Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

D&E Green Enterprises promotes clean cookstoves in Haiti

“For my fellow social entrepreneurs, never fall in love with your solution. Fall in love with the problem.”

Duquesne Fednard believes that homegrown entrepreneurs need to fall in love with the problems facing Haiti, relying upon themselves rather than foreign aid to push their country into the future. Duquesne was born in a small Haitian town to a mother who had only a 3rd grade education and a father who could neither read nor write. Despite their own limitations, Duquesne’s parents instilled in him the value of taking initiative and the understanding that education would be his ticket to prosperity. Raised in a town that, even now, has no electricity or running water, little Duquesne housed an entrepreneurial fire whose brazen flames endure to this day.

At the age of 9, Duquesne was left alone to proctor his class’ exams. While his teacher desperately tried to woo the attractive teacher next door, the young entrepreneur seized upon this opportunity. Within weeks he had a full-blown business running, making sure students who wanted to cheat had to pay him, or risk the wrath of their lovesick teacher. By the end of the year, Duquesne had made enough money to buy himself a few toys.

At 16, Duquesne opened a print shop, his first formal business on the island, but he craved foreign exposure and experience. And so, he sold his print shop and moved to the United States, spending the next fourteen years on the fast track. He worked in a consulting firm, pursued a graduate degree, became an investment banker on the famed Wall Street, and even worked for Mayor Bloomberg. But his heart remained firmly tethered to Haiti.

He began to conduct market research on the existing organizations operating in Haiti and realized that his country had become overrun by NGOs, many of which had the best intentions  but were only creating greater problems. The deluge of foreign aid not only made Haitians increasingly dependent, but also destroyed many of their jobs. Duquesne knew he had to provide a local solution to a local problem that could be implemented by the local community.

Armed with the knowledge that 95% of Haitians still use charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking, Duquesne identified the energy market as an easy entry-point. He hoped to address both the environmental damage caused by this reliance as well as the social disparity that saw 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The solution became D&E Green Enterprises. Bringing affordable, reliable and clean energy to these impoverished communities, D&E manufactures and sells energy-efficient cook-stoves and integrates its customers into a financing scheme that helps generate savings.

Duquesne excitedly designed his prototype in 2009 and turned all his savings into a new factory with equipment that would manufacture the cook-stoves. But in January of 2010, disaster struck. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, taking the lives of 220,000 Haitians and the homes of another 1.5 million. Duquesne’s factory and all the new equipment inside were reduced to a heap of rubble. When Duquesne finally managed to visit the site, he noticed that a 39 year old who had been trained to work at his factory was visiting its remains every day. The factory was supposed to provide him with his first formal job, and despite the fact that this dream of an improved life lay in ruins before him, the man continued to show up at the site, desperately searching for a sense of normalcy.

It was at this moment that Duquesne remembered that his project was bigger than himself. Beyond the destruction of his dream and the loss of all his savings, his business had been a beacon of hope for all those involved. And so, picking himself up by the bootstraps, Duquesne got back to work. Over the next three years, his workers manufactured the cook-stoves manually, working in flimsy tents as hurricanes came and went. By 2014, the factory was rebuilt and his company was back on track.

Knowing that he needed capital to scale  his business was raising money, Duquesne applied to Agora’s Accelerator in 2017. His initial expectations were far surpassed. He gained access to a wonderful community and support system of fellow social entrepreneurs and was given the tools to get him closer to investment. Over the course of the past four months, a dedicated and perfectly-matched consultant helped him stay focused, maintain the structure of his business, and clearly define his priorities and responsibilities.

D&E today has sold over 125,000 cookstoves, directly impacting 600,000 lives. It has created over 60 full-time jobs and empowered over 100 local distributors. Duquesne hopes that, five years from now, there will be millions of low-income individuals on his savings-by-consumption platform, and D&E will be operating in three countries.

In the many ups and downs of his entrepreneurial journey, Duquesne has learned that, as a social entrepreneur, one must fall in love with the problem and not the solution. Believing himself incredibly blessed to be able to help others, Duquesne runs his company with humility, openness, and resilience, changing the world, one cook-stove at a time.  

