cmymyy my k - New Ventures



cmymyy my k - New Ventures
We thank our partners, mentors, entrepreneurs, and investors as well as the academic community, foundations, organizations, government entities and our current and former New Venturians, all of whom
have made the New Ventures’ mission possible over the past 10 years.
We especially want to thank the following people who participated in the making of this publication:
And finally, the 14 social and environmental entrepreneurs featured in this book. They have proven that
social and environmental issues can be resolved using innovative, profitable, and scalable business models.
The Heart that Guides the Invisible Hand
of the Market
Aires de Campo
The Winds of Change
A Passion for Sustainable Change:
The History of New Ventures in Mexico
Reinventing the Future
Epilogue: The New Ventures of Today and
of the Future
Stumbling Forward
Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa
How to Emerge from a Crisis Stronger
Than Ever
The Art of Alliances
Café Ruta de la Seda
The Road to Opportunity
How to Give Credit to Education
Las Páginas Verdes
Building a Green Community
Los Danzantes
Brand-Name Mezcal
Thinking Outside the ‘House’
The Opportunity of Contrasts
When Health and Tradition Come
A Company with a Vision for Change
Sistema Biobolsa
Fermenting a Grand Idea
“This craziness is possible. When you are on the path to making
something happen, you feel as if you are in a dream-like state, like
sleepwalking. But your slow approach goes so fast that it’s surprising
when you reach your goal.”
Roberto Arlt
Building a dream isn’t about pondering over the journey. In order to make
that dream a reality, first you must firmly believe that it is possible. And when
you decide to take the first steps, you are unconsciously transported to live
out that dream, as if it were a reality.
The traditional and often only approach to addressing social and environmental issues was philanthropy. And the only people interested in resolving
these issues were labeled environmentalists, idealists, and in the eyes of the
critics, hippies. Generally speaking, an economic strategy was rarely used to
tackle these problems.
This is exactly what happened when New Ventures was born. The journey
was uncertain, but the mission was clear: to catalyze social and environmental
companies. Gradually, more people joined, and we were all unaware what we
would have to face, but working toward these goals was our dream. Today,
New Ventures is celebrating a decade of making that dream come true.
Meanwhile, the business world stood at the other extreme. And its main objectives were to obtain financial profitability, maximize return on investment,
pursue sustainable revenue growth, and promote the reduction of costs.
Regardless of the line of business, the underlying logic was to make money,
even if that involved negative effects on the environment or on society.
New Ventures has become the leading platform dedicated to financing, accelerating, and promoting companies that generate positive economic, environmental, and social impact. That dream became a reality, but in our wildest
dreams, we never imagined what we would encounter along the way. It is
tempting to be precious about our dreams — when and how they should
occur — but flexibility and creativity have afforded us freedom and the opportunity to have fun along the way.
Today, the planet is facing numerous challenges and we are in desperate need
of a new approach that accentuates the strengths of these two sides, while
minimizing the negative repercussions as a result of operating separately.
In these pages, we invite you to learn about the ten years of our history. We
have included a series of success stories, which demonstrate that the journey
itself is what has brought us to where we are today. We aim to inspire everyone who believes that the industry can be different.
We need to find a tool that can be integrated into traditional capital markets,
which would solve these issues on a large scale.
The dream is the same, but now is the opportunity for our story to make a
significant impact. An impact that doesn’t simply mean connecting people
and companies with our mission, but creating a community where people can
inspire each other in the pursuit of actions that truly lead to radical change.
The problems that must be addressed are enormous and all too familiar: the
scarcity of natural resources, climate change, hunger, extreme poverty, and
other obstacles that have led to social instability.
To paraphrase Sir Ronald Cohen, the father of venture capital in the United
Kingdom and pioneer of the changes we are proposing here: “What would
happen if we let the invisible hand of markets be guided by an invisible heart?”
The underlying concept of this approach is a movement that has come to be
called impact investing: investing in companies, organizations, and funds with
the intention of creating a social and environmental impact, while generating
financial returns.
According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), this type of investment includes financial profitability and an intentional impact that is both tangible and measurable. The result is a positive correlation between the impact
and the return on investment. In other words, impact and profitability are not
mutually exclusive. The goal is to bring them into alignment in order for them
to expand together.
Rodrigo Villar
Founding Partner
New Ventures
To continue along this path, we need to promote and help generate more
social entrepreneurs. We need more people to introduce large-scale social
and environmental change, in a way that is systematic and sustainable. We
need to focus on the creation of social and environmental value and optimize
the creation of financial value. We need to build new products, new services,
and new perspectives on social and environmental issues.
Internal Rate
of Return
What’s more, most expectations for financial returns among those who have
made this type of investment have been fulfilled or exceeded.
In other words, as Klaus Schwab, creator the
World Economic Forum, proposes: social entrepreneurs
must combine the qualities of Richard Branson and
Mother Teresa.
And the potential is quite encouraging. According to the same sources, the
amount of impact investing could reach US$1 trillion by 2020.
Investments in sustainable industries, through impact investments, have
witnessed steady growth worldwide over the past five years. According
to a study by The Impact Investor Project, from 2007 to 2012, the number
of impact investing funds nearly doubled, from 181 to 354. According to
JPMorgan and the GIIN, in 2013, nearly 5,000 investments totaling US$10.6
billion in instruments were made. The most popular sectors included food,
agriculture, health, and financial services.
As this movement has developed, there have been various trends and repeated outcomes that allow us to be optimistic about the range of possibilities. A prime example is the radical shift in mindset of the Millennial
Generation. According to a study conducted by the World Economic
Forum in 2013, their main motivation behind doing business was to “improve society,” ranking above other factors, such as “generating profits”
or “creating wealth,” which were the top motivations in the past.
What drives the expansion of social entrepreneurship? New Ventures has
compiled a list of the leading participants, along with their respective activities, who help drive the development of social and environmental companies,
as explained in the following chart:
In the winter of 1994, the Silva Reservoir, located in the western part of the state of
Guanajuato, transmuted into a pool of dead birds. Thousands of them died due to
pollution generated by local industries, and their bodies washed up in the River
Turbio, which flows into the Silva Reservoir.
That was one of the main incidents that called attention to the problem of environmental pollution in Mexico. But the history of ecological degradation did not begin
there. In fact, the worst period of air pollution in Mexico occurred during the 1980s.
Government measures, when severe contamination occurred, were called “environmental contingencies,” in which concentrations of ozone or suspended particles in
the air reached levels that put the general population’s health at risk.
This gradual awakening took place on three levels: the people, the government, and
the private sector. Citizens started to became aware of the degradation of the environment. The government instituted the Ministry of the Environment in 1994. And
the private sector slowly began taking interest in creating businesses that acted
more responsibility in environmental matters.
“Environmental contingencies were
very common,” remembers Lorenzo
Rosenzweig, general director of the
Mexican Fund for the Conservation
of Nature (FMCN).
“During that period, the topic of air
quality and the environment were very
serious and led to a gradual awakening,”
mentions Lorenzo.
Up until that time, the mindset was that only governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the social sector were responsible for taking care of the
environment. In 2000, an initiative emerged in the United States with the intention
of shifting this paradigm: New Ventures.
Born within a research center known as the World Resources Institute (WRI),
New Ventures was created to prove that environmental issues could be resolved
from a business perspective, on the basis that it was financially profitable to invest
in companies that addressed these issues.
Over the past 10 years, New Ventures has participated in this movement as a
capacity developer and financing provider. It has promoted new generations
of innovative companies that, in addition to being profitable and scalable,
help to solve the most pressing social and environmental issues.
Today, there is a responsibility and an opportunity for everyone to transform
the economy — and the way things have been done up until now — into one
that leads to sustainable development.
It was then decided that the best way to support these businesses would be to provide them with accelerator services, which included mentorships and consulting.
The participating entrepreneurs were required to propose projects that comprised
the following basic elements: innovation, scalability, an experienced management
staff, and above all, a business model that addressed an environmental issue.
The program first operated in Washington and later extended to other countries,
which, besides being emerging economies, represented a larger percentage of the
world’s biodiversity. “The objective was to demonstrate that it was possible to make
profits with businesses that solved environmental problems in China, Indonesia,
India, Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico.”
“It was a very innovative program,”
says Luiz Ros, who left Brazil’s
National Environment Fund
management team to join the WRI
and oversee this new program.
The idea was to find environmentally-focused businesses, train them, and connect
them with investors. Among other activities, the projects included sustainable fishing, organic agriculture, recycling, and alternative energy.
By early 2000, Mexico already had a few accelerators and support networks for entrepreneurs and companies, like the NGO Endeavor, but none of them were specifically
focused on promoting green or sustainable businesses. This was a great opportunity
for Mexico to develop high-impact environmental companies.
The FMCN set aside a space for New Ventures in its offices, lending them furniture and offering them support in administrative
matters. FMCN also allocated New Ventures a budget for it to
begin searching for potential candidates for acceleration among
environmental companies. “But there were barely any around,”
Rodrigo Villar remembers. “You had to look for them under
every nook and cranny.”
In 2001, Luiz Ros proposed to Lorenzo Rosenzweig that they should partner WRI
with FMCN to bring the New Ventures acceleration model to Mexico. They had met
two years earlier, when they were part of the Latin American and Caribbean Network
of Environmental Funds (RedLAC). “Creating green companies seemed like an interesting project,” Lorenzo remembers. The partnership came to fruition, and FMCN
functioned as a New Ventures incubator in Mexico.
During its first years, FMCN worked with New Ventures to organize events on topics
related to green and socially-responsible companies. In 2001, they organized the first
conference in Mexico about the Bottom of the Pyramid, the world’s largest socio-demographic group, consisting of 3 billion people who survive on less than US$2.5 per day.
The next step was to set up a regional office of New Ventures in Mexico. By early
2004, they started to look for a director who would oversee office operations. Luiz
Ros personally interview the candidates. “I was impressed by all of them, but especially by Rodrigo Villar. I loved his energy, his technical skill, and his ability to get
people engaged.”
They organized their search by industry and found an association
for organic products, located near Chapingo University in the
State of Mexico, the leading university in agricultural studies.
“I was so excited, it was a major discovery,” comments Rodrigo
Villar. The team went to track down company representatives
that were members of the association, but were discouraged
when they realized that it was an association of researchers, not
business people.
Rodrigo Villar was a public accountant who graduated from the Monterrey Institute
of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) in 1999, and he earned an MBA from
the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. His professional experience included work in the auditing and treasury departments of large corporations,
such as Grupo Desc (today, Grupo KUO), which, at that time, was one of the largest
industrial conglomerates in the country.
In addition to the lack of projects, entrepreneurs couldn’t believe that New Ventures’ acceleration service was offered free
of charge. What’s more, at that time, people associated the
concept of entrepreneurship with unemployment and failure,
not with success. “In the past, people would undertake entrepreneurship because they had no other options,” says Ian
Reider, former chairman of New Ventures’ board of directors.
However, the main problem was that many entrepreneurs believed they did not need support to grow.
“I was excited when I saw the New Ventures vacancy,”
remembers Rodrigo Villar. “It was exactly the job I was
looking for: a high-impact company, removed from the
corporate world.”
For Luiz Ros, a difficult start was foreseeable. In Mexico,
there was no precedent of this nature. “No one had taken the
initiative to demonstrate to the private sector that one can
earn money by making investments in companies with an environmental purpose.”
Luiz Ros asked him if he had experience in event organization. “I told him about the
time I organized a party to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, while I was
studying in Australia. Over 400 Mexicans participated,” he recounted. That story
took the interviewer by surprise. “More than the party itself, that anecdote clearly
illustrated his ability to be creative and his power to engage,” Luiz explains.
“I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Rodrigo Villar. When he was a
child, he hunted grasshoppers that he later tried to sell; he organized fairs with his
friends and charged an entry fee; he bought and sold toy cars with his classmates.
By April 2004, he joined New Ventures and began the accelerator’s operations in
Mexico. “Their entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to do things differently led me
to accept the position.”
One day, it was announced on the radio that a company had
developed a type of road surface, which allowed rainwater to
flow down to the subsoil. The New Ventures team immediately went to look for its creator, Nestor de Buén. He had the
type of project they were seeking. The team was, once again,
In its first invitation for company proposals, New Ventures
found 16 companies, nine of which were selected for acceleration. They were assigned consultants to strengthen their business plans, and in November 2004, they were presented
before a group of investors in Mexico City. In terms of transactions, the event was not what they had expected. But it
made New Ventures shine in the entrepreneurial world and
put them on the radar of business-oriented media.
New Ventures immediately launched another invitation to
find a second generation of companies. They identified 40 entrepreneurs, 10 of whom were selected. This triggered a
movement for New Ventures, and little by little, they started
meeting companies specialized in environmental issues, while
an increasing number of consultants and mentors started joining the New Ventures network.
Soon after, they began looking for other sources of financing.
“Rodrigo Villar and I sat down to talk with Sergio García de
Alba, the then Minister of the Economy, and we told him
that if he wanted to support small and medium companies, he
had to support entrepreneurs and accelerators as well,” comments Fernando Fabre, the former director of the Endeavor
office in Mexico.
In 2005, New Ventures received financing from the Ministry
of the Economy for the first time, through the SMEs Fund.
New Ventures also began generating revenues through the
selling of sponsorships for the forums it organized.
That same year, C. K. Prahalad, pioneer of the Bottom of the
Pyramid concept, joined the WRI board and promoted the topic
of social impact. This led New Ventures to expand its area of
interest, as it started to look for companies with high-social impact, in addition to environmental.
At the end of 2006, a separation between New Ventures and
FMCN was proposed, given that the team had expanded and
there was just not enough space. By then, the organization had
more sources of income, besides the resources it received from
the FMCN. The proposal was approved in early 2007.
The hope of recovering from the crisis took form during a regional meeting that assembled the main players in impact investing. This sparked a regional movement, which led
to the birth of the Latin American Impact Investing Forum (FLII).
From the new office emerged another New Ventures project:
Las Páginas Verdes (or The Green Pages), a free directory of
sustainable companies with the objective of building a movement toward sustainable consumption in Mexico. The Green
Pages became one of New Ventures’ main channels for locating
sustainable companies.
In business terms, the directory exceeded their expectations,
but its greatest contribution was that the team at New Ventures
gained a better understanding of the required mindset, operations, and the challenges of being a social entrepreneur.
Armando Laborde, director of the Ashoka offices in Mexico
and Central America, an organization that supports social
entrepreneurs worldwide, remembers that he had invited
Rodrigo Villar that year to join its ‘fellows’ network and to receive a three-year scholarship.
“We were really impressed by his vision on green and social businesses, and his boldness in advocating the use of business models
to support social causes,” Armando Laborde declares. “In Ashoka,
there were panelists who entered into a very intense discussion
about the freedom with which Rodrigo spoke about money and
profit when addressing topics about the environment.”
In 2007, Halloran Philanthropies began operations in the
United States, a foundation created by Harry Halloran, director of ARG, one of the most important companies in the country,
with the vision of seeking organizations around the world that
supported social entrepreneurs. Tony Carr, Halloran chairman,
found New Ventures and its efforts in social innovation quite
appealing, and so they met the team in Mexico and began discussions on potential collaborations.
The international economic crisis, which began in the last quarter of 2008, also wreaked havoc on New Ventures. Little by little,
it became increasingly complicated to find resources that would
allow its operations to continue to expand. Although New
Ventures had diversified its sources of income, it depended to a
large extent on government funds. And with the fall of the
Mexican economy in 2009, the government abruptly cut back on
public spending. The following year marked the most difficult
for the organization in terms of financing.
During that period, New Ventures received an invitation to join
the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE),
which supports entrepreneurs in emerging countries. Randall
Kempner, executive director of ANDE, recalls that New
Ventures’ services were strategic to spur the country’s economic
growth. That made it even more important for New Ventures to
follow its goal, despite the crisis.
“For young companies, achieving self-sustainability is complicated. In 2009, New Ventures was no exception,” comments Michel
Cavelier, director and founding partner of the consultancy firm
Barlovento and member of the New Ventures’ mentors network.
“It is always a problem if you depend on government funds,” says
Fernando Fabre. “Fortunately, the New Ventures team knew
how to keep moving forward.”
A number of the measures that were taken were painful. Expenses
were cut and extensions for pending accounts were requested
from a few service providers. For six months, the general director
did not receive a salary, although he never stopped paying the payroll for the rest of his staff. Part of the team began to lose motivation. They were worried about the future of the project.
“We had to use the little oxygen that we had for something big,”
Rodrigo Villar recalls.
