Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

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.

Cruz Campo empowers rural women in Peru

“If you have a dream, pursue it. Nothing in this world is impossible. I made my company from zero, with no knowledge of business management to guide me, but I learned along the way.”

Rosa Cruz believes in sharing the benefits of the native Peruvian tubers, yacon and aguaymanto, with the rest of the world. Born into a family of farmers, Rosa Cruz always had a special place in her heart for the rural community. And though she was familiar with the Peruvian yacon from a young age, any thoughts of it remained relegated to her rural childhood as she progressed through university. Upon graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, however, her attention was suddenly drawn back to this tuber, so under-researched and under-cultivated, yet brimming with invaluable health benefits. Hoping to bring its benefits to the diabetic community and beyond, Rosa effectively became one of the first individuals to study the yacon.

Over the course of the following decade, Rosa collected seeds, conducted research, expanded her study to include the aguaymanto tuber, organized a farmers’ association, and, eventually, began large-scale organic cultivation. From this, Cruz Campo was born.

Dedicated to bettering the environment through promoting biodiversity, organic cultivation, and environmental conservation, Cruz Campo brings healthy alternative products to its customers, a higher quality of life to its employees, and exposure to a larger market for its farmers.

Hoping to both expand her company and expose herself to the world of international entrepreneurship, Rosa applied to the Accelerator and was accepted. She left her native soil for the first time to go to the opening retreat in Nicaragua, where she found inspiring speakers and a group of burgeoning female entrepreneurs. Over the course of the next four months, Agora’s consulting allowed her to drastically improve productivity and management. But, above all, the Agora Accelerator connected her with Kiva, a microfinancing platform that enables individuals to give and receive loans, through which she was able to receive a $35,000 loan in a week. This loan has allowed her to invest in more raw materials and purchase a new piece of land, on which she hopes to build a secondary processing plant.

Strategically placed to give the greatest number of rural women easy access to a steady job, avoid raw materials losses incurred during transportation, and facilitate direct contact with producers, this plant will allow Rosa to continue creating the incredible impact she makes with Cruz Campo.

Rosa’s company has empowered many rural women. Cruz Campo has given life to a supportive community of single mothers who have fallen victim to domestic violence while also providing them a consistent income and the opportunity to educate their children.

She hopes to continue addressing the Sustainable Development Goal of ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’ and to acquire the funding necessary to develop another industrial plant closer to other areas of cultivation, exporting beyond the confines of Peru’s borders to the greater world. Fueled by honesty, fairness, and perseverance, Cruz Campo is changing the world, one yacon plant at a time.

Learn more about Cruz Campo at http://www.cruzcampoperu.com.

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.

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

Shared Values: what we look for when selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator

Ben Powell - Impact Investing in Action 2013 (1)The Agora Accelerator is designed for entrepreneurs with real potential to make a significant positive contribution to the world. When we select our classes, we look at a number of factors including business model innovation, scalability, and social impact. But the most important factor by far is the quality of the entrepreneur.  Figuring out who are the most promising entrepreneurs for the accelerator is one of our hardest jobs, especially given the tremendous energy and innovation we are seeing among entrepreneurs working throughout Latin America.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we have found that using core values as a framework can be incredibly helpful in understanding the power an entrepreneur will eventually wield to propel his/her company to success.

Continue reading Shared Values: what we look for when selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator

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

In Mexico, more than 3 million neonates die in their first month of life, almost 300,000 women from complications at birth, and more than 750,000 children die of diarrheal illness each year. And this is just the beginning. Haywood Hall, founder of PACE MD, discovered that a significant amount of these deaths can be averted with proper training. Mexico suffers from a “Medical Knowledge Gap” in which health care providers lack fundamental training and/or continuing medical education opportunities to provide consistent high quality care.

