posts as a way of keeping the conversation active, a process Will describes as “ongoing.”

A LAB COAT, NATIVITY SCENE, & THE MONA LISA
One of Tegu’s more innovative digital marketing campaigns involved showcasing the varied and often unexpected ways the magnetic blocks can be configured. The campaign, titled “Tegu Live,” employed Livestream, a live streaming video platform, as a means of interacting with their digital audience.

Over the course of the campaign, participants could communicate with a Tegu Genius on Tegu.com (via Twitter, Facebook and Livestream). Once navigated to the site, viewers found a mysterious man in a Tegu-branded lab coat, a stark white table, and a jumble of multicolored Tegu magnetic blocks. Viewers typed in their requests, watched as their vision was assembled by the unnamed “Genius,” and, in a matter of minutes, the mass of blocks was shaped into a helicopter, a ship, a checkered board, the Nativity Scene, and even the Mona Lisa, among other creations.

 

FACEBOOK, ENGAGEMENT, & IMPACT
“Using social media is a great way to engage people in your company or product,” Will concludes. “For us, when people are engaged and buying our products, then they are helping us to create critical employment opportunities for people living in Honduras. In that respect, using social media is an important part of achieving our aim of serving the poor through profit.”

 

 

Former Agora Fellow Starts Impact Business: Pitaya Plus

We are very proud of former Agora fellow Chuck Casano who has gone on to found his own Nicaragua-based impact business, Pitaya Plus.

Pitaya Plus is described as “the one and only Pitaya juice, smoothie, and dry fruit company in the world.” More commonly known as the dragon fruit in Asia, Pitaya carries an array of health benefits such as being rich in Vitamin C, Calcium, and magnesium.

Pitaya Plus works with local organic pitaya farmers to create jobs and promote sustainable farming methods in Nicaragua. The company is making an impact through hiring single mothers from impoverished rural communities providing necessary income to support their families.

Today, Pitaya Plus products can be found in natural health food stores throughout the US. Check out the video below to learn more. Great work Chuck!

The Story of Pitaya Plus from Pitaya Plus on Vimeo.

Agora Entrepreneur: Plantech

Agora entrepreneur, David García of Plantech, is dedicated to making products that have direct environmental impact by using organic compounds for fertilizer. Plantech is a biotechnology company that produces organic alternatives to traditional agrichemicals, allowing farmers to produce quality crops at a low cost and minimize their exposure to hazardous substance.

“One thing that most motivates me to pursue this project is to assist in the development of technology, especially biotechnology, in Costa Rica and the rest of the region. In recent years, our countries have been merely spectators to advancements in areas like computing, electronics and biotechnology – all important elements for economic development in up-and-coming societies. If Central America wants to be part of this scenario – and reap the benefits – it is necessary to undertake local projects, within our means, that directly improve our own societies. Technologies made for us and by us will greatly benefit our countries.”

For more from David, check out this video:

 

For more information on how to help David and other Agora entrepreneurs, learn more about our Impact Investor Conference.

Agora Entrepreneur: Oscarito’s

“We are always inspired because we love what we do, but we are also motivated by our ability to provide jobs in a country where there are so few employment opportunities. We are committed to moving forward in spite of the difficulties we face.”

Aida Patricia Mayorga of Oscarito’s is dedicated to the principles behind Agora’s mission: using business for social good. Oscarito’s designs and produces clothing and uniforms for children and infants as well as embroidering services for corporate promotional materials. Ten years after starting with a $100 microloan, Oscarito’s has more than 45 employees and international clients. What’s more amazing is the company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Oscarito’s production processes have been certified by ISO 14001.

Aida explains more about the company and their impact entrepreneurship drive in the video below:

For more information on Oscarito’s and Agora’s other entrepreneurs, visit our website.

Agora Entrepreneur: CO2 Bambu.

What keeps Agora going are the powerful mission-driven entrepreneurs that bring business and social good together to create positive change. One such organization is CO2 Bambu.

CO2 Bambu’s founder, Ben Sandzer-Bell, believes firmly in the mission his organization seeks to solve. He tells us:

“Several years ago, I decided to change my priorities and make environmental impact the heart of my professional work. Furthermore, as a resident in a new country, Nicaragua, with a poverty level higher than the previous countries I’ve lived in, I wanted to have not only an environmental impact – but also a social one.”

For marginalized populations living in Nicaragua’s most remote areas, living conditions are poor and stable housing is difficult to come by. To fill this void of adequate shelter, CO2 Bambu constructs sustainable housing using bamboo as the primary raw material. Maintain bamboo farms as a means of capturing carbon is an integral part of their operations. In doing so, the organization creates a triple-bottom line model, creating economic, social and environmental good.
Image: CO2 Bambu
CO2 Bambu aims for ecological impact by substituting higher carbon footprint materials with sustainable materials (in this case, bamboo) in the reconstruction after natural disasters. Further, it supports reforestation and plantation development, creating fair trade jobs across the full value chain of bamboo processing.

With such a powerful business model proofed out in Nicaragua, Co2 Bambu is expanding to Haiti. The company has already received launched contracts in Haiti, launched a small pilot reforestation project, assembled the first of many future field assembly teams, built a first model house in Leogane, the epicenter of the January 12, 2011 earthquake, and selected a warehouse from which to address the Haiti reconstruction market.

By working with impact entrepreneurs such as the team behind CO2 Bambu, Agora helps unleash their potential for good.