Gradually, other key players in the sector joined. “The New Ventures team informed us
of their idea to host an event on impact investing in Mexico,” says Carmen Correa, operations director of Avina Foundation, which was created in the mid-1990s by Swiss
entrepreneur Stephan Schmidheiny to build leadership in sustainable development
among social actors. “It seemed like an excellent idea because there was nothing of the
kind in the region.” That year, Avina became a founding partner of the FLII.
New Ventures also contacted Halloran Philanthropies to suggest they become founding partners of the forum. “I was easily convinced that the Forum was a great idea,” declares the foundation’s president, Tony Carr. “One unique quality of New Ventures is
that it is constantly searching for new projects that benefit the high-impact entrepreneurial sector.”
The organizers wanted to decentralize the entrepreneurial activities that were concentrated in the major cities of Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Mexico City. At first, they
thought of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, but later realized it would be too difficult to reach for most. Then they thought of Mérida, Yucatán, a great place to organize
an event due to its great accessibility, security, not to mention its cultural appeal.
The FLII marked a milestone in the region’s sustainable capital industry. The first year
welcomed the participation of the leading agents in the investment industries of
Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. “Latin Americans would always attend
events normally held in the United States or Europe, but granted, our participation was
much less,” says Carmen Correa.
“Some people thought that if we held
the FLII in Mérida, no one would come
because of the distance,” explains
Armando Laborde.
“But I think in the end, it was the best
decision. It stimulated entrepreneurial
The forum incorporated new players into the financing industry of high-impact social activity outside of the urban centers
and environmental companies. One example is Nacional Monte de Piedad, which for and became a highly strategic place
30 years, only donated the surplus that was generated by personal loans under tradi- for an international audience.”
tional schemes, until Martha Smith invited them to this forum.
“We asked ourselves how we could increase the social impact of the donations that we
were giving out,” comments Max Echeverría, who joined the board in March 2010.
“Attending the FLII opened the eyes of the board to the existence of a world focused
on a type of entrepreneurship that has social objectives,” says Raul Medina Mora,
former chairman of Nacional Monte de Piedad.
They established new offices in a colonial-style house in
Coyoacán, one of the most traditional districts of Mexico City.
Martha and Juan Carlos were the ideal allies for this initiative. Martha was the president of the US-Mexican Foundation and the Foundation of Mexican Entrepreneurs
(FUNDEMEX). Juan Carlos was the director of Promotora Social Mexico, the entity that
emerged from Grupo Compartamos, whose mission is the development of underserved
people, through venture philanthropy activities that can foster sustainable projects.
As a result of the separation, New Ventures was more flexible
and more efficient in its operation, and began to create its own
identity. “That was the birth of the ‘New Venturians,’ as many
people call us,” remarks Rodrigo Villar. The team defines the
nickname as someone who is highly capable, passionate, and
ready to apply their skills and energy to promote social and environmental development.
In 2010, Martha Smith, Juan Carlos Domenzain, and Rodrigo Villar met in Miami, at
a forum that included Latin American investors who were interested in high-impact
projects. Having left the event disappointed about the quality, they were convinced of
the need for a better forum in Mexico.
“Coming from social welfare, we
were entering something completely
new, which is why we looked into
the possibility of changing that and
of making a positive impact on the
ecosystem,” recounts Raúl Medina
Mora about the FLII.
The FLII has become a compulsory meeting place for those interested in the region’s impact investing. “Every time I speak with entrepreneurs, they always refer
to the Forum, mentioning the name of a fundraiser, an investor, or a partner,” says
Martha Smith.
After organizing the first FLII, Rodrigo Villar realized that the next step for New
Ventures should be to support companies in their financing efforts. “That was when we
decided to develop an impact investing fund.” Rodrigo began searching for the ideal
fund administrator: someone who shared the same passion for social and environmental
issues and someone who could manage the fund with the same discipline and rigor as
any private capital fund.
We began by redefining our mission: Catalyzing companies
with social and environmental impact.
In early 2013, as our tenth anniversary approached, we held a
special strategy meeting. At that moment we realized that we
had fulfilled many of our original objectives: the distinctive
qualities of the entrepreneur were already widely recognized
and an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs was already in
place. And this, in addition to one thing that still makes us
proud: social and environmental entrepreneurship was already
acknowledged as a viable concept.
We also reformulated our objectives: Fostering a new generation
of innovative companies that, in addition to being profitable,
help solve the main environmental and social issues.
We are no longer the organization we were in 2004, which
only provided acceleration services to environmental projects.
We have evolved into a support platform for social and environmental entrepreneurs, which offers three areas of service:
financing, acceleration, and promotion.
The objective of the financing division is to promote the expansion and success of companies through flexible financing and
technical assistance, which is provided through the Adobe
Capital fund.
The acceleration division provides strategic support, working
toward strengthening businesses in the building and accumulation of success stories.
The fund’s project was very new and
instigated skepticism among some
potential investors. “We were forced
to seek out investors who wanted to be
pioneers and who were willing to risks,”
comments Erik Wallsten. Over the
course of two and a half years, they visited
some 150 investors, 13 of whom accepted,
including the Nacional Financiera’s Fund
of Funds, the German Investment and
Development Corporation (GIDC),
the Development Bank of Latin America
(CAF), the Inter-American Investment
Corporation (IIC), and Promotora
Social Mexico.
In February 2014, Adobe Capital surpassed its initial investment-raising goal, closing
at US$20.2 million.
We also recognized that with the expansion of our organization
and the creation of brands as important as the Adobe Capital
A few months after their first encounter, Erik Wallsten quit his job and began to work
with Rodrigo to create a fund to invest in models whose fundamental aim was to address social and environmental issues. Erik suggested the name Adobe Capital.
Adobe Capital began operations in November 2012. During the first year, the team
reviewed about 200 companies interested in receiving financing. Among the candidates, the fund invested in only one: FINAE, a company that offers educational loans
to young people who cannot afford to pay for private university. The second investment was in Biorganimex, a manufacturer of ecological cleaning products. Its third
undertaking was with Salauno, a clinic specialized in visual healthcare that offers
low-cost treatments.
fund and FLII, there was some confusion about our activities.
This led us to design a new communications strategy that would
illustrate this new facet of New Ventures.
At that meeting, we decided that we had to redefine our role
and rethink how we could maintain our leading position within
the industry, using innovative methods and offering assistance
and services that were not yet available on the market, but are
required to order to allow social and environmental businesses to reach their full potential.
The search was already underway when Rodrigo Villar received a call from Erik
Wallsten, who told him he was thinking about creating an impact investing fund. They
had met a few years earlier, when Erik was directing a private capital fund and was approached by Rodrigo, who sought financing for companies that had participated in
New Ventures’ acceleration program.
They designed a US$20 million fund, which is smaller than traditional funds, allowing
them to make smaller investments. The idea was to finance what they call in the industry
“the missing middle,” which is the financing gap between nascent companies who receive
financial support from family, friends, or an angel investor, and those who have access to
financing from traditional venture capital funds or commercial banks. The fund would
create a distinct financial structure for each entrepreneur and leverage New Ventures’
technical assistance. Moreover, Adobe would work toward becoming the first mezzanine fund in Mexico, thereby meeting the principal needs of the sector.
Two years after attending the FLII for the first time, efforts got underway to create the
Social Impact Investing Fund of Nacional Monte de Piedad, which is already in the
process of analyzing investment opportunities. For Javier de la Calle, general director of
Nacional Monte de Piedad, New Ventures marked the gateway for the foundation to
enter into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. “We went from being an institution accustomed to donating to one that was considering the idea of supporting companies with
our own resources,” he explains.
Aires de Campo
Ten years after our arrival in Mexico, we want to show the traditional business
world that it is possible to combine business sense with sustainability and social
impact, and shatter the bohemian stereotype that is often still associated with solving social and environmental issues.
The future of impact investing is full of challenges, but these social and environmental
challenges cannot be solved with the tools used today. We believe, now more than ever,
that social and environmental companies have the means to solve these issues in a
convincing, definitive, and scalable way.
That’s why, at New Ventures, we are already preparing a series of projects that we
expect will continue to spur growth within the industry and take it to the next level.
These projects not only include those in our current portfolio, but many being conducted abroad, as we retrace the steps we have made in Mexico, but this time, across
Latin America.
We want to continue to set off the domino effect, in hopes
that the stories that we helped make a reality inspire other
entrepreneurs to initiate ambitious projects to tackle these
challenges. We want to attract more resources to support
these projects and we want to continue to promote the
expansion of sustainable industry.
Commercialization and distribution
of organic food
Collaborates with a network of more
than 80 local producers, including family
farmers, agricultural cooperatives,
and small and medium agri-businesses
Certified by the European Union and
the United States as an organic food
distributor for complying with international
sanitary standards
Their products are sold in more than
420 points of sale in Mexico
From 2012 to 2013, the producer network
increased the surface area of organicallymanaged land by more than 100%: from
20,000 to 41,000 hectares
Commercial relationship with over
1,000 direct clients
With 10 years under our belt, we are stronger, wiser, more professional, and ready
to continue to launch innovative and radical projects to meet our objectives.
If we compare our current operations with our long-term goals, we see there is still
much to do. We recognize that our mission is ambitious. Far from being discouraged,
we are motivated to work harder and more effectively in an effort to bring us just a little
closer to that mission each day.
British newspaper The Guardian published a revealing story in February
2000: one of every four people consumed some form of organic food, even
though it was more expensive than non-organic products. The story, based
on a survey of 2,000 people, reflected the impact that these products were
making in the United Kingdom, where fruits and vegetables were the preferred choice when buying organic.
That same year, Guadalupe Latapí proved that in the United States, where
she was studying her master’s degree in Food Sciences at the University of
California, consumers were increasingly choosing foods free of pesticides,
insecticides, synthetic hormones, genetically-modified organisms, and artificial colorings and flavorings — a common characteristic in products with
organic labels.
“It seemed like it was a growing trend in many countries,” Guadalupe
remembers. Companies like Wild Oats, Hain Celestial Group, and United
Natural Foods were among the preferred consumer brands, and it appeared that the global organic market was starting to gain momentum,
as organic products began filling the shelves in supermarkets.
“The idea I had, when I returned from my studies, was to open up a tiny
shop to sell these types of products. But I didn’t have a business plan,”
Guadalupe confesses.
To do so, she first had to find suppliers and she began her search immediately.
After some time, Guadalupe realized that, unlike what was happening in the
United Kingdom and the United States, there were very few organic products
in Mexico, and not much of a market either.
During her quest, Guadalupe found an organic fair in Puebla, organized by
the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing, and Food
(SAGARPA). That is where she met Enrique del Toro, an organic milk producer,
and she told him about her project and the challenges she faced due to the
lack of suppliers in the country.
Together, they began to come up with a solution to the problem, and by the
end of 2001, Guadalupe, Enrique, and Elsa de la Garza founded Aires de
Campo, a company that would help build a network of organic Mexican producers, making it easier for them to reach consumers.
The next challenge was to create a virtually non-existent market within the
country. “The objective was to support the development of rural areas and
organic agriculture in Mexico,” comments Guadalupe.
Guadalupe Latapí
Within our promotion division, we work toward advocating the companies that have
participated in our acceleration programs, along with the industries in which they
operate, by creating and running promotional and strategic networking projects,
such as the FLII and Páginas Verdes.
Our current focus is to become the tipping point of business models that, in addition to
resolving social and environmental issues, these businesses are profitable, innovative,
have potential for scale, and are led by talented, passionate teams. We have solidified
this transformation by adding a series of changes to our visual communication,
designed to reinforce our values. A major example of this is adapting our logo and using
a symbol that truly represents us.
We achieve this through acceleration programs that we conduct independently and
through those designed with our strategic partners, with whom we seek to provide the
resources needed to increase the number of social and environmental companies in
Mexico and across Latin America. Some examples include: New Ventures’ Strategy
Boot Camp, BBVA Bancomer’s Momentum Project, I3 LATAM, Ashoka, the Swiss
Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and Hystra.
In 2000, there were nearly 103,000 hectares dedicated to
organic production, equivalent to more than 150 times the
total surface area of the Chapultepec Forest, the largest
forest in Mexico City. The figure seems high, but it’s not. In
Mexico, there are 26 million hectares of land that can be
farmed, but only half is active.
The initial mission for the founders of Aires de Campo was
to locate the 33,587 producers who were working on that
land and to convince them to join the network. They began
with the producers who were closest to the project: the
milk producers. Enrique’s organic milk project was the first
to join the network, and by 2002, one year after the company’s foundation, it had already incorporated five organic
producers of rice, amaranth, and coconut oil.
“It would have been easier to import products than to develop domestic producers,” Guadalupe declares, “but we
decided to focus on Mexico. That was our challenge.”
During the first three years, Aires de Campo focused on
promoting the development of organic products. They
used the fair trade model as their main tool to attract new
members to the network.
The 20 network members attended the training course for
a period of three days. Some of the attendees included
Felipe Hernández from Amarantos Mexiquenses, Luis
Enrique Castañón from Miel Mexicana, and Carlos Malcher
from Coco Colima.
New Ventures also invited Aires de Campo to sign up for
their acceleration program, which helped strengthen its
human resources and marketing departments, and facilitated the implementation of performance indicators.
What’s more, the training helped them face the international economic crisis of 2008. “It was a very complicated
time for us, with a complete lack of capital,” she admits.
“What got us through the crisis was the fact that everybody
helped each other. We made a long-term commitment
with our suppliers who stayed on with us that we would
continue to work with them after the crisis passed.”
Keep a close eye on what trends
are going on in other markets.
It is likely that sooner or later,
they will come to Mexico,
and you can be the first to jump
at the opportunity.
For them, the way to help producers to become self-sustainable was professionalization. “In 2005, I told the director of New Ventures, Rodrigo Villar, about our needs, and
they supported us by providing us with a basic business
course to offer our producers,” Guadalupe comments.
“That was the most valuable aid that New Ventures has
offered us,” she says. “It helped us understand our relationship with producers in an effort to meet the existing
demand. Without a doubt, that training program set the
course for future relations with our producers.”
In her opinion, the benefit of belonging to the network is
that members can focus on producing, without worrying
about sale prices. But Guadalupe acknowledges that starting out wasn’t easy. “We suffered quite a bit during the first
five years, because in the beginning, we had to absorb the
cost of integrating organic production into the market.”
“There are swindlers out there who bring the prices
down. These people go to the communities to buy product at very low cost, and then take the goods to cities or
distribution centers to sell them at a higher price,”
Guadalupe explains. “They are the ones taking home
most of the earnings.”
Alfredo Suárez
Alianza con la Biósfera (AliBio)
The company’s main obstacle is accessing the self-service market. Negotiations,
she explained, are very complicated. In late 2006, Aires de Campo entered
Walmart, and currently, its products are sold in large supermarkets, like Soriana,
Chedraui, and Comercial Mexicana. “Sometimes the toughest thing is stepping out of your comfort zone and building new markets.”
Their network is made up of over 80 producers who offer products to be sold
in refrigerated and frozen foods, and in local grocery stores. Guadalupe says
that the products that sell the best are: chicken, eggs, amaranth, rice, juice,
nuts, and honey.
In 2011, Grupo Herdez, one of the largest food corporations in the country,
bought Aires de Campo. “New Ventures invited us to the first Latin
American Impact Investing Forum in Mérida,” remembers Guadalupe.
“This was an important stepping stone for us, because we managed to
perfect our pitch, and it was the place where we proposed our project to
Grupo Herdez.”
In 2012, Impulso Orgánico reported that there were 512,246 hectares of organic crops in Mexico. That figure is five times higher than 12 years earlier,
when Guadalupe, Héctor, and Elsa were just starting out.
Aires de Campo has held its certification as an organic food distributor for
nine years, and it has participated in national forums on drafting guidelines
for organic production in Mexico, in the National Council of Organic
Production and in Impulso Orgánico. It was also one of the 25 finalists in the
Iniciativa Mexico, a national television entrepreneurial program.
Guadalupe says that despite the fact that organic products are now on the
market, there are still opportunities for growth in the segment. “I see a
heighten level of consumer awareness, an increasing number of producers
selling their products, and a large market for organic products, with a 30%
annual growth rate.”
Aires de Campo’s plans for the future are to continue to supply the main
supermarket chains, to spark the development of new products among
domestic farmers, and to remain the leaders of a market that, before 2000,
was virtually non-existent.
Just because there is
no obvious market for
a product or service,
does not mean it cannot
be developed.
As an entrepreneur, it is
crucial to have patience
and faith in your project.