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

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

So, You Want to Start a Social Enterprise?: The Seed

You’ve heard the buzz, and you want to start a social enterprise. That’s great – but where do you begin? Just as every tree begins with a seed, every enterprise begins with an idea. Maybe you already have an idea. If so, congratulations – you’ve come to the right place! This is the first post in an ongoing series on how to get your social enterprise off the ground.

Identify the Problem   

What is a social enterprise? Basically, it’s a solution. The successful impact entrepreneur identifies a problem that no one else has solved, and then solves it. The first step is to identify a problem. How do you identify problems? Look around you. Talk to people. When in doubt, a good place for inspiration is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Does everyone in your community have food to eat, water to drink, and a place to sleep? Maybe you can help with employment, health, or physical security.

Create a Solution

You’ve identified a problem. The second step is to create a solution. Now, before you run off and come up with The Next Big Thing, do some research. Maybe you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There may be a business model out there that you can adapt, and it may not even be used in a social enterprise. Look at Grameen Bank. Mohammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank

didn’t invent finance – he just adapted it to the bottom of the pyramid. Or look at Sustainable Harvest. David Griswold didn’t invent coffee exporting – he just adapted it to include local farmers. Consider that your solution may not require revolutionary innovation – it may just require inventive adaptation.

Be Sustainable

So – you’ve identified a problem and created a solution. This means you’re already ahead of the curve, but you’re not done yet. The third step is to make your solution sustainable, whether that means your solution is practical and scalable (in the business sense), or minimal in its impact on the environment and resources. (Ideally, it’s both.) For example: mosquito nets in Africa. For decades, aid agencies imported mosquito nets to Africa. The aid agencies identified a problem (malaria, which, untreated, causes the deaths of nearly 1 million people in Africa every year), and then created a solution (distribution of mosquito nets). But their solution wasn’t sustainable – if funding dried up, aid agencies would no longer be able to distribute mosquito nets. This presented an untenable scenario.

Workers producing mosquito nets at A to Z Textile Mills in Tanzania.

A more sustainable solution to the malaria problem would be to develop and grow mosquito net production in-country.  A to Z Textile Mills, a Tanzanian company that received start-up capital from Acumen Fund in 2003, is doing just that. A to Z is not only addressing the malaria epidemic, it is lowering shipping costs for each bednet, and creating jobs for Africans.

Problem leads to solution leads to sustainability. And, if you’re lucky, Jacqueline Novogratz mentions you in a TED Talk (at 12:20).

WANTED: High Potential Impact Entrepreneurs In Latin America

We are currently in search of 30 high-potential early-stage impact entrepreneurs from throughout Latin America to join our growing community of world-changing businesses (Agora’s Class of ’12 is pictured above).

Entrepreneurs around the world are joining a growing movement to create positive, sustainable impact through private enterprise. At Agora Partnerships, our mission is to accelerate those visionary entrepreneurs who are redefining the role of business in society.

We are in the middle of an ambitious recruitment effort for our 2013 Impact Accelerator. This highly selective program provides access to human, social, and financial capital for a unique community of entrepreneurs throughout Latin America. The Accelerator kicks off with an entrepreneur retreat in Central America, followed by strategy consulting and investment readiness services, and admittance to the Impact Investing in Action conference hosted in the United States.

Over the past two years, we have worked with 18 company operating in some of the poorest regions of the Western Hemisphere. Over 70% of or Class of ‘11 received millions of dollars in investment, propelling these impact companies to an average 80% growth rate.

Now, we are expanding from our base in Central America and searching for 30 new companies spanning the whole of Latin America to help accelerate impact for the region.

If you are an entrepreneur interested in applying to our Accelerator or if you’re interesting in helping us spread the word, please contact Inga Schulte-Bahrenberg at ischulte@agorapartnerships.org. You can find more information about how the Accelerator program worksformer entrepreneurs, a summary overview, and the results of our Accelerator on our website.

Furthermore, we’ve prepared ready-made Twitter, Facebook, and blog copy for you to share with your networks.

The deadline to be considered for scholarships is October 8. The final deadline for all applications is October 22. So, Click here to apply now!


