Argentina’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Lorena Suarez of Wayra

My first stop when I arrived in Buenos Aires was at Wayra to speak with Lorena Suarez. Having visited the Wayra offices in Santiago when I was in Chile I knew that the people at Wayra in Argentina would be super well plugged in to what was happening in the ecosystem and might be able to point me in the direction of some great events and/or people to talk to so I was psyched that Lorena agreed to sit down with me and chat.

Lorena came to Wayra after working in telecommunications for a number of years and she transferred from another group within Telefonica (the telecommunications company that owns Wayra) to Wayra. She has a background in economics and business and has been with Wayra for 2 years.

According to Lorena,

“Argentina has a very strong entrepreneurial culture.”

There are a lot of large internet companies created in the lates 1990s and very early 2000s that are still up and running in Argentina. After 2001 the activity stopped but nowadays the activity is growing again. “The quality and amount of startups in Buenos Aires today is significant and interesting,” Lorena said. “We’re seeing more and more major projects with major teams and balanced teams…We evaluated almost 3,000 projects [this year].”

Lorena noted that while “the political and economic context is not very simple for entrepreneurs [in Argentina],” this instability has actually aided the entrepreneurial ecosystem in some ways.

“Fortunately or not, we are trained to handle uncertainty and perhaps that’s why Argentinian entrepreneurs can be so creative: because uncertainty is something that’s been present in our history and our economy,”she said.

She also noted that Argentina has a lot of talent to offer and “talent is the most valuable asset.” Entrepreneurs that start their companies in Buenos Aires have access to people who are well-educated and can find talented and experienced engineers, designers, and others.

On the negative side, however, starting a company can require a massive amount of patience as you’ll need up to 2 months to wade through the regulations and processes necessary to open a new business there.  Additionally, as with many countries in Latin America, there is a lack of funding available for startups – especially at the early stage after seed funding but before they’ve created enough traction for a Series A round. “After finishing at an accelerator the companies already have clients, they’re already at break-even, they have a clearer idea of where they’re going but they don’t yet have enough traction to go to a VC for a series A,” Lorena says. “We are starting to see people filling this space but, for me, there is still room there for people to fill that space.”

Lorena continued:

“Investment is also something that needs to be created and developed. 50% of investments in Argentinian startups came from abroad, from foreign investors. I believe that it’s a matter of time all over Latin America but we still need to mature in this area.”

“At the beginning, we needed to explain what an accelerator is here in Buenos Aires and it’s very, very new how to pitch, how to deal with an investor, how to present yourself, what an investor looks at, what you need as a team, all of those things. Nowadays I think we’ve improved a lot but at the beginning we needed to explain.”

So what advice does Lorena have for entrepreneurs just starting out?

  1.  “Focus on traction. Don’t fall in love with your ideas, just go out and try to communicate with your customers. Customers or users are the ones who really say that what you are creating has value.”
  2. “Focus. It’s really easy to get distracted…I prefer to see a company that does, in an excellent way, 1 thing and not a lot of things in an average way.”
  3. “Give back. We are all players, not only the venture capitalists, accelerators, and other investors but also the entrepreneurs. If we want to create an ecosystem we need to understand that we are all key players, entrepreneurs too…Creating a very strong and very creative entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buenos Aires is something we all need to keep in mind.”