Researches, develops, and sells
biotechnological solutions to improve
nutrition and the environment
Improves the quality of agricultural
and aquaculture processes, by developing
biological products and solutions based
on beneficial microorganisms that
increase crop production by up to 40%
AliBio products are alternatives to the
use of agrochemicals or pesticides, which
affect the soil and cause nutrient loss,
among other effects
The AliBio Science Center for Research and
Development examines over 2,000 types of
microorganisms with the goal of restoring
biological water and soil ecosystems
The company treats more than 40 million
liters of wastewater every year and more
than 35 million liters of aquaculture
“I wanted to be the Bernardo Quintana of the 21st
Century,” Alfredo remembers. His motivation was to
contribute to the development of infrastructure in Mexico,
as Quintana did with ICA during the previous century.
With that in mind, Alfredo began studying Civil Engineering at Mexico’s
National Autonomous University (UNAM). During the third semester of his program, a friend invited him to work with his father on a project to rebuild city
sidewalks. Alfredo, a 20-year-old student, accepted the offer, and that is how
his dream began to materialize.
As a student, he founded the company Intra Construcción, and began winning
contracts and earning wide recognition within the industry. Over the next decade, in the 1980s, he founded four more companies, all related to the construction sector, never once giving up his childhood dream.
Then came 1994, the year of “The Error of December,” the name attributed to
the Mexican peso devaluation of that year. The crisis had a dual impact on
Alfredo’s companies. “The first sector to be affected by a crisis is construction,”
he explains. And just before the economic collapse, one of Alfredo’s companies
had obtained a loan for US$33 million, when the exchange rate was 3 pesos on
the dollar. With the crisis, the peso devaluated and the exchange rate jumped to
7.8 pesos to the dollar. “It was a very hard time in my life,” comments Alfredo,
who was 38 years old at the time. The companies that he had started from scratch
were now bordering on bankruptcy.
Aires de Campo was the first company to sell and distribute organic foods
in Mexico. As Guadalupe declares, holding that strategic position in the
market has not been easy. “The greatest personal challenge is having patience and believing in your project,” she says. “It’s hard because you are
going against the grain.”
The first time that Alfredo Suárez heard Engineer Bernardo Quintana give a talk,
Alfredo was only 18 years old. At the time, in the mid-1970s, the company that
Quintana founded, the Associated Civil Engineers (ICA) was one of the largest
construction companies in Mexico and among the most emblematic in Latin
America. Many of his buildings were — and continue to be — Mexican architectural icons, including the Olympic Stadium, the Sports Palace, Ciudad Satelite,
and the Mexico City Metro System.
One of Alfredo’s companies built water-treatment plants.
Due to the great need for potable water in Mexico and in
many parts of the world, the entrepreneur thought that this
area could become the new focus of his business.
One afternoon in 2005, Alfredo got a call from Diego Alcázar,
whom he didn’t know and who introduced himself as a member of a new organization that supported entrepreneurial
projects like Alfredo’s: that organization was New Ventures.
Diego wanted to meet with him to explore how AliBio could
benefit from the services of his organization.
In an interest to learn more about topics related to water
and to preserving the environment, Alfredo completed two
degrees in these areas. That was the moment when he noticed that a number of major shifts concerning environmental issues were about to take place in Mexico. Those changes occurred at the end of 1996, when Congress approved a
law promoting ecological practices that affected numerous
industries. One of the most important changes was the
mandatory “Environmental Impact Assessment,” an analysis that assessed the possible negative outcomes that construction could generate, followed by several recommendations to prevent negative effects on the environment.
Alfredo and Ricardo imported biotechnological products
for five years. But in 2002, after finishing a degree in business administration at the ITAM University, Alfredo terminated the partnership over differences regarding the company’s management. Subsequently, he started to design a
new business plan to develop biotechnological solutions
for the agriculture and aquaculture industries, and to offer
waste water treatment solutions. He looked for a group of
investors, and after some time, six investors agreed to get
involved in the project. Among this group of investors was
Raj Metha, the creator of the biotechnological products
that Alfredo and Ricardo used to buy from Organica and
import from the United States.
One of AliBio’s most pivotal strategies has been achieving
compliance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an
international sustainability assessment that evaluates the
economic, environmental, and social performance of companies. The companies that earn this certification have
more opportunities to win contracts, especially international ones. When AliBio was evaluated in 2008, only 400
companies in the world had done so. In Mexico, the only
ones that had this recognition were PEMEX, FEMSA, Bimbo,
and CEMEX — some of the largest corporations in the country. With the support of New Ventures, AliBio was the first
SME of Mexico and Latin America to obtain this certification. “New Ventures provided us support through mentorships and financing, in order to be able to present and pass
the evaluation,” exclaims Alfredo.
In 2009, Rafael, Alfredo’s mentor, introduced him to Fondo
Sinaloa, a fund that receives resources from the Sinaloa
state government and from CONACYT (the government office that promotes innovation and technological development). After 11 months of negotiation, AliBio received an
investment in exchange for 20% of the company. They invested the money in technology to produce biotechnological products in Mexico, which they had previously imported from the United States. They also built their first lab in
Culiacán, Sinaloa, which they later moved to Querétaro
due to security reasons and its proximity to Mexico City.
Never be afraid to
start from scratch,
because when you do,
you are equipped with
more knowledge
to make it even better.
Alfredo and Ricardo’s business vision coincided and they
created an environmental division within Ricardo’s company to sell biotechnological products for various industries,
including agriculture and aquaculture. The products were
purchased from a US company, called Organica, and they
repackaged and relabeled them at the facilities of one of
Ricardo’s companies.
In 2006, Alfredo met Rafael Jiménez through New Ventures,
who would be his mentor during the years to follow. In
2007, New Ventures nominated AliBio to participate in
“Entrepreneurs of the Year,” a special edition of Expansión
magazine. “This gave us a lot of exposure,” Alfredo exclaims. In 2008, Endeavor invited them to join its network
of entrepreneurs.
During that same meeting, Alfredo told Luis about his concerns over what was happening in the field of biotechnology and its applications to water treatment. Luis put Alfredo
into contact with Ricardo Orbet, who knew more on the
subject, and who was the owner of Productos Químicos
Mardupol, a chemical distributor.
“I presented them the project and they expressed their interest,” asserts Alfredo, who remembers feeling a mutual
connection with them. In just a few months, AliBio became
one of the next companies to enter into New Ventures’ acceleration program.
In May 1996, Alfredo contacted Luis Escudero, an old
friend and client. Luis had a company called Convermex,
for which Alfredo had built a water-treatment plant. Alfredo
approached Luis about an idea, proposing that they scout
out more investors to found a company solely dedicated
to water treatment. Luis accepted.
Nevertheless, the construction industry continued to suffer and the effects of the
crisis, which had begun a year earlier, were coming down even harder. And once
again, those times proved to have two major repercussions on AliBio: on one
hand, the sale it had agreed on with Grupo Urbi had fallen through; on the other,
Homex, its main distributor of treatment plants, started to have cash flow
problems, and in the end, it owed AliBio US$2 million.
In 2011, although AliBio received the Entrepreneur of the Year award in the
technology division from the consulting firm EY, on the whole, times were very
tough. “We were trying to build up the company again, focusing solely on
biotechnology,” Alfredo explains.
A few years ago, as a result of receiving GRI certification, AliBio began negotiating
with a Norwegian-Chilean company named EWOS, which produces salmon. This
company faces a water problem that affects two thirds of its salmon production,
and the intention behind these talks is to have AliBio develop a biotechnological
solution. “If we close this deal, we’ll be back on top,” exclaims Alfredo.
AliBio’s strategy is to identify the needs of its clients for the development of biotechnological solutions. The entrepreneur is also seeking financing with the goal
of attracting not only capital, but “smart money,” which means, finding a partner
who, in addition to financial resources, can also offer know-how. But he realizes
that a partnership like that will happen when the time is right.
Online system to promote
Promote the optimized use of vehicles to
reduce traffic and carbon dioxide levels
Aventones offers its services to more
than 80 companies
They have saved 972 tons of carbon
Avoided 76 million kilometers of travel
“It’s obvious that something is wrong in Mexico City,” says Cristina, who is the
founding partner of Aventones, a company that carries the name of what is
known in Mexico as carpooling. “In Mexico City, there is traffic all day, every day.”
For Cristina, the environmental need is clear: to reduce the avalanche of
vehicles that congests Mexico City, which has a negative impact on the environment owing to the high levels of pollutants that heavy traffic produces.
In her opinion, the key is to look at the details: many of the cars that circulate the city are occupied by just one person, meaning that at least three
available seats are wasted.
“We had to build a project that promoted the carpooling culture in closed
communities in Mexico City, like companies,” Cristina comments. “It had to
be more than just a hippy or friendly way to share a car, it also had to be a viable business model that would create major savings in terms of transportation and parking.”
In early August 2010, when she was still working at Scotiabank — one of the
most important banks in Mexico — Cristina met up with a friend from high
school, Ignacio Cordero, to tell him about her idea and proposed that they
band together to found the initiative. Ignacio had recently quit his job as a
supply chain manager for the company Artículos Higiénicos, and accepted
her proposal. Next, Alberto Padilla joined the team; he had the same idea
as Cristina, but wanted to apply it to Monterrey. “A friend introduced us to
Alberto, and we decided to work together, instead of competing against
one another,” Cristina remembers.
Saved 520,000 liters of gas
Old or new, as long as
your partnerships add value
and complement your efforts,
they will always help your
project advance at a much
quicker pace.
When Cristina Palacios was studying at the Universidad Iberoamericana in
Mexico City, she would spend up to two hours stuck in traffic in Santa Fe
— home to numerous headquarters of the largest corporations.
The three of them defined the project to be an online platform and software program that would allow members of an organization — a company,
university, or government office — to see the routes of their colleagues and
share vehicles. That way, they thought, people could save car trips by traveling as a group. The business model was to charge organizations an initial
fee in order to launch the project and later fix a price based on how much
they used the platform.
Their main goals were to optimize the use of vehicles and make a positive
environmental impact, while ensuring profitability. In Mexico, the market
was huge. Aventones performed a survey to measure the need for their
product and found that 78% of employees drove their car to work. The business opportunity was there; the challenge was to render their company sustainable and to export it to other big cities in Latin America, where heavy
traffic is generally a severe problem.
That same year, Alfredo took up discussions with the partners of Urbi, another
housing developer, to sell them the business unit, and soon after, they reached a
sale-purchase agreement. “We were delighted,” Alfredo recalls.
Cristina Palacios
Ignacio Cordero
Alberto Padilla
In 2009, the representatives of Fondo Sinaloa recommended that AliBio position
and sell its water treatment plants through Homex, the country’s largest housing
developer. AliBio took the Fund’s advice, and a year later, Homex accounted for
80% of the sales in that division of AliBio.
Test your product or service as soon as
possible. You can use tools like the
Minimum Viable Product proposed by
the book entitled The Lean Start-up.
One option to expand
more quickly is to
partner up with your
potential competitors.
Using the data collected from their market survey, the founders decided that
the next step was to present a project to a potential client. Equipped with a
PowerPoint slideshow, Cristina and Ignacio pitched their project to Costco, the
warehouse chain. It was October 2010, only a month after Cristina and Ignacio
had met and agreed on initiating the project.
“We sold the platform to Costco as if the product were already up and running,
but we didn’t have a thing,” Cristina says, laughing. “What surprised us most
was that, right from the first meeting, they told us they wanted it immediately.”
At that moment, Cristina finally understood a tip that a university professor had
given her, a few years back: better to stumble forward, than to suffer the paralysis of analysis. “You never have the perfect platform, but we had to release it,
which is the only way we can get closer to what the client really wants.”
The interest shown by the directors of Costco propelled Aventones forward.
The creators immediately traveled to Monterrey, where they met the technical
team that would develop the platform. By January 2011, the product was ready,
and Costco, its first client, began using it a month later.
“Our biggest challenge continues to be the battle against the belief that cars
are a symbol of success,” Cristina declares. Despite this constant struggle, they
were ready to take the next step: to become the leaders of the Mexican market
and to expand into other Latin American countries.
For the Aventones team, expansion has been essential, with
the ultimate goal of achieving economies of scale. In late
2011, Aventones began preparing its model in order to export it to Chile, where their company was selected to participate in Start-up Chile, a government program that attracts
foreign entrepreneurs to test their models on Chilean soil.
“Just when we were getting ready to enter into the
Chilean market, we met New Ventures,” Cristina recalls.
“They invited us to participate in their acceleration program, which made a lot of sense, because we didn’t know
of any other accelerator programs that believed in supporting impact projects.”
Aventones accepted the invitation and began the process in early 2012. For eight months, they worked hand in
hand with mentors, who advised them on sales strategies
and how to establish corporate governance, among other topics. As a result, Aventones’ next objective was to
seek investment that would finance their expansion and
product diversification.
“Before entering New Ventures, we hadn’t built a corporate governance framework within the company. We made
all the decisions,” Cristina says. “And without corporate
governance, it is hard to find investors.”
In 2011, they focused on positioning the product across the national market.
After 12 months, they were providing services to 15 organizations within
Mexico. But it wasn’t easy, Cristina remembers. They had to convince people of
the benefits of carpooling and optimizing the use of their cars. To do this,
Aventones began providing internal communication campaigns within their clients’ organizations, including discussions on the environmental impact and
training sessions on how to use the platform.
“It was clear from the beginning that the trick was to sell: to get out there and
bring in sales as a form of proof that the project was working,” Cristina comments. “Entrepreneurs should always have a sales-focused approach. That’s the
key. Before getting capital, you need to generate cash.”
That was their first success — not bad, considering that even some of their
family members were skeptical about the business model. They decided that
they would finance their official launch with the income of sales, as a way of
demonstrating the project’s viability. Thus, the start-up’s rise, stability and expansion would depend on the amount of revenue they made.
“They gave us a lot of feedback. We learned everything
from how to sell and what the clients want to hear, to the
impact that would be made,” Cristina explains. After this
process, they started to assign an economic value to the
benefits of using Aventones and to use indicators to highlight the environmental impact. For example, now, the
Aventones staff knows that they have to report the liters
of gas and the number of tons of carbon dioxide that users save through carpooling.
Ulises Treviño
To date, in addition to Mexico, Aventones is present in
five other countries: Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia,
and Venezuela. Rides also operates in Chile and is already
preparing for further expansion.
Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa
Cristina’s plans are to continue positioning the company’s
products and to develop more mobility solutions for Latin
Americans. And she continues to be guided by the principle: “better to stumble forward, than to suffer the paralysis of analysis.”
Specialized consultancy in sustainable
construction, building engineering, LEED
certification, and design and installation of
eco-technologies, such as green rooftops,
green walls, and solar paneling
Really paying attention
to the details of everyday
activities can reveal great
business opportunities.
First certification in Latin America
for sustainable LEED-NC Platinum-level
buildings, with a project located
in Monterrey
Always avoid the trap of
falling into the paralysis
of analysis.
240 projects completed
Consults 150 private companies
and public offices
50,000 people have benefited from
its developments
1,200 m² of sustainable construction
22 national and international awards
248 conferences and classes offered
In late 2008, Ulises Treviño got a call at his office in Monterrey, Nuevo León
— one of Mexico’s top entrepreneurship cities. On the phone was one of his
clients, to whom Ulises provided consulting services on the construction of a
sustainable building in Mexico City. The client was calling to ask that Ulises
suspend his services, and the reason was that the economic crisis was taking
its toll, and the client had decided that the best thing to do was to terminate
his financial commitments with Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa — the
consultancy company that Ulises founded in 2001, whose objective is to promote sustainable construction.
At that time, Ulises had a portfolio of 25 clients. However, that client wasn’t the
only one to request a suspension; other clients had asked him to hold off until
further notice, both for new projects and for those already in progress.
And that is how Ulises’s consulting firm was hit by the economic crisis that
broke out in 2008, which was a direct consequence of the real estate bubble
that was bursting in the United States. “We were never on the brink of death,”
Ulises remembers, but company growth had plummeted to half, and the medium-term outlook, didn’t look so good.
The real estate and construction markets, where his main clients worked, were
collapsing spectacularly. The housing sector fell into a deep recession, affecting
housing developers, like Geo, Homex, and Urbi, who, to this day, are still up
against the wall. For the construction sector, the years and months that followed the crisis were synonymous with catastrophe.
The Great Recession, as the crisis has come to be known around the world,
made it clear that Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa needed to make
changes within its operations. The consulting firm had to develop a strategy
that would strengthen the company and help it endure or postpone projects.
The goal then, was not only to overcome the economic crisis, but to
emerge even stronger.
Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa offers specialized consulting services
in sustainable construction, building engineering, LEED certification, and in
the design and installation of eco-technologies, including green rooftops,
green walls, and solar paneling. It began operating in Monterrey 13 years
ago, and since then, it has provided services to over 150 companies and
government offices.
The consulting firm was one of the first companies to introduce the concept
of sustainability in Mexico. And one of the greatest challenges has been
building awareness among its clients. During the first few years, from 2001 to
2007, the company, on the whole, was poorly received by potential clients.
Ulises remembers that after presenting the project, people would always ask
him: “Why should we change the way we build, if what we are doing now,
works for us?”
Despite Aventones’ sales success with its first 15 clients,
the start-up still needed to strengthen its sales strategy.
New Ventures assigned mentors who were specialized
in social responsibility and who helped Aventones understand the needs of its clients and expand its network
of contacts.
In just over four years of operation, Aventones has reached
more than 80 companies, universities, and government offices, including Bayer, GNP, the National Banking and
Securities Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Land
and Urban Development, the Mexico City Government,
the Asset Administration and Disposal Service, the ABC
Hospital, BMV, and Coca-Cola FEMSA.
Aventones has a board of directors that includes independent members who provide support in decision-making. In 2012, the company raised its first round of investments, totaling US$350,000. The money was used to
develop a brand-new product, entitled Rides, a platform
that allowed users to share their cars for intercity trips.
One afternoon, in late 2010, Ulises received an e-mail from an organization he
was unfamiliar with: that organization was New Ventures. They told him that
because his company promoted sustainable practices, it was eligible for a
free 10-month acceleration program at New Ventures. The program included
the Strategy Boot Camp and an acceleration methodology course, developed by New Ventures.
After getting the e-mail, Ulises asked around about New Ventures and what it
meant to sign on to its program. “We found out that it was an organization
focused on company acceleration, and that the primary requirement to apply
was sustainability, like our company,” Ulises explains. “New Ventures had
great references, and so, we finally reached the conclusion that signing up
was an excellent way to get through the crisis.”
Today, Ulises explains to his clients that by implementing
these principles, they will lower their operating costs, improve building durability, stand out in the market, and
improve the health and productivity of the people who
work in these sustainable spaces.
In 2004, HSBC Financial Group wanted to build a sustainable
corporate building that would distinguish it as a bank that
was environmentally responsible. One of the people in
charge of the project called the offices of the US Green
Building Council, a non-profit organization that promotes
sustainability in the design, construction, and operations
of buildings in the United States.
Staff from this office referred him to Ulises, who in 2002 was
the first professional in the region with LEED certification,
which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design” and is a certification system that measures the degree of building sustainability.
“HSBC called me, we reached an agreement, and we got
down to work,” Ulises recounts. “I’ll always be grateful
to them, because they could have hired any consultant
in the world, but they believed in us and we designed
a project that became a major milestone.”
His company collaborated in the architectural design and
engineering of the HSBC Tower, located on Paseo de la
Reforma, one of Mexico City’s main avenues. He ensured
that the sustainable guidelines were properly executed,
he applied for LEED certification, and the building was
completed in 2006.
Other projects started rolling in after this success, including L’Oreal’s Stimulus manufacturing plant in San
Luis Potosí, the Roberto Garza Sada Center in Nuevo
León, and the Innovation and Transfer of Technology
Park in Chihuahua.
In 2010, the construction industry started to slowly recover from the crisis, but
the real estate and construction markets were still sluggish. “We took advantage of the state of affairs, by working from the inside out, in order to strengthen the company,” Ulises explains. A couple of months later, the members of
Ulises’s management team were in the offices where they would receive their
first consulting session from the world leader in business strategy, The Boston
Consulting Group — a connection set up by New Ventures.
“During the program, they went into detail about work methods and the
commitments that we were taking on, which we were happy to accept.” The
main commitments involved: following the recommendations of the assigned
consultants and mentors; dedicating the required time to the acceleration
process; and implementing the proposed improvement models. “It was clear
that staying the same was not an option,” Ulises adds.
“That exercise opened our eyes to the importance of other areas of production, which entrepreneurs tend to ignore,” Ulises comments. “We were able
to strengthen our knowledge on topics related to the market, financial forecasts, and administrative issues. The exercise got us in touch with various key
areas of cooperation and business development, which we have found to be
very useful.”
“We still have a lot to do, but we attribute the main improvements in our
company to our participation in the acceleration program offered by New
Ventures, a catalyzer of businesses with a social or environmental mission,”
declares Ulises. “I think we capitalized on the crisis quite well, thanks to that
acceleration process.”
Pinpoint the key
areas of your
company and avoid
the mindset that the
most important are
those that you know
the best as an
“To a certain degree, I understood them. Mexico’s green
culture was almost non-existent,” Ulises comments. “I
studied in England, where I did my post-graduate degree,
and afterwards in Oslo, where I worked for four years for
the Norwegian Building Research Institute. I became interested in these topics just by being there.”
Produces indoor cleaning solutions,
which are safe for the environment
and use recycled containers and
biodegradable formulas
Sustainable cleaning products
Ecological cleaning products that do not
pollute aquifers, and are packaged in
cardboard and biodegradable recipients
Its products are offered in over 400
supermarkets in Mexico
The first 100% Mexican ecological
cleaning products company
Through strengthening its processes, understanding the
importance of the different operating areas, and fortifying
its internal capacity, Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa
became much more disciplined.
The company has achieved significant growth, in terms
of the level and quality of the services it offers. “Our capacity and professionalization of services grew by nearly
40% since we went through the New Ventures process.”
The consulting firm is currently working on 40 projects,
According to Bioconstrucción’s founder, the sustainable
construction industry, and of course his own company, have
a very bright future ahead of them. But for now, the chal-
The first recyclable cardboard bottle
in Mexico
lenge is to remain the national leader in consultancy services for sustainable building. He also sees an important
niche in highly-specialized services concerning renewable
energy and high-performance eco-technologies. And while
the Mexican market is still very large, the firm is already
making plans to begin operations in a number of Central
and South American countries.
For Ulises, the 240 sustainable projects his company has
been involved in, thus far, is a small number in comparison
to its capacity. His ultimate goal is to establish a new way of
life. “We hope that green design isn’t just a fad,” he says.
“We are working toward making this a modern way of living that is here to stay.”
In early 2008, Héctor Pinto, who was a manager at Unilever’s Communication
Channel, made a few quick calculations in his mind after reading a story in the
newspaper. It was about Whole Foods Market, the largest organic supermarket
chain in the United States, which reported US$6.6 billion in sales in 2007 and
had reached an average annual growth rate of 30% over the course of 16 years.
For Héctor, it was obvious: “Green is business.” In those days, there were very
few organic brands in the local market and most were farms in other countries
that were just beginning to explore the Mexican market. Héctor knew intuitively that the population’s interest in sustainable brands was rising.
Héctor had spent most of his professional career in finance. He studied
business administration at the Universidad Iberoamericana and took a sixmonth course at Harvard. The article on Whole Foods and the desire to
become an entrepreneur led him to think that it was a good idea to launch
a green business, even though he knew absolutely nothing on the topic.
When he began, his business plan was divided into three parts: a line of organic food, which were popular at health food stores; a line of healthy drinks,
based on a ranking of the 10 super fruits that Héctor had read “somewhere”;
and a line of cleaning products called Greenland, which had pleasant aromas,
were environmentally safe, and used recycled containers and biodegradable
formulas that did not pollute aquifers.
One day, as a he perused the aisles of Comercial Mexicana, one of the country’s largest retail stores, Héctor asked an employee if they sold those types of
products. The employee said yes, except for the cleaning products. Héctor
saw the opportunity and was lucky that afternoon because the chain’s purchasing manager was visiting the store.
At that stage, Héctor’s company started to produce small quantities of each
product. Héctor sought out the retail store’s buyer and met with her two
weeks later. During the meeting, he presented his three lines of products, but
what most drew her attention were the cleaning products. “Oddly enough, I
thought Greenland would interest her least,” Héctor remembers. “She proposed starting out with selling my products at two or three City Market stores,
which are also owned by Comercial Mexicana.”
And he was lucky they only started with two stores, Héctor comments. “We
barely had time to make enough products, even though it was artisanal.”
Héctor Pinto
Taking advantage of moments
of crisis by putting your house
in order will make you stronger
when you finally re-emerge.
Expand your options
and when you find
a great opportunity,
persevere to make it a reality.
show any interest in Héctor’s company. Ricardo accepted the partnership, but
warned him that he was getting ready to leave soon to study his master’s degree at the Kellogg School of Management in the United States.
Halfway through 2010, Alejandro, his first partner, made the decision to leave
the project. “That hit hard,” Héctor remembers, “but we managed to agree
on a price for his shares and we both moved forward.”
Ricardo only helped Héctor during the summer, when he returned to Mexico.
Héctor invited other Unilever colleagues to his company, but they didn’t last
long, because every one of them expected that the business would be successful from the get-go. Only Adriána Partido, who Héctor had met at the
Makken agency, stayed on, and she took over the responsibilities of the operations department. At that time, Biorganimex was delivering products to only
two City Market stores, and things were getting increasingly tight. By mid2010, Héctor had to sell his car in order to pay off the debt that his company
had accumulated.
Ricardo returned to Mexico and began working for Bain, a consulting firm.
Héctor changed jobs to work for Samsung, as mobile phone marketing director. None of these changes improved Biorganimex’s predicament.
Héctor was up against a massive cleaning products market, and his first direct competitors were just entering.
“Clorox was beginning to gain momentum with its Green
Works brand. There’s another one as well, but I can’t remember the name of the brand. And there was me, with
Greenland. There were three of us competing in a virtually
unexploited market in Mexico.”
Héctor went for his first job interview, where he met
Enrique Tron, who would become his boss. Tron later comments: “He was a really interesting guy. I spoke with him for
about an hour and a half, and it dawned on me that he
would be a good strategic partner for my business.”
Héctor then returned to the life of a salaried worker, and his
partner, Alejandro, took over the reins of Biorganimex.
At Unilever, Héctor tried to convince a few of his co-workers to work for him at Biorganimex, but all of them declined. A few months later, he met Ricardo Sanroman,
who also worked at Unilever and was the only one to
In early 2011, the organic market began to slowly recover, which for Héctor
and Ricardo, meant a new opportunity to help Biorganimex push forward.
Listen to your intuition and
to that desire you have to
improve your surroundings
through business ventures.
Héctor continued working for Samsung, but that did not stop him from going
to a few retail stores and supermarkets to reposition Biorganimex, which still
only sold to City Market. To his surprise, doors started to open, and within a
short period of time, Greenland was back on the shelves of 150 stores, with
very little competition.
In 2012, Héctor resigned from Samsung to dedicate himself solely to
Biorganimex. That same year, Ricardo Sanroman invited his brother, Alejandro,
to the company, who was working in the retail division of Microsoft. His experience was a strategic move for Biorganimex and this set the stage for a new
phase in the company.
That year, Héctor and the Sanroman brothers had their first encounter with
Adobe Capital, the financial division of New Ventures. They had a casual
breakfast meeting with Erik Wallsten, the director of the fund. Later on, they
met Rodrigo Villar, a founding partner of New Ventures. In May 2013, Héctor
received the news that he and his team had been chosen for the New Ventures
acceleration process.
By 2009, Mexico was beginning to feel the global economic crisis that broke out in September 2008. People began
to look for low-cost products, and so, the more expensive
organic products became less of a priority. Héctor remembers that many organic stores, where he sold his products,
began to close, and those that remained open, suffered in
sales. Biorganimex decided pulled its products from these
outlets, because of their low sales potential, and although
this sacrificed the brand’s presence, it implied a significant
reduction in costs.
Around that time, one of his former co-workers, who was
still working at Unilever, informed Héctor that there was
an opening in the marketing department, where he had
always wanted to work. “When I was working there, I
asked to be transferred to that department, but was refused. They said my career was in finance. Among other
things, that was the main reason why I left in 2007.”
The employee asked him where his products were sold.
Héctor mentioned Comercial Mexicana and that was
enough leverage to win his confidence. They began negotiating the possibility for Greenland to be sold in Walmart
stores, and soon thereafter, he was in. Subsequently, the
buyer offered to sell his products in Superama, another supermarket chain with more select products. Héctor also
persuaded Chedraui, and in Monterrey, he began negotiations with the HEB chain.
Héctor partnered with Alejandro López-Tello and together they created Biorganimex. They began operating from
a rented office with just the basics: a table, a chair, and a
phone, which Héctor used to call potential clients, especially supermarkets. Most of them ignored him, until he
met with a Walmart buyer.
Héctor understood that an entrepreneur’s journey was more difficult than he
had imagined. But he also understood that to create a company, one needs
to partner up with the right people. “No one told me, and I would’ve appreciated it if they had. When you create a new company, the most important
thing is to choose your team carefully. Now, I know.”
Héctor and his team hope more people will follow their example, leading to
the creation of more start-ups and investment funds that adopt the sense of
responsibility that the market needs. And one of his primary conclusions from
the whole process is the vital importance of having a business partner who
shares the same ideals.
“When we were negotiating with the financing department of the New
Ventures platform, we were constantly asked about what we were going
to do about the water problem and what we were going to do in order
to stay focus on our social impact if we expanded. I honestly can’t imagine other funds inquiring about these topics during financial negotiation,” confesses Alejandro.
Yuny Legorburo
Adrián Muñoz
Café Ruta de la Seda
First organic pastry shop in Mexico
Organic foods and beverages
Organic ingredients prepared via
ecological processes
Over 25 small, sustainable suppliers
that comply with fair trade practices and
originate from Protected Nature Reserves
80% of its products are organic and the
majority are certified
90% of packaging used is biodegradable
Promotes good dietary habits, a healthy
lifestyle, and consumer awareness
To create a great
company you must partner
up with the right people.
Choose your team wisely.
When Gabriel Calaforra — a polyglot and retired Asian art professor — is in a
room filled with animated discussion, the conversation comes to a grinding halt
when he opens his mouth. Every Monday, since 1997, Calaforra would open the
doors of his home in Habana, Cuba, to dozens of young people who gathered
to listen to his teachings. Yuny Legorburo, who was 19 and studying her art
history degree at the Universidad de La Habana, was one of his students.
The professor talked about everything from Asian art to religion and philosophy, and even languages, like Hindi and Sanskrit. Gabriel and his students
called it the ‘Monday Club,’ an open house that is still in session, drawing
Cubans and foreigners alike.
Yuny attended the weekly meetings up to the age of 24. Her interest in Asian
culture began on her childhood farm, in Artemisa, Cuba, where she read One
Thousand and One Nights, a collection of traditional stories from the East.
“I was always an avid reader,” Yuny says.
For many years during the club gatherings, Yuny made tea, each time circulating cups among those present, as they passed them around. Each session focused on a different topic, but the tea was just as vital. Many of the students
were sent by friends who were international students and who, during their stay
in Cuba, learned about the Monday Club. “These meetings were a part of my
growing passion for the East,” Yuny comments.
Enchanted by the world of tea and Asian culture, while studying her bachelor’s
degree, Yuny started giving classes in Islamic art under the tutelage of Calaforra,
who was her mentor and teacher. “I became an avid reader, I participated and
even organized talks, conferences, exhibitions, and debates on these topics, for
magazines, universities, and museums,” she remembers. Between 1998 and
2002, Yuny offered classes at the Universidad de La Habana and the University
of the Arts (ISA).
During her childhood in Cuba, Yuny remembers that everything on and around
the table had been produced on the farm where she grew up: from the wood
for the fireplace to the harvested crops and the animals they raised.
In Cuba, the 1990s were a time of crisis. The collapse of the Soviet Union in
1991 and the United States embargo that led to what is known as the “Special
Period in Time of Peace.” The scarcity of resources forced Cubans and the
government to take drastic measures to cut their costs. This included resorting to organic agriculture, and Cuba quickly became the pioneer across all
of Latin America.
“In my country, recycling and the reuse of materials are everywhere. These
practices were imposed on us. We didn’t have any other option,” Yuny asserts. “Sustainability is something that has been a part of my life since I was
a little girl.”
Today, Biorganimex is present in close to 400 retail stores, including the country’s largest supermarket chains, like Walmart, Chedraui, Comercial Mexicana,
City Market, Superama, and the HEB stores in Monterrey.
Biorganimex had only a month to go before completing the accelerator program when Erik called them to report that the financing they were expecting
was finally ready. “We were in that tug of war for over a year, and we had
started to lose hope, but in the end, we managed to gain access to capital,”
Héctor recounts.