Learn more about D&E Green Enterprises at http://www.dandegreen.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 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.

Cocotech transforms coastal Colombian communities

“Agora teaches you not only the financial components, but also the personal and emotional components necessary for success.”

Germán Mejia believes in the incredible potential of the coconut shell to be the vehicle of prosperity for coastal Colombian communities.

For nearly twenty years, Germán devoted his energy to cultivating his homeland’s most famous export, beautiful flowers.  During these two decades in horticulture, he had the opportunity to explore the hydroponic cultivation of flowers with coconut fiber substrates and realized that the shell of this fruit had an incredible potential for improving the cultivation of vegetables like tomatoes, ornamental plants, vertical orchid gardens, and ‘green’ roofs.

Excited by the many uses and benefits of coconut fibers and substrate, Germán remembered the family trips to the Caribbean coast in his boyhood and the innumerable coconuts he had seen strewn across the department of Córdoba. He had not returned to the region in decades and decided to give it a visit. What he saw opened his eyes to the monumental opportunity awaiting him.

To avoid snakes nesting, the local communities were disposing of the coconut shells by throwing them on the beach or burning them completely, a practice that was severely polluting the air. Germán’s raw material, shockingly abundant, was thus not only being discarded but also contributing to the environmental degradation of the region. Moreover, these communities were living in abject poverty, the worst residing in homes of cracked plastic, with no access to clean water or electricity, and no sanitary bathroom or a functional area for cooking. Seeing the conditions for the first time through adult eyes, Germán was appalled. The man who, as a child, had told his mother at least once a week that he wanted to become a doctor and help people, was moved to action. And thus, Cocotech was born.

Cocotech buys coconut shells from these impoverished coastal communities, recycling them and transforming them into substrates for use in agriculture and horticulture. It thus simultaneously reduces the environmental contamination of the region and brings employment and additional income to families in desperate need of resources.

Since its conception in 2012, Cocotech has consistently progressed, entering the competitive market for coconut fiber substrates, and gaining a share substantial enough to break even. It has developed a buffering agent to treat the coconut shells and added coconut chips to its production line, further expanding its opportunities. In 2016, Cocotech became a finalist for Innpulsa, a Colombian entrepreneurial competition, and won first prize for sustainability with Corporacion Ventures, receiving national recognition for its incredible work.

Ambitious and ready to expand, Germán applied to Agora’s Accelerator program on the recommendation of an important potential client. The Accelerator provided him with invaluable materials, a methodology for growth, months of support from a consultant who was consistently well-prepared and committed to his company’s development, and the opportunity to present himself before investors and credit lenders in the hope of acquiring financing.

Newly equipped, Germán’s company today is poised for rapid growth. Germán hopes to continue expanding the plan of benefits for Cocotech’s employees that has thus far improved his workers’ education, health, living situation, and even their diet. In five years, he wants to acquire a major American client and develop a partnership with weavers who make artisanal products with coconut fibers, further unlocking the infinite possibilities of this little fruit.

Germán has brought hope and opportunity to an area that has remained virtually unchanged for the last 45 years. Within a population trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, he is changing lives. He runs his company with the sense of responsibility and empathy that have so guided his life, and he is changing the world, one coconut at a time.

Learn more about Cocotech at cocotech.com.co.

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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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.

For more posts from Brian Bell click here

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.

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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.

Entrepreneurial Success: 7 Simple Actions

enerselva3I joined Agora because I was inspired by its work to promote the development of social entrepreneurs in Latin America. After selecting entrepreneurs generating positive social impact in Latin America, Agora facilitates these entrepreneurs’ access to financial, social, and human capital to increase their success and impact. I am currently advising four social social enterprises in Peru: two in clean cookstoves, one in solar lamps, and one in organic smallholder agriculture.

Having worked in microenterprise, small business training, and consulting in Africa and Latin America, I believe human and social capital are even more important to individual, company, and country development than financial capital. Here are the most important verbs I have identified for successful entrepreneurs:

Continue reading Entrepreneurial Success: 7 Simple Actions