Tag Archives: socap

Promesa teaches students to value the environment

“My relationship with the consultant was the best part of the program; I felt comfortable enough to share every detail with him and he helped us to both restructure our program and strengthen our team.”

Julio Alvarez believes in the promise of an educational program to raise the environmental consciousness of a nation. While still a university student, Julio traveled often to Mexico’s beautiful Acapulco beach on family vacations. However, he was appalled by the apathy people had toward the environment. Visitors littered all over the sands, and the evening tide brought in plastic bags, diapers, and empty bottles. His frustration moved him to action; he started an organization that prompted beachfront restaurants to pay for the installation of trash bins, yet, 200 bins later, people still did not seem to care.

Julio was driven to do more. Over the next few years, he created environmental initiatives, green reports, reforestation programs, ecological holiday agendas, and environmental workshops for 26 companies. Again, however, the same stubborn apathy reared its ugly head. Realizing how difficult it was to change an adult’s mind about living a more sustainable life, Julio knew he had to craft a quality environmental education program targeted at youth. Thus was born the concept for Promesa.

Julio gathered a group of psychologists, biologists, and environmental engineers, who together formulated a K-12 program that not only involves every student, but also includes important milestones to measure progress. As an additional bonus, he structured the model so that it is completely self-sustainable by collecting and selling the recycling from the enrolled schools. Schools can therefore enroll in the program free of charge. Moreover, the ripple effect of this environmental initiative reaches beyond the students, touching their teachers, families, and administrators.

The results were stunning. Post-program surveys revealed steadily increasing numbers of students who recycle, and a partnered school has already developed a compost zone, vertical gardens, and pluvial water collection, with plans to install solar panels.

Julio was ready to scale. He applied to Agora’s Accelerator, looking to gain valuable consulting on how best to expand his company. With access to a network of successful social entrepreneurs, a consultant whose hands-on approach showed him his full potential for growth, and an experience at SOCAP where he was confident enough to ask for larger investments than ever before, Julio’s ambition was fully unleashed. He emerged from the Accelerator program with a stronger financial model that could be pitched to international investors, a clearer idea of the team he needed to scale his company, and a more solid communication strategy that allowed him to successfully secure investments six months later.

Promesa is now on the fast track. With an astonishing 100% retention rate of enrolled schools and a rapidly expanding team, Julio hopes to reach 250 schools in the next two months, 1000 schools by 2018, and 7000 schools by 2022. He is building connections across Mexico and the U.S., joining with foundations and associations to champion his environmental cause.

Julio wants to share his passion with everyone, believing that the program is the key to awakening the environmental consciousness of its many students. Promesa is fueled by the passion of its incredible team, and it is changing the world, one school at a time.

Learn more about Promesa at www.grupopromesa.com.

Develop Link makes Guatemalan healthcare more efficient

“Being able to leverage Agora’s well-known name within this community allowed us to successfully acquire funding.”

Catherine Flatley believes in unlocking the potential of existing healthcare systems to provide more efficient care for Latin Americans. She was first introduced to the world of healthcare as an intern for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Immersed in the industry, she became increasingly fascinated by the communications problems that existed in the developing world and the opportunities to fix them. But she wanted to know more about the problem.

Catherine spoke to over 300 doctors who had participated in mission trips around the world, and realized that many encountered the same difficulties arising from their inability to coordinate patient care. As a healthcare consultant, she had worked with several pharmaceutical firms who were interested in entering emerging markets but struggled with the lack of data necessary to expand.

She was blown away by the extent of the problem and motivated to solve it. A decisive resignation and move to Guatemala later, Develop Link was born.

As a referral platform for doctors in Latin America, Develop Link helps healthcare providers search for specialists and labs, share information, and consult each other. The data collected through the platform is subsequently organized and sold to pharmaceutical companies and insurance providers hoping to expand within the Latin American region. Catherine emphasizes that Develop Link is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It simply serves as the link bringing together all the existing institutions to facilitate more efficient care.

Wanting to improve her company’s potential for growth and scaling, Catherine participated in several Accelerators, including Points of Light CivicX, Impact Engine, and the Fellow Irish Social Hub. However, she lacked both direct access to the Latin American network and consulting that would instruct her specifically on the Latin American market. So she applied to Agora’s Accelerator.

Through the four-month program, Catherine refined her launch strategy, strengthened the value proposition she would deliver to pharmaceutical firm clients, and connected with invaluable investor networks. The SOCAP experience, facilitated by Agora, introduced her to her very first client in Mexico.

