Tag Archives: impact investing

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.

A Brighter Idea for the Future

One idea lights a thousand candles.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imagination and light go hand in hand. A bright idea is commonly depicted with a light bulb, or more specifically, a traditional incandescent bulb – the very same kind that was invented more than 100 years. Our ideas have evolved greatly over the past 100 years, so why has the object used to depict them remained static?

Try to imagine a solar lamp of versatile and sustainable design, a base from which to explore your creativity, adaptable over time to fit the needs of the future. This is a much more accurate representation of the ideas emerging from society today.

Continue reading A Brighter Idea for the Future

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:

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Con Ágora Partnerships, uno siempre tiene más de lo que espera

IMG_6309Marcelo Hernandez Mahecha y Alexander Valencia participaron en La Aceleradora Agora 2014. Su negocio, CAIA Ingeniería, provee servicios de consultoría de energía y emisiones para empresas en industrias de alto consumo energético en Colombia. Luego, CAIA brinda servicios para implementar las mejoras recomendadas, a través de innovadores contratos de rendimiento de ahorro energético, que reducen o hasta eliminan las salidas de flujos de sus clientes.

Hablamos con Marcelo sobre su experiencia en La Aceleradora Agora y esto fue lo que nos contó.

Continue reading Con Ágora Partnerships, uno siempre tiene más de lo que espera

The Value of Community Along the Road Less Traveled

Vega is solving a major problem in the coffee industry: 80% of coffee farmers worldwide (20 million farmers) are trapped in a cycle of subsistence farming, earning around $1 per pound of coffee which is ultimately sold for upwards of $20 per pound. Typical coffee supply chains include around 20 middlemen and can take up to 6 months for the coffee bean to reach the consumer.

Vega empowers coffee farmers in Nicaragua to process their own premium beans, and connects them directly with coffee lovers on their online marketplace.

Continue reading The Value of Community Along the Road Less Traveled

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

Successful Impact Investment in Nicaragua

photo 1 (1) (4)Aida Patricia is the founder of Oscaritos, a textile business that she started in Nicaragua in 1996 with only 100 dollars from a microfinance loan. In November 2013, Aida completed the repayment of a debt investment from Pomona Impact, an angel investment group founded in 2011. We had the opportunity to speak with Aida and congratulate her on the successful repayment.

Aida, tell us a little about your history with Pomona.

I entered the Agora Accelerator so I could prepare my company to receive investment and had the opportunity to present my company to a group of investors. It was in Granada, in 2011, where we met Pomona. They paid a lot of attention to our company and when we spoke with them, they directly asked us how much we need, and that is how it happened. They gave us a loan of $30,000 that we invested as working capital. This investment has really helped us to grow, in fact we doubled our sales this year. We are working on a report where we document our significant growth and the impact is has had for us and on the lives of our many employees.

How was the process of working with Pomona?

The link was Agora. Agora was always aware of our relationship and served as an intermediary, helping us communicate with Pomona and prepare the right documentation throughout the entire process. Sometimes, as a SME it is hard for us to understand what investors need and their way of thinking. Agora helped us establish the relationship with Pomona and was there every step of the way. However, the relationship became more than just a business deal. Our colleagues told us that it is amazing what we have with Pomona, a relationship was more than just about a loan. They really came to be part of the Oscaritos family. It was a successful investment and we thank them very much for that trust they had in us. I want to send Mark and Rich our deepest appreciation from everyone at Oscaritex. I do not have the words needed to thank all that we have achieved thanks to Pomona.

Richard Ambrose, co-founder of Pomona Impact, added a few remarks on Aida and the investment process:

In our opinion, Aida represents the untapped entrepreneurial energy in Central America that is ready to be unlocked. I credit her and Oscar (husband) for the courage, vision and uncompromising honesty needed to get the business started WHILE delivering on her social mission.  Instead of mimicking the harsh working conditions that many garment manufacturers use to drive production, she built an open-air production facility that invites natural light and fresh air as well as a respectful working environment for her employees.  

Agora was instrumental first in identifying her as a worthy candidate for its accelerator and second in providing the additional training necessary to help get Oscaritos ready for investment.  Throughout the life of the investment, Pomona even received additional support from Agora to assist with some reporting issues that Oscaritos was having trouble completing.  This translated to both cost and time savings for us (Pomona).  Quite simply – Agora continues to impress!

