Tag Archives: nicaragua

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.

Laboratoria changes women’s lives through coding

“If you want to be a social entrepreneur, make sure you are aligned with something you’re really passionate about. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most gratifying.”

Gabriela Rocha believes in the power of code to change lives. While at Columbia University acquiring a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice, Gabi met the future founders of an incredible social enterprise. Mariana Costa Checa, Herman Marin, and Rodulfo Prieto were bound by a common frustration with Latin America’s underdevelopment, all hoping to apply their careers to the improvement of the region. Upon graduating, however, they went their separate ways.

While Gabi went to the favelas of Rio on a project for the Inter-American Development Bank, the three founders journeyed back to Peru and started their first web design company. But when the time came to look for web developers, they encountered an unexpected obstacle. Developers were few and far between, and those they did find were overwhelmingly men. What’s more, they learned that most of their developers had never received a university degree in computer science, and instead had either taken short-term classes or been self-taught.

Mariana realized that there was a tremendous opportunity presenting itself. In a world where demand for web developers is growing, its members unimpeded by the need for university degrees, there was an ideal niche for women to leave the low-skilled, low-pay trap. And thus, the concept for Laboratoria was born. After a successful pilot in Peru, they contacted their former classmates, Gabi and Marisol, who launched branches in Mexico and Chile, respectively.

Since then, Laboratoria has quickly become a transformative, educational powerhouse. It identifies high potential women from low-income sectors of society and puts them through an intensive six-month program. The women are trained in web development as well as personal development, learning both the hard and soft skills necessary to acquire and retain a higher-skilled, better-paying job. To date, it has graduated over 400 students and boast a 75% job placement rate into employment averaging three times their previous income. It has thus effectively and spectacularly broken the cycle of poverty for hundreds of women and their families. Above all, it has proven to the world that poorly educated women working low-income jobs are able to learn coding and begin successful careers in the burgeoning and competitive tech industry.

Hoping to accelerate their already impressive growth, the Laboratoria team applied to Agora’s flagship Accelerator program in 2017. Through the exercises at the retreat and months with a dedicated consultant, they gained access to Agora’s Latin American network, engaging with both social entrepreneurs transforming the region and potential donors interested in their project. They came out of the Accelerator with the certainty that they would officially remain a non-profit organization, and the knowledge that they needed to extend the duration of their program to two years.

Laboratoria’s team today remains unequivocally dedicated to excellence. They hope to train 10,000 developers and be in fifteen cities across Latin America by 2020. Their success is demonstrated by stunning growth in a region hostile to fledgling enterprises, and their commitment to their mission has enabled them to remain focused on their impact and constantly adapt.

Gabi believes in the potential of social entrepreneurship to change the Latin American region. Despite being the hardest thing she’s ever done, she believes that it has also unquestionably been the most gratifying and exciting. She has finally aligned her passion with her work, and has the opportunity to find inspiration everyday in the transformations of Laboratoria’s incredible students. Being of service to a group of women so breathtakingly determined and resilient, who constantly defy stereotypes, expectations, and systemic obstacles, makes the many challenges completely worth it.

With Laboratoria, Gabi and her partners are expanding the notion of what a nonprofit is and can be in Latin America. Run on the honesty, humility, and integrity of its team, the organization is changing the world, one line of code at a time.

Learn more about Laboratoria at http://laboratoria.la

Estación Vital fights chronic diseases in Nicaragua

“Being an entrepreneur is almost a spiritual experience; you have to know clearly what you want so your inner demons will not counter you at any stage of your project.”

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Advanced Biocontrollers assists farmers in Nicaragua

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

Demetrio Diaz believes in the necessity for both a balance between conventional and organic agriculture and an increased environmental consciousness among farmers. Demetrio’s fascination with organic agribusiness has guided his adult life, leading him to enroll in Masters courses in Agribusiness. Upon completion of his classes, his awareness of the pervasive use of chemical contaminants drove him to create a venture producing organic fertilizers and developing biopesticides for Panamanian farmers. But he wanted to do more, dreaming of a company dedicated to providing farmers all throughout the region with eco-friendly products. These products would adapt to each producer’s needs, reduce the chemical contamination of the environment, and, eventually, change the industry.

In 2014, he was ready to actualize his dream. Demetrio pulled together a multidisciplinary team of chemists, biologists, and businessmen dedicated to this mission of improving agricultural production with eco-friendly biopesticides. Thus was born Advanced Biocontrollers.