Since the Accelerator, Develop Link has steadily progressed, entering Mexico by virtue of demand and planning to enter Costa Rica. Catherine has recently closed two contracts with investors and is on her way to closing her third, motivated every day by the number of doctors, NGOs, government organizations, and private companies all trying to provide better healthcare in Latin America with a clear need to better communicate.

She believes that the ability to be flexible and adjust existing plans to new circumstances has been key to expanding her company, and hopes to continue working towards halting the Latin American ‘Brain Drain,’ in which talented and promising individuals leave their native country to pursue a professional career elsewhere. Her company’s potential for expansion and promise for physicians and patients everywhere keep talented employees like Shaili Zappa, her director for Guatemala, working locally.  Develop Link, run on teamwork and collaboration, is thus changing the world, one patient at a time.

Learn more about Develop Link at http://www.developlink.org.

Panel at SOCAP – Building the Impact Entrepreneur Movement.

This week, Agora staff are live at SOCAP11 in San Francisco. Today, Founder Ben Powell will be participating in a panel alongside Agora Entrepreneurs Tegu, CO2 Bambu, and Michelle Viegas, Operations Senior Associate at the Inter-American Development Bank. The panel, “Building the Impact Entrepreneur Movement: Perspectives from Top Early Stage Entrepreneurs in Central America”, will be live at 1:45PM PDT.

We’ll be live-blogging the panel, so stay tuned for updates! If you want to watch the panel live, tune in to the SOCAP livestream.


Can we sprinkle SoCap’s pixie dust to the developing world?

SOCAP11 Logo

Starting Tuesday over a thousand people will descend on Fort Mason Center in San Francisco for Social Capital Markets or SoCap. The conference, in its fourth year, is a paean to the sustainable capitalism movement. It will be filled with the kind of people who are, relative to the rest of the population, off-the-charts optimistic. (Most especially about the power of human endeavor to fix our common problems.) I’ll be one of them, and I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to entering that cocoon where everyone is interesting and bright, brimming with passion and conviction about how to course-correct the planet.

At SoCap, the stars are the entrepreneurs, including three phenomenal entrepreneurs (Tegu, Kiej de los Bosques, and CO2Bambu) from Agora’s Accelerator program, who were also selected as part of the top 16 entrepreneurs to pitch at the conference. I’ve always been impressed how SoCap seems to put an extra effort to put entrepreneurs front and center. After all, it’s the entrepreneurs on whose shoulders the success of building a more sustainable capitalism ultimately rests.

Certainly in the U.S. there is a lot of momentum around sustainable entrepreneurship, but it also appears that very little of that momentum is seeping into the places that need it most. Entrepreneurs and investors from the Coastal US are a great start, but we are going to need a lot more people from decidedly less wealthy parts of the globe to make the sustainable capitalism revolution happen globally, which is how it must happen. Even in the poorest parts of the world, talented entrepreneurs with high potential are out there, but they are, for the most part, alone, disconnected from a vital community of support and investment. They have never heard of SoCap, nor experienced that culture, with its high aspirations and expectation of what is achievable.

And so before I leave for the halcyon glow of SoCap, I keep thinking about all the would-be
entrepreneurs in places like Central America and Mexico who are still on the sidelines, afraid to pull the trigger. I’m reminded of Thursday’s blog post, highlighting a tricky problem for those of us who believe we need to make the world more entrepreneurial as fast as humanely possible. To recap:, highlighting a tricky problem for those of us who believe we need to make the world more entrepreneurial as fast as humanely possible. To recap:

“Outside Silicon Valley, the world is not so enthusiastic about entrepreneurship. In Central America, where we work, the word has a stigma. I found this out when our team in Nicaragua reported that some entrepreneurs were rebelling against using the term for entrepreneur in Spanish: emprendedor. While the word entrepreneur has achieved almost mythic status in the U.S. – so much so that it’s now used to describe anyone from the next Steve Jobs to the miserably self- employed, the word does not have the same glow in the rest of the world for reasons that say a lot about the development challenges humanity faces.”

There has been progress in the poorest parts of the hemisphere to elevate the importance of entrepreneurship, but it’s just too damn slow given the potential impact entrepreneurs have to solve social problems a fraction of the cost of government. The culture of SoCap does not extend far enough. The adjective social is still toxic to most local banks and investors in Latin America, easily dismissed before facts can be summoned. Good intentions, a desire to build something that is needed by the poor, not just wanted by the wealthy, is automatically viewed with suspicion.

