Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (Flashback): Interview with Andrea Rodriguez Rojas

I’ve tried to keep my Startup Nomad posts roughly following my travels geographically, however, there was one entrepreneur from Mexico City whom I didn’t get to interview until I arrived in Chile. She’s awesome and I still wanted to include her in the blog before next year when I make it back to D.F., so this week we’re doing a brief flashback to Mexico and speaking with Andrea Rodriguez Rojas, the entrepreneur behind Viajero Emprendedor.

Check out the video below to hear what she has to say about Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Latin America more broadly, and then let me know what you think in the comments section below! (I’m back-lit and had a slower internet connection, so I’m basically a blob. The important part is that you can see and hear Andrea, though, which you can. Sorry about the poor quality on my end and enjoy the video anyway!)



Panama’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Interview with Gregory Clark

Gregory Clark is Managing Partner of Co.Vida a corporate social responsibility consulting and cause marketing firm in Panama. Greg began his journey to entrepreneurship through working in international development but when Panama’s official status was changed to middle income country and many of the international development organizations from abroad began to pull out of the country, Greg saw a gap that needed to be filled and became an entrepreneur.

“I saw this kind of niche, this hole in the market, this gap in the market,” he told me, “and I said, ‘how I can I fill that?'” 

So he teamed up with two Panamanian business partners and created his online platform for cause-based projects and project financing.

Interestingly enough, since he tries to connect the dots for cause-based project financing, his biggest challenge as an entrepreneur in Panama so far has been trying to attract outside investment. According to Greg, small financing is tough to find. You have to be working on a project that needs $500k plus or you have to bring the money yourself. He says,

“[In Panama], you can easily launch something as long as you’re bringing all of the money with you,”

but if you need outside investment for your idea it’s very tough to find. “There are a lot of new organizations within Panama for startups and entrepreneurs…and it’s all about trying to create this entrepreneurial environment here in Panama but, at the same time, they don’t offer any real services to help push it forward.”

At the end of the day, Greg says, Panamanian business runs on who you know. As Greg sees it,

“Everybody knows everybody and networking is really the only thing that gets anything done in this country. The Panamanian networks are very strong and it’s all based on nepotism. At the end of the day if you’re not somebody’s cousin or have somebody’s cousin on your team, you’re not going to get the deal.”

This is especially true, he says, if your innovation is going to cause problems for an already established business whose owners are connected. “If you’re going to be a threat to an already existing company and you’re not tied into a strong network system, they will shut you down before you even open,” he says.

Another challenge that he’s discovered and that he’s heard other entrepreneurs complain about is collections. “Nobody pays their bills on time here,” he says, which can destroy a startup’s cash flow and put it in a precarious situation.

So, given all of these hurdles why does Greg think entrepreneurs are attracted to Panama? He has a few reasons. For one thing, Panama operates on a solid, pegged currency (they use USD) so expats from the United States don’t need to worry about currency fluctuations affecting their investments. He also sees the laws as pretty favorable to aspiring entrepreneurs.

“To start your own company here is literally just the swipe of a pen,” he says. “It takes next to nothing.”

Perhaps more importantly though, Greg thinks that many people see Panama as a land of opportunity. “Especially for expats coming down as entrepreneurs,” he says, “they see what there isn’t. They’re looking at all of the holes and instead of being more pessimistic…they’re coming down and seeing the opportunity. They’re saying, ‘Wow, they don’t have this. I can do that…This sucks, oh I can improve it.” Additionally, “the infrastructure’s already so much in place where it seems like a little America, a little Miami and Panama City is the safest capital city in all of Latin America.” Given that,

“[Panama] seems really enticing because…the sense of you personally can make a difference is really strong. So many people consider it this developing country still and you want to be on the verge, you want to be in the boom. You want to be able to say, ‘I was in the boom, I was in before the rest of the world was.'”

Costa Rica’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Interview with Adrian Garcia and Allan Boruchowicz

Adrian Garcia and Allan Boruchowicz are the Founding Partners of Carao Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm and startup accelerator in the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. While their accelerator space is currently undergoing a major remodel to create the perfect environment for emerging companies to thrive, Adrian and Allan have already jumped into working with entrepreneurs and building up the San Jose startup community.