We received the final repayment of the loan from Oscaritos on time and with an equitable financial return. We maintain a close relationship and look forward to collaborating on future projects. Thanks to all involved!

Reflections on Agora’s 2013 Entrepreneur Retreat

Agora's Accelerator Class of '13
Agora’s Accelerator Class of ’13

It’s been about 2 weeks week since I returned from Agora’s Entrepreneur Retreat in Nicaragua, and I am still processing the experience.  During a week of many powerful moments and intimate conversations, a few stand out. They stand out for me not just because of their poignancy, but because they show the powerful, disruptive potential of the accelerator model for creating and scaling change.

The Ambassador’s Address

South Korean Ambassador to Nicaragua Soon Tae Kim at Agora’s 2013 Entrepreneur Retreat
South Korean Ambassador to Nicaragua Soon Tae Kim at Agora’s 2013 Entrepreneur Retreat

It’s Thursday, January 31 at the Casa Dingledine, a beautiful old house perched on a cliff overlooking Managua and the surrounding lake.  About 60 people are packed into the living room – many of them are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs representing 27 businesses stand up, one by one. They introduce themselves, explain their business, and state their commitment to creating a better Latin America. I glance around at the people watching the entrepreneurs talk.

The room is filled with members of the Managua business and diplomatic community. The head of the World Bank for Nicaragua, the DCM (#2) of the US Embassy, And Agora co-founder Ricardo Teran’s entire family are there to support us.  And so is Soon Tae Kim, the Ambassador of South Korea to Nicaragua.

The fact that Ambassador Kim is present is by no means random. We invited him and are delighted he was able to make it. It’s taken us nearly 7 years, but we finally received a grant of about $230,000 from the Inter-American Development Bank to help support the Agora Class of 2013. The actual source of the funding comes not from the bank itself, but from the Government of South Korea. There is something very special about this money. It feels hard earned, both by us and by the Koreans. The Koreans have talked the talk and walked the walk. The most successful and sustained assault on poverty in human history was launched by the Koreans in the 1960s and continues to this day.

In 1960, Korea had a GDP per capita of $79, compared to $128 in Nicaragua and $13,414 for the U.S. After the Korean War, the country was in shambles. Today the country has a GDP per capita of about $32,100, ten times that of Nicaragua and, among many accomplishments, has created the only product that can compete with the iPhone (the Samsung Galaxy). All of us at Agora feel honored to be receiving this funding from the people of South Korea – funding that was generated through incredible hard work and a focus on innovation by a people with no natural resources to speak of, bordered by a hostile, totalitarian regime.

Agora’s Entrepreneurs

As the entrepreneurs are introducing themselves one by one, I steal a glance at the Ambassador, who is standing by the wall, listening intently – what does he make of this scene of entrepreneurs from 13 Latin American countries talking about their vision and

An Agora entrepreneur presents his business to the crowd at Casa Ding
An Agora entrepreneur presents his business to the crowd at Casa Dingledine in Managua, Nicaragua.

commitment? The entrepreneurs continue talking. They are on a roll; the energy in the room is building. The businesses are all unique, representing 10 distinct impact areas, but the sum is greater than its parts. The introductions form a collective voice, the voice of a new generation that has taken it upon themselves to create the change they want to see in the world. All of a sudden, anything seems possible. After the last entrepreneur sits down, we invite Maria Pacheco, a Guatemalan from Agora’s Class of ’11, to say a few words.  Listening to her, I hear, this time in Spanish, some of the words she spoke in San Francisco at the main stage at SoCap 2011. Maria finishes speaking and Ricardo tells everyone we will soon be showing a short video of last year’s Impact Investing in Action conference. He thanks the guests and the Ambassador. And then it happens. Ambassador Kim steps forward and asks if he can say a few words. The room falls silent.  He thanks us, and praises the entrepreneurs. Then he says,  “50 years ago we were one of the poorest countries in the world – poorer than most countries in Africa; Poorer than Nicaragua. What we did to grow was to come together and to focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.  You are doing exactly what we did. You are coming together as a community. This is the right way to create development.”

He spoke for about 10 minutes and talked about his life and his work throughout Latin America. It turns out that 20 years ago he helped start the program that is now funding us. Listening to Ambassador Kim – representing a people who have learned how to develop through iteration, innovation, and partnership among government, civil society, and business  — was a welcome tonic.  Change can happen – it has happened – it is happening – and everything is possible.