When Yuny arrived in Mexico in 2002, she was surprised
by the amount of waste she saw. “The mountain of paper lying around would drive me crazy,” she says. The
reason Yuny went to Mexico was because of her desire
to study a master’s degree on Middle East studies at El
Colegio de Mexico, one of the few institutions in the entire Spanish-speaking world that offers this program.
Enrolling in the master’s degree led her to meet her current husband, Adrián Muñoz, a professor of Sanskrit at
the same institution. During that period, Yuny gave independent courses on Asian culture at the UNAM, the
National Center for the Arts (CENART), and the Universidad
Iberoamericana (UIA).
Upon finishing her master’s in 2004, she and Adrián went
to live in India, where Adrián did research for his doctorate degree, while Yuny took music, dance, and cooking
classes. Her connection with Asian culture grew even
deeper, and so did her taste for tea and the culinary arts.
They lived in India for a year.
When they returned to Mexico in 2006, Yuny felt the need to
do something new. She began translating and cooking pastries for friends and family. Gradually, she became recognized for her culinary talents, and the orders started rolling in.
At the time, the idea of opening a shop to expand her
small business seemed but a distant calling. The ingredients she always used in her recipes were organic, because
she preferred their pure flavor. “They don’t have chemicals,
or hormones, or contaminants of any kind,” she declares.
“For me, it’s not a trend, it’s simply part of my lifestyle. I
don’t like buying those harmful products, I prefer to use
fresh, quality products, and at the same time, help the
local producer.”
Customers must
like your product.
And it’s just as
important that they
know how it’s made.
That was when the opportunity came into Yuny’s life to turn that life vision into
a business — a business that was not only successful, but would also allow her
to share her values with other people. In late 2007, a friend called to let her
know that space for a coffee shop came available in Mexico City’s Coyoacán
district. “She told me that some friends had a café, but they had to close it
down,” Yuny remembers. She met with them and after the meeting, both parties agreed with the decision. “There was an immediate rapport,” Yuny asserts.
The initial investment amount was a bank loan for approximately 120,000 pesos. “We asked the bank and family members for money so we could quickly
transfer the business and only use a small sum of cash to invest in kitchen appliances,” she comments. On January 15, 2008, Café Ruta de la Seda opened its
doors under the management of Yuny and her husband, Adrián.
Café Ruta de la Seda is a café and teahouse, whose specialty is pastries. The
items on the menu reflect Middle Eastern and Asian influences, the regions
which were once part of the ‘Silk Road.’ The first years after it opened were very
quiet, but Yuny saw them as an opportunity to get to know her customers.
Coyoacán residents came mainly for something to drink, as they did at the
previous café. “Most of them just came for coffee, because that’s what they
were used to,” Yuny says. “And so we started introducing the organic concept
to almost everyone who stopped by.” In addition to continuing to build relationships with their customers, they also took advantage of those quiet times to
research new ingredients and new suppliers.
Know and embrace
your past.
“I consider myself a self-taught person. I began teaching myself French pastry
techniques and experimenting with the ingredients. I even started to design my
own tea menu,” she comments.
It may reveal some clues
to the path that you should
take as an entrepreneur.
Over time, Yuny has had more than 100 suppliers who specialize in the production and distribution of organic products. The selection process is complex, but it is all based on their research. In fact, 90% of their suppliers are
Mexican and only 10% are foreign. The main products they import are teas
and a line of chocolates.
“For me, it was the first business class I had taken in my life,” Yuny declares.
“When I arrived, I had no knowledge about a lot of things, especially about
business management.”
The café started out with the pre-acceleration program. Subsequently, it was
selected to be part of the Momentum Project, a BBVA Bancomer initiative and
operated in Mexico by New Ventures, which seeks to promote the activities and
impacts of social entrepreneurship projects that are aimed at creating social,
environmental, and economic value.
Yuny knows that her relationship with New Ventures has helped her refine her
profile as an entrepreneur.
Yuny is aware of the fact that she needs to strengthen her business in order to
achieve the level of success she wants. “I’m interested in consolidating the
company in terms of its basic structures, before thinking about expansion,”
she says. “Everything should work like a well-oiled machine.”
For ten months, Yuny and her team have been looking for a plot of land in
Mexico City to create their own production center in order to increase their
production, which would also serve as a point of sale.
“Today, I see myself as a passionate pastry chef, because up until just recently, I would introduce myself as a professor of Asian art history,” she says. Only
one minor detail is missing from her title: a passionate “organic” pastry chef.
Francisco Vizcaya
Financial institution that offers
higher education loans to low-income
Granted 6,027 loans to students to
study at private universities, totaling
572 million pesos
Agreements with 13 private universities
in Mexico at over 100 campuses
Close to 70% of the students who receive
loans, are the first in their families to study
a bachelor’s degree
80% of students are from low-income
You don’t need to be an expert
in business to launch your project.
But you should enrich and strengthen
your passion by gaining knowledge.
Every year, large groups of young people meet at one of Mexico City’s grand
public squares to demand their right to study at public university, namely at
the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National
Polytechnic Institute (IPN). It is these young adults, who each academic year
are rejected by the education system and who demand a solution to education exclusion, which prevents approximately 500,000 young Mexicans every
year from studying at a public university.
According to Francisco Vizcaya, founder and director of FINAE, this shortcoming
at the higher education level is a monumental challenge. “Year after year, hundreds of thousands of young people graduate from high school,” Francisco
declares. “Most of them take admissions exams at saturated public universities
and are refused.”
Few students have the resources to bear the costs of tuition at Mexico’s 1,620
private universities.
A major problem like this one creates a major business opportunity. “I’m no
expert in education, but what I am, is a finance specialist,” asserts Francisco. “In
2006, it occurred to me that I could help close the gap through a financial business focused on education.” His dream has been more than just reducing the
gap in higher education, but eliminating it all together.
Up until 2006, Francisco had worked as an executive director of institutional banking at Santander. After he resigned, he started to work on a model on his dining
room table: a model in which student loans would be provided to young people
who lacked the resources but had the desire to study at a university. He used this
scheme to found FINAE, which granted its first loans in November 2007.
“At the beginning, our goal was to reach thousands of young people. We wanted to support everyone who was unable to enroll in public university,” Francisco
declares. “It later turned out that the model that we had designed wasn’t well
received by the market.” And the reason for that was because students and
their parents didn’t understand the model’s financial scheme.
FINAE’s model involved financing a percentage of tuition and the student paying
the rest directly to the university. “We explained to them that we were going to
pay interest on unpaid balances while they were studying,” Francisco states.
“At the end of their studies, they would have a schedule of incremental payments, but we didn’t know the initial amount because we didn’t know how
much tuition would rise.”
The model was well-designed, according to the FINAE founder; however, potential candidates didn’t understand it, because most of them were from
low-income families. “When in doubt, people shy away.”
Today, Café Ruta de la Seda has an organizational chart, with clear descriptions
of everyone’s position and duties, in addition to an operations manual. The
whole team now knows what their responsibilities are.
The first point they underlined was her lack of a clear organizational chart. “It’s
something I hadn’t prepared,” she admits. Up until now, the business had always been operated under Yuny’s supervision, but the team didn’t understand
the extent of her role within the company. “When I wasn’t there, almost everything would start to unravel,” she remembers. “The café would often run out of
product because the team didn’t place the orders on time. They simply waited
until we sold out of each item.”
The situation was compounded by the economic crisis of 2008, which limited
resources even further. As a result, in their first two years of operations, FINAE
granted very few loans, despite the growing number of students whose university enrolment applications were refused. “We had a very high percentage of
people interested, but very few were accredited,” Francisco remembers.
embarked on more in-depth research to understand why the service
was not well received. Having dedicated over 30 years of his professional life
to the financial sector and equipped with experience in helping educational
institutions, Francisco remembers an anecdote, which eventually led to the
reconfiguration of his financial model.
A representative of FINAE asks the parents of a student who has been
recently refused admission to public university: “What is your opinion
on loans?”
“They are very bad. People only use them when they fall into serious
problems, but loans only get you into more trouble,” one of the parents replies.
The representative takes a minute to think about the answer, and while he does, he looks around the room. The conversation continues.
“That’s a nice television. How much did it cost?” the curious representative asks.
“Oh, we’re making small payments for it at Elektra,” the father answers.
“At that moment, we realized that our target market didn’t view payment
plans as loans,” Francisco states. “What’s more, they understood these plans
very well, which would make it much easier for them to make a decision.”
Francisco learned about New Ventures through members of Luiz Ros’s team
—the former director of New Ventures’ global operations and the current
director of the Opportunities for the Majority program.
“We entered into New Ventures’ selection process to see if we were eligible
to participate in their acceleration program.” FINAE was indeed selected, and
in mid-2010, the team began the process.
As part of its program, New Ventures assigned three mentors to work with
FINAE. During those eight months of acceleration, Francisco and his team
prepared new market studies, developed strategies to reach a larger student population, and strengthen the company’s operating systems, which
required a few adjustments.
Take a good look at
the problems within
your immediate
For each problem,
there is a potential
business opportunity.
“What New Ventures came to do was to supplement
the needs of our company,” affirms Francisco. “It wasn’t
that we had a specific problem, but because we were a
new company, we lacked the tools which they were able
to provide us.”
The teams at New Ventures and FINAE worked together to
lay the groundwork in order to create a social-network
marketing scheme; expand their market capacities; and
put the final touches on the adjustments made to the
company’s operating systems. “Working with them helped
accelerate our maturation process.”
The changes made within FINAE and their relationship with
New Ventures helped the company build a better image
to attract investors. “We were among the first to attend
the First Latin American Forum on Impact Investing in
2011,” Francisco remembers. “We had the opportunity to
connect with people from a variety of capital funds and
we started to build a name for ourselves.”
Prior to the acceleration process, FINAE had the support of
social impact investors like Oasis Fund and Social Alpha
Investment Fund. Upon completing the acceleration program, FINAE received additional capital through New
Ventures’ financial division, Adobe Capital. They also
managed to build partnerships with major organizations, including KIVA, Oikocredit and the Inter-American
Development Bank.
“All the support we received from New Ventures allowed
us build a better image among investors,” confirms
Francisco. “They taught us how to promote ourselves
within the market and how to attract other social impact
investment funds.”
“Just after we launched the second model, we approached New Ventures,”
Francisco remembers. The idea was to take advantage of the organization’s
experience in helping to expand companies with a high social impact product
or service.
Consequently, in January 2010, the company launched its second payment
scheme, based on a payment plan that had pre-determined amounts.
To date, FINAE has provided student loans to nearly 6,000 students. Its goal,
however, is to reach hundreds of thousands more. FINAE serves a market that in
Mexico covers only 1% of the private university student population. In countries
like Colombia, Chile, and the United States, on the other hand, over 50% of
university students have student loans. “We are still a long ways away from that,
but we’re slowly getting there,” Francisco assures.
Francisco has a very clear plan for the future: to create more services designed
to provide further support to education in Mexico; to become a financial firm
solely for the people (currently, the company can offer other types of loans); and
to export their model to other Latin American countries where support in the
sector is needed.
“The objective is to continue to help young people who can’t get into public
university,” Francisco announces. “What we want is for them to receive a quality education and to have the chance to get better employment.”
Rodrigo Villar
Paulina Moreno
Las Páginas Verdes
Promotion of sustainable consumption
through communication tools, including
the annual publishing of a directory
for sustainable products, the EcoFest
festival, and the Sector Verde fair
for institutions
Sustainable consumption
Informs the population on consumption
The Green Pages has a current press run of
150,000 copies
Seven editions of green directories,
the most recent with a listing of 5,150
Organized five responsible consumption
festivals by the name of EcoFest
Get to know your market.
Sit down with your potential clients
and have a good heart-to-heart.
Organized Sector Verde, the first fair
on sustainable products targeted at
institutional buyers
Expansion of the project to Colombia
On March 10, 2012, one of the heaviest storms in recent memory hit Mexico City.
That day, in the Chapultepec Forest, where the third festival that celebrates the
building of environmental awareness and sustainable consumption, the EcoFest,
was just getting started, organizers and participants got caught in the middle of
the downpour and were forced to withstand the rain for over an hour.
When the rain stopped, the aftermath was discouraging. More than half of the
festival’s stands were in ruins. Cables were strewn across the ground, the merchandise was sopping wet, and all of the stalls had completely collapsed.
“We had hail up to our knees,” remembers Paulina Moreno, the current director of Las Páginas Verdes (or The Green Pages), which is the organization that
runs the festival. Virtually in tears, the team debated on whether to cancel the
festival, which for the first time, would cover the entire weekend.
But, they decided to push on. “We came up with a plan of action,” says Araceli
Campos, who was head of the communications department. “We scouted for
help among the producers, coordinated the suppliers to rebuild what had been
damaged, and sent out a message to the exhibitors.” At 9:30 a.m. the next day,
the festival was ready to receive visitors once again. That day, some 30,000
people showed up, making it the most successful EcoFest up until that year.
“Now we know that even if the situation is bad, things will
always move forward,” says Paulina.
Since it was founded in 2004, New Ventures, the platform that accelerates, promotes, and finances high-impact entrepreneurial projects, has had the challenge of finding projects in environmental and social sectors that would be interested in participating in its acceleration program. The program, which is
based on a method that includes mentorship with experts from different industries, has the aim of helping entrepreneurs expand their projects and improve
their business models.
“It’s been 10 years since we started, and we have never had more than 20 companies interested in participating in the acceleration program at a time,” remembers Rodrigo Villar, the New Ventures director and founder. “It was very
difficult to come across companies with an environmental purpose. We didn’t
know where to look for them, where to find them.”
In 2007, it occurred to the New Ventures team to design a tool that would facilitate the search process and increase the accessibility of sustainable products.
The idea emerged in the form of a free directory that they called The Green
Pages, in reference to the famous Yellow Pages.
Within Mexico, FINAE is the leading financial firm specializing in student loans
and is one of the few companies worldwide that have managed to put the
stock market to the service of those at the bottom of the pyramid. “We have
become a well-recognized company in the social impact sector,” he declares.
“Over the years, we have proven that our model works.”
Don’t do things out
of force of habit.
Question why and
how you do things.
“The main obstacle had to do with a general lack of awareness,” Rodrigo remembers. “It was a very difficult niche to
find, primarily dominated by researchers and academics.”
One of this study’s results was that buyers of sustainable
products were upper-middle to upper-class men and women between the ages of 19 and 59. Since then, The Green
Pages has focused on changing that perception. “To be
green, you don’t have to spend money,” Paulina confirms.
Another challenge is to break the stereotype of the “green
consumer,” who is often seen as “a sandal-wearing hippie,
dressed in white,” says Paulina. “We want to show that we
are all green consumers.”
The second step was fundraising, and Milissa and Rodrigo
began the process. The first to embrace the project was
Fomento Ecológico Banamex, a civil association with
the aim of promoting environmental conservation. Other
major donations came from Deutsche Bank and Grupo
The team had to be creative, because many projects of this
type survive on donations. A business model, akin to that
of a magazine, was created, which separated the advertising sales of their key accounts from SME advertisers. The
team also designed a business exchange model where advertisers were allowed to make electronic transfers instead
of having to go to bank branches to do so.
In October 2008, The Green Pages published its first issue,
and the response was incredible. “Our goal was to have
500 companies and 20,000 directories printed,” Rodrigo
asserts. “But in the end, we had over a thousand companies and printed 90,000 copies of the first edition.”
That same year, Paulina went to Monterrey, and with the
support of Milissa, Paulina convinced nine of the 10 companies she visited to get on board as project sponsors.
“That year, Fundación FEMSA joined as a sponsor, and they
are still with us today,” she recalls.
In mid-2009, as a result of the Bain & Company study, The
Green Pages team devised a green festival that would
put the general population in touch with sustainable consumption. That was how EcoFest was born.
The event was held in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Forest,
and it drew some 20,000 people and 90 exhibitors. In the
middle of the forest stood a large stage that hosted a
variety of musical performances. Attendees watched local artists working with recycled materials. “We gave
away almost all of the spaces,” Paulina says. “The vibe
was spectacular.”
The mistakes made, however, have taught the directing
team a number of important lessons. For the first EcoFest,
for example, organizers developed and produced a merchandising line for The Green Pages. The results were a
disaster. “We made a mistake,” Paulina admits. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t of our expertise.”
Paulina also remembers several failed investments. In
August 2009, they launched a green discounts card and
only one person signed up for it. On another occasion,
they leased a toll-free service (01-800-PAG-VERD) and never
got a single call. “But, we’ve also learned from New
Ventures that when you are building a business, growing
as an entrepreneur, or growing as a company, it is good to
make mistakes,” she says.