Both men were educated outside of Costa Rica and then returned to the country to develop their skills working at the premiere private equity firm in the nation. Having established themselves in the PE arena, they decided to leave the corporate world behind and create Carao Ventures to support the entrepreneurial community in Costa Rica and haven’t looked back since. These experiences give the pair a unique take on where Costa Rica’s entrepreneurial ecosystem stands in relation to those in the United States and in other Latin American countries.

Firstly, unlike many others whom I’ve spoken to throughout Latin America, neither Adrian nor Allan felt that access to capital was the true issue in Costa Rica. Rather, they felt that the entrepreneurs in the country need to develop their understanding of the entrepreneurial journey as it applies to high-growth companies  and to develop their ideas, their companies, and their skills in a way that would make them attractive to investors. Adrian put it simply saying:

“Money is never an issue when there are good ideas.”

They both do admit, however, that, “there’s a bridge that needs to happen between U.S. or developed economy-based VC money or institutional financing and Latin American startups.” Adrian describes the search for funding as akin to the dating game arguing that while,  “if you ask entrepreneurs they’ll complain that there’s no access to capital,” they feel that way because they don’t appreciate that you can’t just walk up to the first person at the bar, by them a drink, and expect them to be your soul mate, so to speak. To develop a good relationship it’s much more difficult and the same is true for entrepreneurs talking to investors.

Additionally, step one of building a successful relationship is to be prepared and to be an attractive potential mate, or potential investment, as the case may be, and both Adrian and Allan think that Costa Rican entrepreneurs need to work harder to be prepared before seeking out investment if they want to be successful. According to Allan,

“an American entrepreneur already knows what he needs to do before he approaches an investor. In Costa Rica, they don’t.”

He also feels part of this may be cultural. His take is that part of the culture in the U.S. is that people don’t have much patience so you have to come prepared to a meeting, whereas Ticos are much more willing to have a 4 hour conversation.

In addition to the differences between the entrepreneurs’ level of preparedness that both men mentioned, there are also quite a few structural differences between the United States and Costa Rica that affect the entrepreneurial ecosystem – some for the better, some for the worse. Firstly, the size of the market is clearly an obstacle for Costa Rican entrepreneurs. A U.S. based company can focus only on the domestic market and still have a huge number of potential customers to target. A Costa Rican company, however, really needs to look outside its own borders and be, at least, a regional company in order to be able to have even the hope of the success that would make the company attractive to investors. As Adrian says,

“we don’t encourage entrepreneurs to start a business that will focus on Costa Rica only because you won’t have the critical mass to succeed. You can’t really think of Costa Rica as your market, you need to look at all of Latin America.”

Additionally, because the startup ecosystem has not fully developed, it’s difficult to find lawyers, mentors, or other resources with experience focusing specifically on startups and the unique challenges they face. At the same time, however, Costa Rica has a highly educated work force coming from top universities, it’s within close proximity to and shares a time zone with at least part of the United States, and its workforce speaks very good English, all while salaries can be as little as half what they would be for equivalent talent in the United States.

So what do the two see for the future of Costa Rica’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?

“In 5 or 10 years I think the ecosystem is going to be about the same,” says Adrian, “but everyone – entrepreneurs, investors, incubators – will be able to play a better game. We’ll be able to play in the major leagues where right now we’re playing in the minor leagues.”

He doesn’t see any major catalysts that will change everything, but hopes that Costa Rican entrepreneurs and supporters, like Carao, will be able to connect the dots much faster with U.S.-,Europe-, or Isreal- based institutional sources of financing. “And we’d like to think that some people will remember or think of Costa Rica as a place to start a business.”

Allan expects to see the creation of role models. “In 5-10 years, to be realistic,” he says, “we probably will see a couple of success stories that will come from the private sector…maybe between 5 and 10 success stories of local entrepreneurs that followed the typical path, raised outside investment, go to accelerators in other countries, and come back and set up a regional business.”