Working with a system of direct distributors to personally communicate with farmers, Advanced Biocontrollers addresses the problem at its source. These distributors are tasked with bringing the eco-friendly products to the countryside and instructing the farmers in the need for and use of these tools. Combining traditional and biologically-enhanced agriculture, Advanced Biocontrollers thus raises the environmental consciousness of its customers, empowering them with tools to increase agricultural efficiency while simultaneously improving their health and that of the environment.

Eager to develop his business, Demetrio applied and was accepted into Agora’s 2016 Accelerator Class. Through the retreat, consulting, and investor roundtables, Demetrio acquired a stronger and clearer business plan, a partner with both financial and operational expertise, and invaluable contacts with interested investors.

This newfound competence and financing allowed Demetrio to rapidly expand into neighboring nations. Nicaraguan peanut farmers were among the first to benefit. Combatting a blight of white mushrooms that was resulting in an annual crop loss of up to 40%, these farmers had been using a standard biopesticide harmful to both themselves and the environment and largely ineffective. After being introduced to Advanced Biocontrollers’ biopesticides, they changed tactics. The results were remarkable.

Those who treated their land with Demetrio’s biopesticides reported successfully harvesting 100% of their crops. At the same time, they reduced their own risk of exposure to harmful chemicals and the environmental contamination from chemical runoff.

Working everyday through the innovative techniques of nanotechnology and applied biotechnology, Demetrio has created a successful business out of a simple dream. His team is blazing trails and opening doors, researching new ways to better equip the agricultural industry and empowering an ambitious 20-year-old whose monthly salary has risen from $500 to $1200.

Demetrio is motivated every day by both his family and customers, and by the gratitude of his customers, whose lives and agricultural practices are being changed for the better. In five years, he hopes to be operating out of ten countries in the region and offer 15 different products to his clients, and he is well on his way to reaching this goal.

Demetrio runs Advanced Biocontrollers on a stubborn belief in his dreams and the irrefutable need to help others, and it is changing the world, one field at a time.

Learn more about Advanced Biocontrollers at http://www.abiocontrollers.com.

Is Philanthropy Ready For System Change?

On July 26th, 2013 Peter Buffett wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that caused a little brouhaha in the philanthropy and social entrepreneurship worlds. The piece drew praise and criticism, notably from Matthew Bishop, and some buzz for a time, and then faded away.  For me, the criticism missed the point, which I thought was right on.  I decided to write about the topic when one of our young team members from Nicaragua forwarded the op-ed to our whole team. The piece did for him what every good piece will do: it made him feel and it made him think. Even better, it energized him and made him realize that he was not alone.

Continue reading Is Philanthropy Ready For System Change?

There’s a Lot More to Coffee Than Beans

I set off with Luisa Lombera and Gates Gooding, the founders of a company named Pixán, (which means happiness, soul or essence in Maya), joining them in their quest to find the raw material that had thus far eluded them. Fresh from Agora Partnerships’ Entrepreneur Retreat held in Granada, Nicaragua, we were infused with an invigorated sense of purpose.

Gates and Luisa applied to the Agora Accelerator with the aim of turning Pixán into a flourishing business that will double the income of coffee farmers in the Pixán supply chain. Searching for an opportunity to create impact in the coffee sector in Latin America, they were inspired by the Yemeni traditional practice of making a drink called kishr (or qishr), which is a kind of chai made with coffee fruit, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Luisa and Gates took to the idea and are now looking to produce a beverage made with an infusion of dried coffee fruit, also known as “cáscara” (skin or peel – in Spanish).

Continue reading There’s a Lot More to Coffee Than Beans

Valores Fundamentales – lo que buscamos cuando se seleccionan emprendedores

Ben Powell - Impact Investing in Action 2013 (1)La Aceleradora Agora está diseñada para emprendedores con potencial real para hacer una contribución importante y positiva al mundo. Cuando se seleccionan nuestras clases, nos fijamos en una serie de factores que incluyen que tan innovador es el modelo de negocio, la escalabilidad y el impacto social; pero el factor más importante es la calidad del emprendedor. Averiguar quienes son los emprendedores más prometedores para la Aceleradora es una de nuestras tareas más difíciles, sobre todo en vista de la enorme energía y la innovación que estamos viendo entre emprendedores que trabajan en América Latina. No pretendemos tener todas las respuestas, pero hemos encontrado que el uso de una serie de valores fundamentales como marco puede ser increíblemente útil para comprender la motivación de un emprendedor, para impulsar su empresa al éxito.

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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.

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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

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!