The Importance of Community

It all starts with people coming together. Before you can quantify impact, before you can conduct randomized double blind studies, before you can have a chance of creating long lasting change, you need first to get people together in a room and commit to a shared vision of the future.  That commitment, from entrepreneurs and then eventually from government and other actors, is the basic soil from which the seeds of change can grow.

When I was in college, we learned that most of the problems in Latin America boiled down to an underdeveloped civil society. But the definition we learned of civil society usually excluded the markets and business. Business was not seen as a key component of civil society. In many places this is still the rule, but it’s a rule whose time has come and gone. Now it’s time to create a new rule. Ambassador Kim and the amazing entrepreneurs of the Class of 2013 are telling us that entrepreneurship must be an important part of civil society for real growth to happen. When people come together with a shared vision of the future and support each other – whether they are entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, consultants, or ambassadors, change accelerates. It happened in South Korea. And it’s happening right now in Latin America.

Agora Entrepreneur Turns off Lights, Aims to Innovate Solar Energy Sector in Guatemala

quetsol - out of the dark(GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA) Today, Juanish Rodriguez, founder of the Guatemalan solar company Quetsol, will be turning his lights off until he can turn lights on for millions in his home country.

Via the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, Quetsol is seeking the $50,000 it needs to launch a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solar power kit. The new model bridges the gap between the high price of solar technology and the severe energy needs of Guatemala’s poorest rural communities without access to electricity.

To get a sense of this technology’s potential, do the following: Imagine a woman—let’s call her Juanita—lives in an indigenous community three hours by foot from an electrical grid. She wants power in her home so that her children can read and she can spend time with her family at night without inhaling kerosene fumes. She has heard that solar power can reach anywhere—she cannot access electrical lines, but the sun is within everyone’s access—but cannot see how she can scrape together the upfront cost to purchase solar technology when her family can barely afford candles.

Now imagine a scenario in which Juanita gets solar power into her home right away without needing to pool together her next six month’s savings. From each month’s earnings, she decides how much to contribute to her electricity and buys it only as she needs it. Imagine a solar company that allows Juanita to invest in a permanent energy solution at the speed that she can afford because they believe income grows after a home has electricity.

This last scenario is the one that Mr. Rodriguez will be unplugging his own lights to make a reality. The PAYG model is the innovation that the solar industry has been lacking when it comes to reaching the world’s poorest communities. It makes solar a realistic energy source for the 2.6 million Juanitas in Guatemala, and 1.6 billion throughout the world, who rely on candles and kerosene to light their homes. By eliminating the high upfront cost that prevents millions of people from purchasing solar, PAYG opens up renewable energy to thousands more. And by providing an easy financing option—pay-when-you-can vs. pay-on-this-date—it will get this solar into more homes, faster.

In fact, Quetsol expects to see sales increase by 1700%, distributing 100,000 kits and reaching over 505,000 people in the next five years. While Quetsol’s current solar kits save clients 20% of their previous candle and kerosene costs, the new model elevates this to 44% savings. The most promising aspect, though, is that a Pay-for-Service model like this one have the potential to be replicated as easily and successfully as telecommunication companies have done so throughout the world.

So, one last scenario to imagine: A new generation of utility companies that drive rural development and protect the environment at the same time.

The first prototype is currently being tested, but Indiegogo is the critical next step forward. Contributors will be able to directly sponsor a family if the campaign goal is reached. The minute that the campaign goes live, Mr. Rodriguez will sit in a pitch-black room and refuse to turn on his lights until the goal is reached. Visit Quetsol’s website and Indiegogo page to help them turn on the lights for Juan and, more importantly, for thousands of Guatemalans.

WHO: Quetsol
WHAT: QUETSOL’S TURNING LIVES ON ACROSS GUATEMALA Crowdfunding Campaign
WHEN: February 18, 2013
WHERE: http://www.indiegogo.com/Quetsolturnliveson

  • Founder and CEO of Guatemalan solar power company Quetsol to sit in a dark room until crowdfunding goal is reached via Indiegogo
  • Campaign goal will allow Quetsol to launch Pay-As-You-Go solar technology to Guatemala’s poorest communities that lack electricity
  • Quetsol intends to distribute over 100,000 solar kits to Guatemalans in the next five years and pioneer a sustainable utility company movement for the world’s most marginalized communities
  • Visit www.quetsol.com for more information
  • View the following pitch Juan gave at the 2012 Unreasonable Institute –http://www.vimeo.com/47107967

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.