And they both hope to be a part of that change through their work with Carao Ventures. “It’s like any other innovation,” says Adrian, “you have to take what others do best and try to adapt it to your own environment, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.” “I have this secondary objective of helping Costa Rica, but the first objective is to grow businesses,” states Allan. He continues,

“We know how to help businesses with potential realize their potential.” 


Do you have experience with Costa Rica’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? Let me know your thoughts on what Adrian and Allan had to say in the comments below. 

Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Interview 3 – Scott Wofford: Project Leader, Ashoka

After visiting Endeavor Mexico, Josh Ford put me in touch with Scott Wofford, a consultant and project leader at Ashoka who is developing a map of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City including development organizations, funding organizations, universities, etc. JACK POT – this is just the kind of information that I am interested in.

Unfortunately, Scott’s report isn’t yet released publicly so I can’t share any lovely links, but Scott was kind enough to grab lunch with me and give me another take on what’s happening in the world of entrepreneurship in Mexico City and where the city’s ecosystem is headed in the near future.

One of the key differences he identifies between the ecosystem in Mexico and that in the United States are that there is more classism for aspiring entrepreneurs to contend with in Mexico and that

“classism impacts many things about being an entrepreneur including raising capital and being part of the right networks.”

Additionally, because of the social stratification, there is more need-based entrepreneurship in Mexico than in the United States. Many people become business owners because it is the only option they have to support themselves or their families, however, these are not the entrepreneurs that have the resources or desire to grow those enterprises into fully functioning, scalable companies.

At the same time, there’s a lack of investment capital – specifically venture capital, in Mexico. Scott believes this lack of venture capital has a few causes: venture capitalists have trouble finding a pipeline; lots of monopolies prevent industries from taking off through a startup because those monopolies have a choke hold and since the startups cannot make it “really big” they are less attractive to investors; and Mexico is missing the qualified talent to manage a successful fund.

Scott also identifies more entrenched corruption in Mexico as something that differentiates the ecosystem there from that in the United States. Because of this corruption, Mexico doesn’t fare well on the ease-of-doing-business index and it can be difficult for entrepreneurs without the right connections to get the proper permits and licenses to begin doing business or to expand an existing business.

On the positive side, however, because the social divisions are so defined,

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” Scott says. “Some of the success stories go through all of the programs – Ashoka, Endeavor, etc. even though they don’t necessarily need the help.”

This is a theme that came up in other interviews in Mexico City as well – because the ecosystem is still at its early stages, it’s a small community in which everyone knows everyone.

Mexico also maintains a strong family structure as a deeply entrenched part of its culture so friends and family “rounds” of investment are more common. Additionally, Mexico has a growing middle class and good macro-economic growth that, combined with its proximity to the U.S., position it well to bring established U.S. models and apply them in Mexico – usually for less risk.

So where does Scott see the Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystem in 5 – 10 years?

“Right now, 80%-90% of entrepreneurs who’ve been invested in or accelerated by one of the big programs will increase 25%-30% per year but only a few will be big success cases in terms of ROI.” In 5 – 10 years, “I think that there will be a couple of big success cases where entrepreneurs become pretty famous.”


Do you have experience in the Mexico City startup scene? If so, please let me know your thoughts on what Scott had to say in the comments sections below. Our next interview will be with Jackie Hyland of Angel Ventures Mexico.


Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Interview 2 – Joshua Ford: Analyst of Entrepreneur Services and Search & Selection, Endeavor Mexico

After speaking with Jorge Madrigal of Aventura in my last Startup Nomad post I was really excited about Mexico City’s potential as a startup hub. I wanted to speak to someone connected to an international organization to get a comparison between the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City and ecosystems in other cities, so I headed over to Endeavor Mexico to talk to Joshua Ford.

Josh is an Analyst of Entrepreneur Services & Selection, so he’s on the front lines interfacing with entrepreneurs who would like to become a part of Endeavor’s program and he gets to help decide who’s ready to get going with the program, who needs a little bit more work before entering the program, and who just isn’t a good fit for what Endeavor offers. He was kind enough to show me around the Endeavor offices in Mexico City (very Google-esque) and to let me grill him about what he sees happening in Mexico City’s world of entrepreneurship.