“At the beginning of the project, they would make decisions without a clear, long-term strategy,” Paulina confesses. All of that changed in 2011, when the project entered
New Ventures’ Strategy Boot Camp, in which four mentors
helped them redefine where they were going.
To conduct their exploration, they approached government offices, such as the Ministry of the Environment and
Natural Resources. Once they identified the companies,
they invited them to be included on the list. Many companies in the first edition are still in The Green Pages, such as
Aires de Campo, AliBio, and Creartón.
During that time, The Green Pages received support from
New Ventures, through a mentorship granted by consultancy Bain & Company. The consulting firm did a study that
yielded data on their readership’s socio-economic status,
education levels, and consumption habits, and they designed a matrix of potential projects for the directory.
“The first step,” Milissa recounts, “was to amass a national
database of all small and medium companies that offered
sustainable products or services.” Rodrigo goes on to clarify, “The directory’s goal was not to certify if they were truly
sustainable. If that had been our lens, we would have been
left with a tiny project and a very narrow scope.”
After that success, in early 2009, Rodrigo began efforts to
professionalize the company. He hired Araceli, as marketing
manager, and Paulina, who was only 26 years old, as business
director. Nadir Vela remained at the helm of the project.
The original team of this initiative included four members:
Dania Martínez, who served as coordinator; Milissa
Barrena, the current director of key accounts and sponsors;
Rodrigo himself, as project manager; and Maricarmen
Sierra, an intern.
“Why did you print 200,000 copies of the directory?” was
one of the mentors’ questions, regarding that year’s edition. Paulina didn’t know the answer. The only thing that
came to mind was: “Because that’s the way it was when I
In April 2012, Paulina traveled to Colombia to expand the horizons of the company. Prior to her departure, she researched the contacts that could be helpful
during her trip, by consulting with their Mexican contacts and looking on the
Internet. And in December 2012, The Green Pages debuted in South America.
This year, the directory’s Colombian version will include 1,200 companies.
Los Danzantes
The Green Pages’
history is being built
by everyone who is
and has been part
of the team.
Its mission is to rediscover and
celebrate the gastronomic treasures
of Mexico through artisanal mezcal
restaurants, while respecting Mexican
traditions, communities, and the
environment. Los Danzantes’ vision is to
promote the identity of and love for Mexico
“We’ve never remained in our comfort zone,” Paulina announces. “Every
year, we come out with something new.” In addition to Colombia, they are
also considering operations in Chile or Peru. “We inherited that from New
Ventures: always exploring new territory and never settling.”
Food and beverages, agroindustry
Making mistakes is
perfectly normal.
It is part of
our development.
Production of mezcal with a sustainable
agave-planting program and fair-trade
policies for its providers
The first mezcal brand with luxury
packaging for a premium market
Positioning mezcal as a cultured
beverage in higher social classes
Professional and robust agave-planting
Support in the development
of rural economies
Those who know the Jaime and Gustavo Muñoz twins know that they have entrepreneurship in their veins. By the age of 15, they were selling grapes on kilometer 177 of the Mexico-Querétaro Highway. Over the years, Jaime has had a
cement distributing company and was an organizer of athletic events. Gustavo,
meanwhile, specialized in finance, worked at a brokerage firm, and at Mexico’s
National Banking and Securities Commission. He was also the new-projects
manager at Videomax.
Their love for Mexico and for Mexican traditions led them to open Los
Danzantes restaurant in 1995, in the historic center of Coyoacán, one of the
oldest and most traditional districts of Mexico City.
The name Los Danzantes refers to the dancers who praised the sun in pre-Hispanic cultures. The cultural heritage of Coyoacán’s main square was perfect for
the concept of high-quality Mexican cuisine. “It went really well from the start,
and over time, we gradually defined the concept and identity until we came up
with what is now known as Los Danzantes,” Gustavo remembers.
Jaime and Gustavo wanted to serve Mexico’s iconic drink to their customers:
mezcal. “Mezcal emerged from the blending of two cultures, the pre-Hispanic
and Spanish cultures, and was born at the same time as an entirely new culture,
that of Mexico,” Jaime explains.
In the early days, this beverage had a bad reputation among certain social
classes. Most mezcal was sold in the same towns where it was produced, without any type of branding or regulation. And it was mainly consumed by the rural
classes and was viewed as poor quality.
The brothers had to change that perception. In 1997, they bought a former artisanal mezcal factory in Santiago Matatlán — known as the world capital of
mezcal — in the state of Oaxaca, and created Los Danzantes mezcal, the first
on the market with a dignified presentation for a discerning public. The label
clearly presented its ingredients and projected an image that mirrored its quality, all in an effort to earn the confidence of its target consumers.
“We wanted to produce our own mezcal, as opposed to
buying and reselling. We needed to do it from the
ground up,” Gustavo declares.
In 1999, they launched Alipús Mezcal onto the market, which “promotes the
diversity and native soil of the mezcal-producing regions of Oaxaca,” which
includes white mezcals made from agave, produced using traditional methods by local farmers.
One year prior, The Green Pages consolidated its formal business plan thanks
to an acceleration process provided by New Ventures. “The fact that both organizations go hand in hand has been invaluable,” Paulina says. “They have
opened many doors for us.”
Gustavo y Jaime Muñoz
got there.” After researching the market profile and making some calculations
on the target population, a strange coincidence justified the number of copies.
“I came up with 199,965 copies, but that was dumb luck,” Paulina says. Even
then, the lesson was to question and justify every decision. “Those things are
very logical, but in your everyday work, you are doing other things and all of a
sudden someone questions something and you later realize that it makes a lot
of sense.”
If something sets Los Danzantes apart from other mezcal brands, it is the company's activism to promote and defend the artisanal mezcal process.
For years, some specialists in the mezcal industry have warned that there could
be an agave scarcity in the near future due to overexploitation. Jaime, Gustavo,
and Marco Antonio also became aware of this, and have fortified their sustainable cultivation strategy.
Since 2001, Jaime has lived in the capital of Oaxaca, located in a state whose cultural wealth and traditions have
been an influence on Los Danzantes’ vision: to be a company that defends the cultural roots and traditions of
Mexico. From Oaxaca City, he oversees the beverage’s
production and Los Danzantes restaurant, which opened
its doors in 2001. He also supervises La Contra, a mezcal
and Mexican wine store that opened in 1999.
Since 2009, the company has an agave planting project in an effort to render
the company completely self-sufficient in terms of its raw materials, thereby,
preventing this type of crisis from affecting the development of the company.
“We don’t let ourselves get carried away by the craze of wild agaves; our agaves
are controlled under a planting system,” maintains Jaime. “We are concerned
about this issue and continue to promote the conscious use of the agave.”
It was that year, 1999, when Jaime and Gustavo welcomed
Marco Antonio Bernal as a partner to the company, who,
up until then, was an employee of the Coyoacán restaurant. “One day, Gustavo told me that we were going to be
partners, and that’s how I got a share of the company,” remembers Marco Antonio. “But I earned it through hard
work.” Besides being a partner, he is also the administrative director of the restaurants and marketing director of
the distillery.
Today, as we have seen, Los Danzantes’ vision of social responsibility is clearer
than ever. “What’s more,” Jaime says, “we are much more than responsible.
Not only do we practice fair trade, we include our partners, who are our suppliers and distributors, in the equation.”
Eleven years after mezcal production began in 2008, Los
Danzantes opened Corazón de Maguey, a mezcal bar
located across from the restaurant in Coyoacán.
The entrepreneurs met with Rodrigo again in Mexico City,
where they talked about their proposals on social responsibility, the growing and controlled exploitation of agaves,
and the philosophy of Los Danzantes: that the local farmers and distillery workers should be viewed as partners of
the company.
At the end of the acceleration program, BBVA Bancomer
organized a Social Investment Day, during which it was announced that the graduates would receive a loan with preferential conditions. Jaime and Gustavo used the loan to
help expand their company and to consolidate its presence on the market. “For us, New Ventures was the start of
the institutionalization of our processes,” Gustavo says.
New Ventures recommended a list of certain scholarships
for which they should apply. The first led them to consulting
firm EY. Next, New Ventures encouraged them to participate in the Expansión magazine contest, where, as Gustavo
recounts, they met the staff of Endeavor, with whom they
are still in negotiations about joining their network. “New
Ventures is like a vine: you grab onto one, swing on it toward another, and then another, and another.”
At the event, Jaime and Gustavo met many representatives of the Mexican and international entrepreneurial ecosystem. One of the people with whom they chatted briefly
was New Ventures director Rodrigo Villar. “We had never
considered the idea of entering an acceleration program,”
Jaime says. “In fact, at the time, we hadn’t heard much
about this type of program.”
Villar invited them to the Momentum Project, a four-month
acceleration program for social entrepreneurs, organized by
BBVA Bancomer and operated by New Ventures. The entrepreneurs accepted. “They helped us realize that we were, in
fact, running a social impact business, but we hadn’t been
calling it that,” Jaime admits.
In 2012, the twins traveled to Mérida, Yucatán, to attend
the Latin American Impact Investing Forum (FLII), an event
organized by New Ventures to promote and connect the
region’s ecosystem of social and environmental entrepreneurs. The two traveled as representatives of Hub
Oaxaca, a collaboration platform for social companies or
companies that focus on social responsibility, including
Los Danzantes.
In Jaime’s own words, Los Danzantes is a company that recognizes and empowers its producers, by putting their names and signatures on each bottle
and sharing the benefits that come with being part of the company.
In 2013, Los Danzantes opened La Mezcaloantojería Alipús, a mezcal bar located
in the historic center of Tlalpan, in the southern part of Mexico City. The following
year, it opened yet another in the Condesa district, called Alipús Endémico,
which offers traditional cuisine and mezcals from other Mexican states.
Guillermo Jaime Calderón
In 1994, when Guillermo completed his civil engineering degree at the
Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA), the debt that was outstanding from his
studies prevented him from receiving his diploma.
Mejoramiento Integral Asistido (MIA)
This was not the first time he had problems paying for his education. Years
earlier, Guillermo had moved from Mexico City to Monterrey to study a degree at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM).
Four semesters in, he left his studies due to financial issues. Guillermo returned to the capital city and looked for a job in order to be able to go back
to school. He began as an intern at ICA, the largest construction company in
the country at that time. “I was earning only enough to pay for gas,” he remembers. The only way to earn more money was by graduating.
Offers to rural and low-income families
comprehensive low-cost models for assisted
do-it-yourself construction, viable financial
options and construction technology
Jaime, Gustavo, and Marco Antonio are taking advantage of the frenzy that
mezcal is causing among Mexicans, especially the younger generations, since
mezcal has become very fashionable. “We didn’t see it coming, we could have
never predicted it, but we are pleased to be part of the celebration of mezcal,”
exclaims Jaime.
Helps families who live in rural and
marginalized areas to acquire a home,
with a payment plan
Product innovation lies
not only in what you sell,
but in how you sell and
in who you sell to.
Attends to a third of the housing market
in Mexico, equivalent to 8.7 million units
Its system permits the construction of
homes in 13 days and reduces costs by 30%
Builds 6,000 homes per year
The social impact
of a company
begins with improving
your team’s lifestyle.
Has given some 25,000 families access
to housing
Participated in different rebuilding efforts
following natural disasters
Guillermo graduated, and a former ITESM classmate invited him to work for
CEMEX, the main concrete and cement company in the country, which was experiencing frenetic international growth, thanks to its good management and
a leveraged procurement strategy. Guillermo moved back to Monterrey.
The directors of CEMEX were convinced of the strong correlation between a
company’s growth and its innovation. With that in mind, in 1998, CEO Lorenzo
Zambrano created a department solely dedicated to innovation. CEMEX
trained 10 employees from different areas, and Guillermo was one of them.
At the end of his training, Guillermo was selected to be Leader of the
Innovation Platform. His new position consisted in looking for business opportunities and presenting them in the form of a business plan to CEMEX directors. “It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life.”
Guillermo presented a project called Construcción Acelerada, which was
focused on the housing industry. One of the campaign proposals of the recent President-elect Vicente Fox was to increase by threefold the 250,000
homes that were built each year in Mexico. The project involved attracting
and converting housing developers into loyal customers, in exchange for resources for consulting services and construction.
Guillermo convinced ITESM dean Carlos Vigil Ávalos to allow him to graduate
and pay off his debt in flexible installments.
Los Danzantes maintains a series of commitments with its producers: the
company shares its know-how with them to improve mezcal production, it
trains them in agave care, it helps them improve their work facilities, and it
even assists them with administrative and tax matters. “If it’s hard for us to
understand these things, imagine how it would be for them. We can’t just
leave them in the dark.”
The project was approved, but Guillermo noted that almost all the focus of
this public policy was aimed at formal housing. He had discovered that the
informal market was just as big, but it was completely unexplored, and decided to begin devising proposals for that sector.
In mid-2006, the owner of Mexalit, Guillermo’s main supplier of fiber cement roofs, asked to speak with him. Guillermo
didn’t know it was Antonio del Valle Ruiz, one of the country’s most important businessmen, with several companies
in the financial, petrochemical, and construction sectors.
The purpose of the meeting was to invite Guillermo to become Antonio’s new partner. Guillermo accepted.
At the end of a conference he gave about CEMEX, a vendor from the company invited Guillermo to learn about a system developed in Ecuador, which
was building homes in 13 days while reducing average costs by 30%.
After the acquisition, Antonio offered him the position
of CEO of Walltech. Guillermo did not want to go back to
being an employee. Up until then, there were two lines
of businesses identified in the new project: the manufacture of the construction system (Walltech) and the logistics of assisted construction. With the aim of focusing on
the latter, Guillermo and Grupo Kaluz, the company
owned by the del Valle family, founded Mexicana de
Servicios para la Vivienda (MexVi).
Guillermo traveled to Guayaquil to learn about the system, which involved
using prefabricated cement and iron walls, reducing the costs of housing
construction and rendering the whole process much more flexible. “I fell in
love with the system,” he remembers. The project was supported locally by
a powerful Ecuadorian businessman, Isidro Romero.
Guillermo presented the system to the CEMEX committee, but the project
was rejected when it was discovered that the savings generated by the system were in the purchase of the concrete. Guillermo’s efforts to convince
the committee to reconsider their decision were futile.
Over time, MexVi bought Walltech’s shares and they created a single company. In 2009, two and a half years after having started the company, MexVi had 400 employees and revenues of over US$30 million.
In 2002, Isidro invited Guillermo to partner up with him. After considering
the proposal, and despite his fears and doubts, Guillermo quit his job,
moved to the State of Mexico, and set out on this new stage in his life.
Isidro, who held 80% of the company’s shares, also invited César Baquerizo,
one of the most important builders in Ecuador.
A few months later, Walltech was born, a company that built homes with
materials akin to Lego pieces. Instead of bricks, the walls were made with
panels composed of two steel mesh sheets, separated by wire frames welded to the mesh.
In the midst of this dilemma, the Ignia capital fund
showed interest in the company’s capital. The company’s offer was very good, leading Guillermo to sell his
stake. Guillermo left MexVi and launched his third enterprise, this time completely on his own. He named his
company MIA, Mejoramiento Integral Asistido.
The first two months were difficult. “You realize that the life of an entrepreneur isn’t as glamorous as it seems from the outside,” he confesses.
Guillermo drafted an assisted do-it-yourself prototype where residents were
given the materials so that, with a bit of training and support, they could
build the homes themselves.
His most important contract was with the Ministry of Social Development
(SEDESOL), with whom Walltech built their first 100 homes in the Sierra Negra
of Puebla. It was CEMEX, a company with whom Guilllermo had always maintained a cordial relationship, who had recommended him for the job. His
model worked, and soon after the company built another 100 homes in the
State of Mexico. With these types of projects, Walltech earned its first
National Housing Award in 2005.
Even if your idea
is rejected by some,
trust your instinct
and your passion,
and make it a reality.
The first differentiating element of MIA would be its business model. Until then, the housing units that Walltech and
MexVi had built were being financed by the government.
Guillermo wanted MIA to sell the housing units directly to
those who would live in them.
Discussions emerged in the company on where to look
for growth. Up until that point, the company’s focus had
been on the bottom of the pyramid, but there was a trend
among the del Valle family to migrate toward the social
interest projects sector, as the majority of housing developers were doing. But Guillermo was still convinced that
the true potential was in the low-income population.
When faced with a problem,
think outside the box.
You may just find the key
to move forward.
In 2010, MIA participated in Iniciativa Mexico, a reality show
where different social projects competed to obtain financing. Guillermo reached the end and won 1.5 million pesos.