Were they to attend SoCap, many of these capitalists who pooh-pooh anything social would not understand what they see. But after a while I suspect many might just let themselves be seduced by the crowd’s absolute belief that capitalism can and must be saved, that business and society must come together. SoCap’s message is: we can have our cake and eat it too, but we need to make a new recipe for the cake and it’s going to taste different, not worse, just different.

Is it really a problem for the world that most entrepreneurs in it are not as dewy-eyed and optimistic and ambitious in their visions of the future as the entrepreneurs who will be attending SoCap? I believe it is. The tonic of optimism and can-do-ness I expect to receive in San Francisco will do my spirits good — but I think it would do entrepreneurs in the world’s most difficult places even more good.

The fact is, entrepreneurs in the developing world — and the mostly barren ecosystems that try to support them — need SoCap, need that culture, more than people like me. I can’t wait to go, see old friends, make new ones, and take deep breaths of that rarified San Francisco air that is filled with conviction that potential is a thing to be realized: that ambition to improve upon or destroy the status quo, as needed, is the best kind of ambition there is. I only wish more entrepreneurs and investors from the developing world could be there.

Better yet, I wish I could replicate SoCap — create a modified version and bring it to the development and business community in Central America. I wish the pixie dust of Socap and other conferences like it could be bottled and spread around universities in poor places that need to hear its message. But at least for the rest of the week in San Francisco the many entrepreneurs attending from all over the world can soak up a culture that values, above all else, the potential of emprendedores to make the world better.

Entrepreneurs vs. Empresarios

Outside Silicon Valley, the world is not so enthusiastic about entrepreneurship. In Central America, where we work, the word has a stigma. I found this out when our team in Nicaragua reported that some entrepreneurs were rebelling against using the term for entrepreneur in Spanish: emprendedor. While the word entrepreneur has achieved almost mythic status in the U.S. — so much so that it’s now used to describe anyone from the next Steve Jobs to the miserably self- employed, the word does not have the same glow in the rest of the world for reasons that say a lot about the development challenges humanity faces.

Forsaking emprendedor, many entrepreneurs in Central America prefer the word empresario, which basically means an already-arrived businessman. The key difference between emprendedor and empresario is that the former is full of potential, while the latter fundamentally represents potential realized. One implies inexperience, risk and delusion, the other power, status, authority. One represents the uncertain future, where everything will undoubtedly go wrong; the other security, the ability to let up for a second. Certainly there are some empresarios who think, care, and actively plan for growth, for the future, and who take risks — but they are in the minority. This is what keeps poor countries poor — not enough empresarios growing their businesses.

We had a lively debate about which word to use – we ended up using both. I personally much prefer the word emprendedor because of the potential and innovation inherent in it, two words that are key to the future. There’s another reason too, call me old fashioned; status should be earned, not given, and no one works harder to earn it than entrepreneurs.

Is it true then that a problem with much of the planet is that it doesn’t sufficiently value the concept of potential, because the ceiling of potential that most people can imagine is not the stars but, maddeningly, only a couple of inches above their heads? Should it really concern us that most entrepreneurs in the developing world are hoping not to crush but to join the status quo? Absolutely it should concern us.

It’s no surprise that in societies with large amounts of socio-economic mobility, the word potential packs a lot more punch than in more conservative societies lacking social mobility. In static societies, the word entrepreneur just means that you are starting out on your own, with few resources, most likely few contacts, and historically little if any chance of overcoming the thousands of nicks and cuts conspiring against your success.

This limiting view of potential makes it hard for entrepreneurs to be taken seriously, and the mere act of just trying to take oneself seriously can become exhausting. In a world where the deck is stacked against you, where the net present value of the word potential is near zero, you don’t want to be the striver and dreamer taking a sledgehammer to the status quo. You want to be the status quo. You want cash in hand. You want standing in the system, even if the system is intolerably broken. The idea of fixing the system probably never occurs to you. (If it does occur to you, and you are reading this post, go to our website right now and apply to be in the second Accelerator class!)

Low expectations and lack of faith in the future among entrepreneurs is a very tricky problem in our industry, and one that demands more attention. But there is cause for a lot of hope. One of the most optimistic, positive gatherings of entrepreneurial-minded people is happening next week. More on that on Sunday.