According to Josh,

“Mexico is just starting to get to the point where people are starting to think about entrepreneurship,”

and he sees some key differences between entrepreneurship in Mexico and entrepreneurship in the U.S. Firstly, he sees a lack of capital in Mexico. According to him, venture funds are smaller and more hesitant to invest because of “cultural stuff,” while, at the same time, entrepreneurs are hesitant to give equity stakes because they’re more guarded as the practice is not as familiar, there isn’t much understanding of how to value a company, and many entrepreneurs don’t realize that they could/should be looking outside of their network of friends and family for money to start or grow their businesses.

This mentality brings us to another difference that Josh identified between the U.S. and Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystems: Mexico’s lack of an entrepreneurship culture. There aren’t nearly as many pitch competitions, mentorship programs, or academic programs highlighting entrepreneurship as a viable career path and educating Mexicans about how to pursue it. There is also greater social stratification with most entrepreneurs coming from wealthy families because the “life tracks” start at a very early age. Public education in Mexico, according to Josh, is not as good as that in the U.S. so the wealthy in Mexico have an even bigger leg up than those in the States. Plus, since there are so few “rags to riches” stories there are not role models available to encourage entrepreneurship among less-well-off young people. Thus, the potential pool of entrepreneurs is the top 5-10% of the population (economically) instead of the entire population.

Finally, Mexico lacks some of the basic infrastructure to really be a tech, startup, and innovation powerhouse because the availability of things such as high-speed internet varies greatly from place to place within the country.

However, just like Jorge, Josh sees these barriers starting to crumble. In 5-10 years he believes that entrepreneurship will be more of a “known thing” and that young people will be talking about it, which will lead to more mature innovation. He says,

“One of the coolest things is that in emerging markets [like Mexico] there is still tons of opportunity. So far a lot has been taking ideas from the U.S. and Europe and doing them here, but in the future we’ll see more people innovating from zero and creating completely new ideas [in Mexico].”

The growth of entrepreneurship is a cycle, so that next level of innovation will lead to more conversation, awareness, and availability of mentors and role models so that more people will be inspired to pursue entrepreneurship and the growth will continue. In Josh’s opinion the biggest success was having an entrepreneur come through the Endeavor program, succeed, and create a contest to encourage young entrepreneurs.

Josh also expects to see more expansion into the rest of Latin America because Mexico is simply better positioned to enter those markets than the U.S. is. He also predicts that more money will start to flow into Mexico as the violence decreases and more people educated abroad return to Mexico to fill holes in the market.

So what’s his advice for current and aspiring entrepreneurs? Well, he has a lot of it: Firstly,

“There is no substitute for hard work,” he says. “It’s easy to work hard for 2 or 3 months but the typical success takes many, many years.”

He also advises entrepreneurs to be very strategic about who their market is and how they’ll target that market.

“You need to know your market inside and out,” he says. ” There’s no way you’ll be able to capture a market if you don’t know what the market is.”

He suggests you find the niches – whether geographic, class, etc. – and try to figure out how to get ahead of the curve and weather the storm while you educate your customers because you’re ahead of the trend.

“Entrepreneurs really need to look at not only what’s been Mexican forever – what’s already a part of the fiber – but also what could be a part of the fiber and figure how to tell the consumers what they want,” he says.

He also suggests that entrepreneurs move strategically, not necessarily rapidly. “Don’t expand just for the sake of expanding,” he recommends. He also stresses that you need to know your numbers because, “no matter how good your idea is or how excited you are, [investors] want to see your financials.” Therefore, you need to know your finances or, at least, bring on someone who does.

Finally, he says:

“Know your weaknesses AND know your strengths. A lot of times people are so focused on their weaknesses that they let their strengths fall. You want to bring everything up, not let your strengths and weaknesses meet in the middle.”


Do you have experience in the Mexico City startup scene? If so, please let me know your thoughts on what Josh had to say in the comments sections below. Our next interview will be with Scott Wofford of Ashoka.