That was the moment in which his relationship with New
Ventures also emerged, since Rodrigo Villar was on the
show as judge.
participated in the New Ventures acceleration program and consolidated its business model. Guillermo
also received support in the preparation of his first sustainability report under the parameters of the Global
Reporting Initiative (GRI), which certifies the social impact of companies.
One year later, Guillermo won the Endeavor Entrepreneur
Prize of the Year, and in 2012, he was one of 20 finalists of
the “Entrepreneurs of the Year,” an award given out by
Expansión magazine.
A few months ago, the state governor of Guerrero invited
MIA to participate in the reconstruction of the state after
Hurricane Manuel devastated the region. MIA has built
more than 100 homes in the community of El Paraíso, one
of the most affected. The company is also considering
Chiapas, where the government has announced it would
build 10,000 new homes.
Recently, Guillermo contacted the dean of his university,
who finally approved the completion of his studies.
“Without his help, I told him, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to help others.”
is an example of how profitability and social impact can
be built alongside one another to create a perfect harmony.
Offers and promotes natural gas as
a cleaner fuel alternative, mainly for the
public transportation sector. Through state
subsidies, it finances the conversion and
replacement of vehicles. It has a filling
station in the city of Querétaro
Natural gas is the fossil fuel that produces
lower emissions of air pollutants
This fuel represents a savings of over
50% compared to gasoline
It helps reduce the noise created by
heavy vehicles
More than 750 public transportation units
have been converted to natural gas vehicles
(16% of the taxis in circulation)
A reduction of 400,000 tons of carbon
A total savings for users of over 40 million
In 2008, while Josué Hernández was working in the financial planning department of the company called Gas and Power, he had an idea that he could not
get out of his head: why was it that Mexico, with the world’s fourth-largest
natural gas reserves, was only using it for housing and industries, but not as a
fuel for vehicles?
It didn’t make sense not to use this fuel, which would allow car owners to save
up to 55%. Natural gas emits considerably less pollutants than gasoline, and
in Mexico, transportation accounts for nearly one third of greenhouse gas
Josué’s concern about the issue did not materialize at a specific moment in
time. “It was gradual. I did some research and realized that in countries like
Argentina, Colombia, and Peru, the use of natural gas as a fuel for vehicles also
developed over the course of several years.”
The business opportunity was just waiting to be discovered. That year, the
largest natural gas distribution company in Mexico reported that 98% of its
customers were homes and the rest were industries and businesses. Another
sign was that, in Argentina, 17% of the vehicles were using natural gas, while
in Mexico, the rate was only 0.04%.
What did Mexico need to develop this industry? Over time, Josué started to
make his first conclusions: few people were aware of the benefits of using
natural gas in their vehicles; Mexico lacked the infrastructure; and there was
an absence of political will to provide incentives for its use.
Josué spent all his free time researching natural gas. He quit his job at Gas and
Power and began working at a brokerage firm, Casa de Bolsa Accival, as a fund
manager. He also started studying his master’s degree in finance.
The more he researched the topic, the more he realized what the success stories in other countries had in common: the active participation of the government and transportation companies. He thought about developing a pilot project that would convey the benefits of this change. The country’s major cities
were not a good option, because of their size. And then came up with the idea
of conducting the test in a medium-sized city, and he immediately thought of
Querétaro, where he spent much of his childhood.
Every weekend and on vacations, he would go to Querétaro to “evangelize,”
the word he uses to describe the talks he would give to promote the use of
natural gas to the local government and the transportation sector, in an attempt
to spark interest and to get their support.
The other advantage was that the payments would be in
stages. The next phases were building the walls and the
floor. “Without realizing it, I was giving poor families the
opportunity to attain something they had always wanted
and completely within their reach,” he says.
Josué Hernández
The second element was a construction model called
“Rural Progressive Housing.” The model involved building
the house in stages, beginning with the roof, something
rather unusual in the world of construction. Starting with
the roof, however, allowed you to use the space immediately, whether as a storage site or as a shelter for animals.
“I’ve always liked thinking outside the box.”
During one of these meetings, Melisa spoke about a plan to install a testing
station that would show the conversion in units to MaxiGas’s industrial clients.
The station would be located within their facilities and would not be open to
the public. “I immediately proposed that once it was ready, we had hoped to
have the opportunity to conduct our testing there,” Josué recounts, but
MaxiGas refused his request.
Find out about
your counterparts
in other countries.
They may show you
the path to take.
In mid-2011, after about 80 meetings, Josué managed to crystallize what was
called Alianza Pro Gas Natural Vehicular, an alliance which included three taxi
driver unions. They sent dozens of documents to numerous government
agencies, highlighting the benefits of natural gas. This did not imply an outright acceptance of the proposal; however, they were willing to find out more
about its benefits for their businesses.
At the time, Josué was still working at Casa de Bolsa Accival, but he was spending increasingly more time each day on his project. And at one point, he had to
make a decision, and in December 2011, he opted to quit the firm.
Oddly enough, before going through with his resignation, Josué found his
first angel investor right within the firm: María Fernanda Ramírez, a colleague
of his at Casa de Bolsa Accival. “He was always so concentrated on his work,
and I thought, ‘it must be amazing what he is doing because he puts so many
hours into it,’” María comments.
Later, Francisco introduced Josué to Miguel Inzunza, the Minister of Transportation
in Querétaro, to present to him the economic and environmental benefits of
his project. Inzunza and his collaborators warmly welcomed the proposal, but
Josué sensed some skepticism from them.
Alejandro Violante was a professor within Josué's master’s degree program.
He was also a member of the Mexican Institute of Finance Executives (IMEF).
Josué thought that perhaps he could help him get the capital he needed for
his project.
In early 2011, the government itself introduced Josué to the head managers
of the local taxi companies. That year, Josué continued his “evangelization”
process, but this time, with a more specific goal in mind: to build an alliance
that would convince the government that the use of natural gas by transportation companies was in their best interest. Melisa Munguía, regional director
of MaxiGas, who had a concession to use natural gas in Querétaro attended
some of these meetings. “She is Argentinean, and has shared some of her
experience in Argentina with us,” explains Josué.
Believe in your idea,
despite the obstacles
you will have to face and
the 80 meetings you will
have to organize.
“We went to a roadshow event and every investor we met offered us capital to
build the first station,” he explains. There were a total of 12 investors who contributed resources to continue with the project.
The MaxiGas director, Melisa Munguía, reconsidered her original decision and
agreed to lend Josué the testing station that they were using for their industrial
clients. “If this is what is going to generate credibility and validate the technology, then please do proceed with the testing,” Melisa told Josué.
Josué partnered with Ulises Pérez, a Colombian who had a car shop in Mexico
City where they adjusted cars to run off natural gas. “Given that I didn’t have the
technical know-how, for the pilot test, I sought out a strategic partner who did,”
he explains.
This discouraging news dashed Josué’s hopes of receiving a subsidy for his pilot project. So Josué decided to adapt his strategy. “If the government wasn’t
convinced that transportation workers wanted the change, then, what we had
to do was prove to them that not only did they want change, they needed support from the government,” he asserts.
Meetings got underway with the transportation drivers, but no major progress
was made. Their skepticism about natural gas was a reality, thinking that natural
gas would damage their engines.
But it wasn’t enough. Josué needed more money to install the first service
station and start conducting test. Raising capital was a pressing issue.
At this early stage, he first approached Francisco García, the owner of Taxibuses,
which is the largest public transportation company in Querétaro. Francisco was
a friend of a friend of his father. After presenting him the project, in late 2010,
Francisco invited Josué to speak with the company’s drivers.
María Fernanda learned about the project during a coffee break and asked
Josué if she could lend a hand. “She told me she could invest capital into the
venture, and I immediately accepted,” he recounts. “If the project is backed by
someone who puts their body and soul into it, that’s more than a guarantee.”
Esteban and Horacio Olvera
A few months after this meeting, in March 2012, Josué received a call from the
Ministry to inform him that Natgas would receive its first subsidy for a much larger
pilot project. The subsidy was for 1.2 million pesos, and he would have it by the
end of the year. Josué was elated to find out that the government would finally join
forces to develop Natural Gas Vehicles.
Production and distribution of organic nopal
Josué had already spent a long time researching different sites for setting up his
own station. Once he received the money from the investors, he immediately began construction within an industrial zone of Querétaro, located fairly close to the
downtown area. “I decided to design the station myself, with the help of a consultant, because paying an architectural firm was not a possibility for me at that moment,” he confesses.
Produces 120 tons of organic nopal
per year
It was in December 2012 that Josué finally quit his job at Casa de Bolsa
Accival. And in April 2013, he inaugurated his service station. One month
later, Natgas formally began its operations.
Promotes agricultural work, employing
56 people in a marginalized, rural area
In early 2014, Natgas received a visit from Rodrigo Villar and Erik Wallsten, members of New Ventures. “I knew it had something to do with my business project,
but I honestly didn’t really put two and two together,” he comments. Yet again,
it was Alejandro Violante, Josué’s professor, who put them into contact.
Instead of hiring temporary workers,
it hires them permanently, since natural
foods require constant supervision
Natgas entered the Momentum Project, a New Ventures acceleration program
and a BBVA Bancomer initiative, which offers mentorships and consulting services. Upon completion of the program, participants are eligible for a bank loan
with preferential terms and conditions.
Its workers have access to a café
and earn an above-average salary
The process took place from May to October 2014. “Working with New
Ventures has meant having several pairs of fresh eyes,” exclaims María
Fernanda. “Sometimes, we are just so worn out from working on the project
that we miss a lot of things.”
Some 15 months into operations, Natgas has converted 16% of all taxis and
another considerable percentage of public transportation vehicles in Querétaro.
Natgas has yet to recover its investment, but this year alone, the company has
already reached a positive cash flow.
Today, Josué is planning to expand his project. He wants to open a second
station in Querétaro and penetrate the San Luis Potosí market. “Our goal is to
participate in every Natural Gas Vehicle project across Mexico, whether it is
about consulting services or working with the government and transportation
workers; if the Natural Gas Vehicle project becomes part of national policy, we
want to be the first on their radar,” Josué explains.
One of the things that Esteban Olvera remembers most about growing up in
the 1950s was that there were many elderly people in his neighborhood and
that everyone was in good health. After high school, Esteban studied medicine and became a trusted physician within his community, located in Milpa
Alta, a low-income district in the southern part of Mexico City.
By that time, the circumstances were very different from his childhood memories. The neighborhood had fewer elderly people than he remembered, and
his clinic was full of young people with ailments that were affecting their quality of life. In his opinion, there were several problems at stake, but one of the
biggest was the change in the quality of the food that the people within his
community were consuming. The first issue was the intensive use of chemicals
in farming, and the second, were the additives and preservatives used to process these products.
From that moment on, he constantly asked himself: “How can I help improve
the health and living conditions of my community?” In 1995, he decided to start
producing organic nopal, alongside his son Horacio, who was studying agronomy at the time. They chose the nopal — an edible, fleshy type of cactus —
because it was affordable for the majority of people.
“We thought that health shouldn’t be exclusive to those who can pay for it,”
Esteban asserts. “Besides, health starts at the mouth.”
The first farm was half a hectare, planted on a plot of land he had inherited from
his grandparents. Esteban admits that, at first, they saw farming as a hobby and
as an additional source of income. “We made the entire process organic, but
we weren’t certified as organic producers because we didn’t see the need at
the time,” he remembers.
Nopalmilli operated this way for 15 years. Like any family business, Esteban and
Horacio sold their products to the Central de Abasto wholesale market in
Mexico City, at the Centro de Acopio nopal co-op in Milpa Alta, and for a few
years, they also worked with the retailer Carrefour (now called Chedraui). And
in 1999, it was Carrefour who helped them get their first certification under the
“Carrefour Natural Quality” label.
But in 2003, Nopalmilli stopped selling to the retailer. Horacio had been in
charge of sales but stopped to study a master’s degree in agricultural sciences.
His father, meanwhile, continued working as a physician. “We didn’t have a
fixed clientele, we didn’t invoice, we didn’t have any type of formal administration,” Horacio remembers.
The pilot project that he had initiated months earlier, along with the pressure he
had been putting on the government for their support, finally started to bear its
first fruits. Sergio Tapia, the Minister of Sustainable Development, met with Josué
and his team. “He told us he viewed the project as very viable, and he couldn’t
envision any problems finding money.”
The first test involved three taxis, one from each participating union, as well
as a public transportation bus. Natgas used the MaxiGas mini-station all day.
Make strategic decisions and
pinpoint where your investments
will achieve the highest yield
in the long-term.
In 2006, Esteban and his son suddenly had the urge to
revive their nopal project, and they came up with the
company, Nopalmilli, marking the beginning of their formal enterprise.
“A good friend of my father, who speaks Nahuatl, was the
one to give us the idea for the name,” Horacio remembers.
Nopalmilli means ‘field of nopales.’
They started out by processing nopal, producing pickled
and marinated nopales, but after six months, they were still
not making a profit and decided it was best to return to the
production and sale of fresh nopal. “We had to stop production,” Horacio says. “We were producing 100 tons of
processed nopal, but only selling 10. The rest we were
forced to put in storage.”
For over a year, Nopalmilli returned to its first system, selling informally, whenever they could. Esteban was still working at the clinic, although he did so increasingly sporadically, and Horacio worked at the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Each of us had our own careers, so we didn’t really see the
company as a way to make a living,” Horacio explains.
At the end of 2007, they met Aires de Campo, a company
that distributes organic food. “We were introduced to
them by a former buyer at Carrefour,” Horacio says. “They
approached us and we immediately signed an exclusivity
agreement with them.”
One day, Horacio got a call from Guadalupe Latapí, director of Aires de Campo.
The purpose of her call was to invite them to participate in an acceleration
process with New Ventures.
“We made an appointment to meet at her office, and there, she told me about
an opportunity with an organization that was helping companies like ours,”
Horacio remembers. With no formal customers or a defined business plan,
upon their first encounter with New Ventures, Esteban and Horacio were asked
to think about where they wanted to take their business.
“During this first meeting, they told us that we couldn’t have just one client.
One client can make you expand just as fast as it can make you crumble to the
ground,” Horacio remembers.
Both Horacio and Esteban felt they had to focus more of their attention on the
company, which is what led Esteban to close his clinic and Horacio to leave his
government job, dedicating themselves fully to Nopalmilli.
One of the basic lessons they learned was calculating their production
costs. Up until then, Esteban believed that expansion meant buying more
plots of land, but the mentors, assigned by the New Ventures acceleration
program, called into question that idea. For instance, buying more land
would mean not having the money to invest in production. Their recommendation was they start by renting land to use for production, and then later, if
the time was right, they could buy the land. To date, Nopalmilli owns four
hectares of land and rents two.
“We arrived at their offices and met with the director of New Ventures, Rodrigo
Villar, who went into more detail about the organization,” Horacio explains.
Soon after, Nopalmilli started the New Ventures acceleration program. “When
we began the process, we started to realize that Nopalmilli, as a business, had
to be profitable,” Horacio admits.
The following year, in 2010, Horacio got another e-mail from New Ventures. In
the message, New Ventures informed them that, after reviewing their project,
the organization was interested in building a formal partnership and extended
an invitation to participate in the acceleration process.
Now equipped with a well-structured business model, the
father-and-son duo started to create a good reputation
based on the quality and professionalism of their work.
Instantly, a former client sought them out and they began
working with Chedraui, the brand that had bought out
Carrefour. Among the other formal and noteworthy clients
they took on at that time, there was Costco and Green
Corner, a restaurant and supermarket chain that sold organic products. In addition, Horacio and Esteban signed
an agreement with Rancho Medio Kilo, to whom they now
supply 400 tons of nopal every year.
If you have an idea
for a small business
that you want to pursue,
take the time to
give it your all.
Nowadays, instead of following their old motto, “whatever comes along is fine,” Nopalmilli works toward meeting
set objectives and deadlines. Last year, for instance, they
had planned to buy a trailer, to solve some of the logistic
problems they were having, as well as a plot of land. Both
goals were met.
Ophthalmic services and ocular
surgeries in Mexico City for the general
public, with preferential prices
for low-income families
Ocular surgeries for low-income
families, who are charged a third of
the market price
Partnerships with foundations that
subsidize part of the surgeries, including
the Televisa Foundation, the Cinépolis
Foundation, and charity pawnshop chain
Nacional Monte de Piedad
“We are not in the business of stealing other’s clients. If a
producer can’t meet the client’s needs, we can step in to
help. But if things are going well between the producer and
the client, there is no reason for us to interfere,” Horacio declares. “The problem with farmers is that none of them goes
out to look for their own market. All of us are watching to see
who is selling to who and then flock toward the same buyer.”