In Search of Early Stage Impact Entrepreneurs: Agora in Guatemala

Left to right, Neela Pal, Maria Rodriguez, and Sara Lila Cordero during a campus visit to the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, a leading private university in Guatemala City.

I joined Agora Partnerships for this summer, tasked with answering the question (more or less): Where are all the women impact entrepreneurs?

This seemingly simple query led me to…Guatemala. Over the past month, I designed and implemented a series of recruitment presentations for Guatemala—the country that has yielded two of Agora’s most successful and charismatic women business owners: María Pacheco of Kiej de los Bosques and María Rodriguez of ByoEarth (“the Marías,” as we affectionately call them in-house). My recruiting team included: the effervescent Sara Lila Cordero, who heads all things marketing and communications in Agora’s Nicaragua office, and Rodriguez, an Agora Class of ’12 entrepreneur who is locally known as “the worm girl,” thanks to her on-the-rise organic composting business.

During our week-long “roadshow” in Guatemala, we spread the word of Agora’s 2013 Accelerator program, making stops at the major metropolitan—and entrepreneurial—centers of the country: Guatemala City, Antigua, and Quetzaltenango. The level of individual activity and collective energy we encountered during our visit far surpassed expectation.

At the HUB in Guatemala City.

In five action-packed days, we met with: international NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance and Counterpart International; regionally-focused investor groups like Grupo DNA; and dynamic local change makers, including Nikki Bahr (founder of CSR consultancy Sustainable Strategies), Daniel Buchbinder (founder of rural entrepreneurship group Alterna), Gabriela García Quinn (Guatemala director of Central American social change outfit Glasswing International), and Ivan Buitrón (leader in AGEXPORT, which supports, literally, thousands of export-ready Guatemalan businesses). We also met with prospective entrepreneurs, paying a visit to the ultra-cool Campus Tecnológico in a gritty corner of the city, as well as presenting at the up-and-coming, “green” HUB space.

Sara Lila presenting to 120 rural women at a Vital Voices conference in Quetzaltenango.

Everywhere, we shared our vision—to be a one-stop shop for early-stage impact entrepreneurs serious about scaling their business and, in turn, their social impact. And everywhere, we heard the same story: while there are many one-off interventions, there are no comprehensive solutions like Agora’s Accelerator that gets small to mid-sized enterprises ready for growth capital and connect them with a growing network of impact investors.

As I met with actual entrepreneurs, I was struck by their hunger for additional resources and supports. At Quetzaltenango, for instance, Sara Lila presented on the Accelerator to a group of 120 rural women, largely micro-business owners, affiliated with the Vital Voices network. We had the enviable position of presenting right before lunch. However, the interest lasted far beyond our ten-minute “pitch.” Dozens of women approached us afterward. Hidden in their questions, I heard hope—that the Accelerator would be the solution for their businesses.

In Guatemala, the market of scalable social enterprises may be finite, but the vision and collaborative attitude of its leading players is anything but. Take, for example, Philip Wilson’s award winning company Ecofiltro, which is popularizing a simple yet effective clay filter as an ecological solution to water filtration. We toured his factory at the base of Antigua’s volcanoes, which he hopes will serve as a model operation for emerging countries globally.

“The Marias” are generous-spirited leaders, who when they encounter problems or gaps, create smart solutions. In addition to her innovative business venture, María Rodriguez is in the process of helping to incorporate the HUB in Guatemala City, which will provide much-needed convening space for start-up talent. And, María Pacheco brought international women empowerment non-profit Vital Voices to the country to tackle economic disparities along gender lines. The secret sauce to Agora is its people, and the human potential in Guatemala last week felt limitless.

Neela Pal joins Agora Partnerships from the Yale School of Management, where she is studying social sector management and organizational behavior. For her summer internship, she is helping Agora develop a recruitment strategy to increase women-owned and managed business enterprises in its Accelerator program.