A few months ago, Horacio spoke with a buyer from
Walmart, who manages the Vips restaurants, which are under the ownership of the major retailer. When the buyer
mentioned that Walmart was already purchasing nopal
from a neighboring producer, Horacio immediately suspended negotiations.
In three years, it has attended over 85,000
patients and has performed over 8,000
cataract surgeries
Today, the Olvera family agenda is focused entirely on
Nopalmilli’s operations. In addition to taking care of their
existing clients and to seeking out new ones, they are now
keenly interested in expanding their knowledge and in obtaining quality certifications as an organic nopal producer.
“At the moment, we are working on the Mexico Supreme
Quality certification. We have already earned two: one
which is valid in the United States and the other, in Europe,”
Horacio boasts.
After six years since the company was first founded, the
production of organic nopal is not just another source of
income. With 56 staff members, Nopalmilli is now a fully-fledged company, run by two entrepreneurs, Esteban
and Horacio, who have proven that there is a growing market for organic products.
Javier Okhuysen
Carlos Orellana
Won the National Entrepreneur Prize
in 2014
When Javier Okhuysen and Carlos Orellana started talking about the idea of
creating a new company — an ophthalmological clinic for low-income patients
— they were flooded with words of caution and criticism. The first argument
was that they would be competing against the medical industry, which is widely
known to be one of the most protective. The second argument was they would
be competing against them at lower prices, which in the health sector, tends to
raise suspicions among patients and could lead to a loss in credibility within the
medical community.
Despite the warnings, the entrepreneurs moved forward with their plans and
created Salauno, a clinic that provides cataract surgeries at a third of the cost of
the market average, made possible through a very efficient process. With this
project, they are able to attend to a population that cannot afford the treatments that already exist on the market.
Equipped with a unique business model and social vision, they stood out as a
rarity within the medical field.
“We had a difficult time in the beginning. The physicians we wanted to hire
would hear rumors among their colleagues and walk away,” Carlos remembers.
“But somehow, we knew that was going to happen. So we just accepted it, focused on our business, and moved on.”
The story behind the creation of Salauno began in 2005, when Javier and Carlos,
engineers by profession, met while they were both working at a bank in Madrid.
Carlos had recently read The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C. K.
Prahalad, a book on how to solve the world’s problems through responsible models and companies based on social philosophies, as opposed to philanthropy.
The case in the book that particularly drew his attention was an ophthalmic
clinic in India, whose model was focused on attending to low-income households. “Why doesn’t that exist in Latin America if we need it as well?” Carlos
asked himself.
Javier and Carlos knew nothing about medicine, but they did know that the
medical industry had everything they needed to embark on the project they
had been dreaming about: a financially profitable company that, at the same
time, would have a positive impact within society.
The desire was there, but the project lacked experience and maturity. Carlos
traveled to California to study a master’s degree and Javier went to work in
London. The time to think and new life experiences helped them give form to
a project that would fit Mexico’s context.
They spent the summer of 2010 to conduct more formal market surveys in
Mexico, speaking with businessmen and doctors who could advise them. In
early 2011, Javier and Carlos traveled to India, where they spent five weeks at
the ORBIS Hospital, learning about how it worked, what business model they
used, and the philosophy of its founders.
They returned to Mexico and began setting up their company, and in March 2011, Javier and Carlos founded
Salauno. “We wanted to make a brand that would allow us
to provide visual healthcare, but also allow us to explore
other specialties in the future,” Javier explains. “We chose
a clean, easy-to-remember name: ‘Sala,’ which means
‘room,’ a place where you’re comfortable and happy, and
‘uno,’ which means one, because we want to be the number one in quality, attention, and service.”
The solution came with the Cinépolis Foundation in April
2011. Javier contacted his friend Gina Badenoch, who created the Fundación Ojos que Sienten (“Eyes that Feel
Foundation”). Javier mentioned to her that he needed a
“They were very willing to help,” Carlos says. “That same
month, we signed an agreement with them to do 100 surgeries per month: Cinépolis would fund the surgeries and
we would perform them.”
In the first month, they did only 75 of the 100 surgeries
included as part of the agreement. Over time, they soon
became the company that would practice between 35%
and 40% of the program’s surgeries, the equivalent to 120
surgeries per month.
Their partnership with Cinépolis Foundation gave them
the impetus they needed to open their first clinic in
Mexico City, in August of that year. “The lesson is that
when you have a new project, you need to look for people who are aligned with your mission. The people at
Cinépolis weren’t looking for financial gain, they were
seeking people who were doing what they were looking
for, and they saw that in us.”
Salauno was forced to fire 10% of its staff, it closed down its
Vision Centers, and restructured the company, focusing
more on the commercial aspect and promoting unsubsidized yet low-cost services.
They had met Erik two years earlier, at the First Latin
American Impact Investing Fund (FLII), when they were just
creating Salauno and the investor had just created the fund.
“When we embarked on negotiations, Seguro Popular had
just taken us out of the picture and we were forced to create
affordable services without government support,” Carlos
remembers. “One of the first things that New Ventures
helped us with, was finding a way to do that.”
In May 2014, Javier received a call from the fund. Finally,
they were going to receive resources, but not just from
New Ventures. They were going to receive financing from
the World Bank, which they had once considered when examining an investment option through the International
Finance Corporation (IFC).
Don’t give up
on your project
because of criticism.
Keep an open mind and
only hold onto the advice
that you can apply
to your project.
Before jumping into building a physical clinic, they first
needed to ensure that they would have patients. “We
needed to build an initial alliance,” Carlos says. “It is perfectly normal. At the beginning, no one knows you and
you don’t yet have a roster of patients, so before opening
our clinic and hiring our staff, we had to make sure that
we would have work.”
partner and she proposed that he get in touch with Lorena
Guillé, the executive director of the Cinépolis Foundation.
The entrepreneurs were lucky: the foundation was looking
for people to help them with a program called Del Amor
Nace la Vista (“Seeing Comes from Love”), in which people with cataract problems are diagnosed and offered surgery at no charge.
Salauno hired more staff and bought new medical equipment. It also opened 15 Vision Centers, offering consultations and diagnostics in Mexico City to detect vision
problems in patients. But in February 2013, the Seguro
Popular removed this surgery from its services, and that
changed everything. “These surgeries were a very important part of our income. We had invested a lot in that area,
and all of a sudden, all of that collapsed,” Carlos laments.
In mid-2013, Javier and Carlos began looking for capital.
They then remembered Erik Wallsten, the director of the
impact investing fund, Adobe Capital, which is the financing division of New Ventures. “I think we were both looking
for each other,” Javier adds. “They liked our model and we
liked their investment profile, and them as people.”
“It was a very inspiring trip,” Carlos remembers. “There’s a
lot of information on the ORBIS Hospital, but what surprised us most was its service-oriented culture, and everyone was so eager to create change. No book can teach
you that. We lived it.”
The year 2012 started off well. A few years earlier, the federal government had launched Seguro Popular, which is an
assistance program that offers free medical services to
low-income families and to anyone who is not covered by
social security. The Seguro Popular included cataract surgery as a free service for the community, and in June 2012,
Salauno began conducting these surgeries. The first month
they performed 20, the following month, 40, and in January
2013, they did 250 surgeries.
Some members of the Adobe Capital fund are part of the
directing board, who helped them to improve their corporate governance and to make better decisions.
campaign (“A Goal for Mexico”), from the same foundation, whose services include cornea transplants and care
for other visual ailments for low-income patients.
The company has just opened a new center in Mexico City,
a center that diagnoses vision problems and refers patients to their clinic, as it did previously with their Vision
Centers network.
“We are slowly extending our collaboration networks with
one objective in mind: to have a greater social impact and
improve the quality of our services,” declares Carlos.
In 2014, Salauno was one of 12 projects to win the
National Entrepreneur Prize, given out by Mexico’s
National Entrepreneur Institute (INADEM), an entity run by
the Ministry of the Economy, which promotes and finances
entrepreneurial projects.
Javier and Carlos both recognize the importance of having more and more physicians joining this vision of
change toward increased social responsibility, a vision
that has helped their own company grow. And above all,
they want to continue to help more and more people
see the world with clarity.
Similarly, the clinic has an agreement with the Televisa
Foundation, which includes free surgeries in exchange for
advertising. It is also involved in the Un Gol por Mexico
Camilo Pagés
Alex Eaton
When the jury of the 2010 BiD Challenge International unanimously announced
Sistema Biobolsa as the entrepreneurial project of the year, founders Camilo
Pagés and Alex Eaton were ecstatic.
Sistema Biobolsa
This comes as no surprise, because the contest is one of the most important in
the region. It is organized by Business in Development (BiD), a Dutch foundation whose aim is to link profitable and innovative projects located in emerging
markets, with investors from around the world.
Rural company that manufactures
and distributes biodigester systems
for the rural sector
If you have already found
a business opportunity,
have a look at those
who are doing it successfully
in other parts of the world.
Biodigester system converts organic
waste from homes or farms into methane
gas, which can be used as a fuel in
domestic or production processes
The biodigester also produces biol,
a highly efficient organic fertilizer
The contest that Camilo and Alex won was for their business plans. And the
entrepreneurs’ project was a company that manufactures and distributes biodigesters, on a small scale, for the rural sector. Biodigesters are sealed bags,
which biogas and organic fertilizer are produced by fermenting livestock manure and adding a certain amount of water.
The prize was 10,000 euros, which Camilo and Alex could use to incorporate
their company and design a website to show the features of their product.
“It was a long process of making small advancements,
step by step. In each phase, we incubated the company
and worked toward improving our proposal,” says Camilo.
“We always had a clear vision. We knew that Sistema
Biobolsa was a project that would win competitions and
be very successful.
Winning the BiD Challenge gave them the opportunity to present their project to a few angel investors, including Lennart Grebelius, a Swede and the
owner of investment fund Sätila Holdings, which supported projects focused
on the bottom of the pyramid. The investor bought 30% of the capital from
the company for US$200,000. “That’s how we began to operate in January
2011,” Camilo says.
In fact, his thesis was on biodigesters. According to his research, biodigesters
played a very important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while improving the living conditions of small farm owners in Mexico.
In 2009, Alex was the director of the Biogas Program at the International
Institute of Renewable Resources (IRRI), a civil organization that develops and
promotes initiatives involving renewable resources for the rural community.
Soon after, Alex finished his master’s thesis at Humboldt State University.
However, given that IRRI is a non-profit organization and
was mainly interested in research and development, the
biodigesters of this program could not be sold.
In 2008, Alex was looking for a partner to create a company that would expand the use of biodigesters. Ilan Adler,
Alex’s predecessor in IRRI management, introduced him to
Camilo, who was working as a social marketer for other
companies and had experience in the field of environmental products thanks to a business his father had.
“Alex invited me to the project because I already had the
skills to manage the manufacturing part,” Camilo says.
They used the IRRI facilities to manufacture 10 systems.
“The project brought us about 300,000 pesos,” says
Camilo. “With that, we paid for the project and we used
the earnings to live for a few months.”
The event comprised a televised contest, in which 20 social projects competed in a type of reality show, hosted
by the country’s main TV personalities. The categories
included: quality of life, community development, environment, justice, and human rights. Among the 20 participants, the viewers selected five finalists who defended
their projects on broadcast television. The winner received
2 million pesos and the four remaining competitors would
each win 1 million pesos.
As soon as the project submission period began, Alex and
Camilo didn’t hesitate for a second to register Sistema
Biobolsa. “We knew the impact and potential of our project. There wasn’t anything like it,” Camilo exclaims. But
unfortunately, their project wasn’t among those selected.
In 2011, they tried to enter again, and this time it was accepted. Their participation in the contest opened many
doors for Sistema Biobolsa. “We were able to meet people, to see society,” he says. “Since it was a project within
Iniciativa Mexico, people were able to identify with us and
were able to learn about this technology.”
As a result of the exposure they gained, during a conference they gave at the University of Puebla, a professor
from the Agribusiness program and representative of the
Tlaxcala state government invited them to participate as
suppliers within the state’s rural development programs.
Since then, Tlaxcala has become the number one state
with the most small-scale biodigesters in all of Mexico.
During the five-month acceleration process, in 2012,
New Ventures helped them shape the company that it is
today. For example, New Ventures suggested they rethink the Loans Fund, a program whereby the company
lent money to its customers so they would buy the biodigester. “They suggested that we separate it from the
normal operations of the business, which was selling
biodigesters,” Camilo clarifies.
At that time, they didn’t see it as an urgent issue, and
taking that step meant investing resources they didn’t
have, in addition to the fact that they would be introducing a new structure within the organization. However, the
company is now in a better place to make these changes,
and this year, they will separate the two activities.
In 2012, a few months after finishing the acceleration program, Camilo got an e-mail from New Ventures, informing
him of a technical assistance program for high-impact projects, sponsored by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF),
which is administered by the Inter-American Development
Bank (IDB).
“We have always been registering for those types of
grants. We saw it as yet another one, but we also realized
that it had a lot of potential,” Camilo says. New Ventures
helped with the communication and invited them talk with
the IDB staff.
The process lasted for about a year and a half, with interviews and due diligence. In May 2014, they finally signed
the agreement with IDB, and during the next 18 months,
they received grants totaling US$260,000, which they
used to develop strategic areas in the organization. Their
goal was to position themselves within the industry, which
would allow them to continue to receive financing from
the bank.
To date, Sistema Biobolsa is the market leader in the installation of biodigesters in Mexico. It operates in 20 states, as
well as other countries in the region, including Nicaragua,
Honduras, Costa Rica, and Haiti. “Our objective is to reach
an annual rate of 10,000 biodigester installations within the
next four or five years,” Camilo declares.
This is just one aspect of what a young company and a bag
of manure have achieved. A good way to do it honors is
the tagline of its logo: “There’s no waste, only resources.”
Consider having another look
at ideas that have impassioned you
in the past. One of them could be
a good idea for a business.
Tlaxcala was the first, but the last. Months later, the governments of Querétaro, Hidalgo, Morelos, and the State of
Mexico, came on board. That same year, they set up their
regional office in Puebla. “It was a strategic move, mainly
because of its proximity,” Camilo explains.
Camilo and Alex partnered up and formed Buen Manejo
del Campo, which is the company’s official name.
Together they prepared a business plan, and in 2009,
Orgánica, a partner group of IRRI that is dedicated to
promoting and selling projects of an ecological nature,
invited them to participate in the installation of 10 biodigester systems, together with the state government of
Puebla. That was their first contract.
As part of Mexico’s Bicentennial of Independence and
Centennial of the Revolution in 2010, the largest media
companies in the country organized Iniciativa Mexico, with
the aim of “reviving and celebrating a dynamic and entrepreneurial Mexico.”
Tania Esparza, director of Iniciativa Mexico, introduced
Camilo to Rodrigo Villar, founding partner of New Ventures.
That would mark the start of a relationship in which Sistema
Biobolsa would begin its acceleration process.
The source of his interest in the topic emerged a few
years earlier, when he was involved in the project called
Biogás Mexico, which he co-founded in 2004. The project’s purpose was to support the individual efforts of
Catallana Nambo, a woman from Michoacán who pressured the local government to disseminate and promote
the use of biodigesters in Mexico after having learned
how to use them in Colombia in the 1990s. The first
Biogás Mexico project was the installation of a biodigester,
in June 2006.
Alex’s explanation was that by using manure as the base
ingredient, biodigesters would reduce the risks of contamination from water pollution, unpleasant odors, and
insect populations. And by producing biogas and biofertilizer, users also saved money on supplies and helped
fight greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of trees.
“In order for impact investing to achieve its full
potential, we must collaborate to create a scalable,
profitable business model that will permanently
solve one of the many social and environmental
issues we face today. Only then, will this success
case prove impact investing’s effectiveness to solve
the world’s most pressing social and environmental
challenges and transform the way that we create
wealth and do business.”
Research and writing were overseen by Carolina Lomelí from New Ventures, and by VenturaMx
including Aminetth Sánchez, Selene Mazón, Alejandro Maciel, and Adolfo Ortega. Designed by Na
Sodio, including Shelly Balas, Gabriela Bustillos, Iñaki Bustillos, Cristina Robles, and Tania Villalobos,
with the Big Caslon and Avenir fonts. Translation made by Bronson Pettitt and style correction made
by Paige Mitchell.
was translated on June 2015, Mexico."
Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund and pioneer of impact investing,
while addressing a group of social entrepreneurs at New Ventures.

Documentos relacionados