This article is written by Kimberly Hall, founder of Create Invest, a business development firm bringing on entrepreneurial approach to a wide scale of business challenges.
The weekend of March 14-16, the first-ever Regional Startup Weekend was held in Panama City, Panama, Startup Weekend Centroamérica (SWCA). The SWCA team didn’t stop at just organizing a Startup Weekend but created a entire whirl-wind schedule of events including the first annual Central American Entrepreneurship Forum, aka “the FORO, an Latam Experts VIP Luncheon, Networking Coffee Cocktail with the Panama Venture Club, a SWCA Mentor Bonding Event to the Frank Gehry Biodiversity Musuem, and a Closing Party celebrating the hard work of all the weekend’s participants and guests.
With the events attended by over 400 from all around Latin America the results have been electrifying. We are proud to share that just a week since we closed the event, 100% of the teams who presented at SWCA are still working on plans to launch their businesses.
Exactly one year ago, running between client meetings in Mexico City, I got the chance to stop by the Latin American Startup Weekend Mexico office in D.F. to meet Gustavo Alvarez Moreno and hear about the impact Startup Weekend was making in communities globally. Fast forward to a coffee in sunny Panama with my partner, Entrepreneurship Promoter & Communication Coach, Stefany Cohen, we discussed in depth the huge holes we were both noticing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Latin America region;
- The importance of encouraging promotion of more success stories about Latin America entrepreneurs,
- The strong demand for education and resources for those individuals and teams who see a solution to a market or community problem but don’t know how to take the steps to move forward or have launched and don’t have the resources or support to grow their businesses successfully,
- The urgent and obvious need to strengthen the individual parties throughout the region – to unite the experts, successful entrepreneurs, investors, VC firms, accelerators, academics, aspiring students – to create opportunities for these parties to interact and support each other.
After many months of research and talks with Experts throughout the region, a vision a stronger Central American Entrepreneurial Ecosystem was forming;
- A vision for a culture where we celebrate those taking risks, where we aren’t afraid to fail and commend those who try,
- A vision for organizations committing resources, education programs, and investors who understand the economic importance of investing in new ideas, and
- A vision for home-grown solutions to market & community problems, not copying businesses from other cultures but businesses born in our region, for our region.
Many early-morning coffee and late-night Skype conversations later we decided to create what would we hope to become a weekend to fire-start the largest-ever conversation about the entrepreneurship in Central America.
Since the close of the weekend, we have received an incredible out-pouring of support, excitement and requests to create more new initiatives and assistance with the current related projects. There was one email that stood out to me from one of our speaker and mentors, Pepe Villatoro, CEO of Crowdfunder Mexico. He wrote to us about how the weekend had impacted him, in his own words he shared with us a list of “irreplaceable things that happened to me” during his participation in Panama. This struck a deep cord with me. Since the last banners have been picked up from the venues, sponsor thank you letters have gone out and inboxes have (almost) been cleared. I have struggled to find the words to share with friends and family a summary of what exactly was accomplished. Why exactly this weekend was so important to all of us involved. So, in the spirit of Pepe’s mail, I want share on behalf of the entire SWCA team a list of irreplaceable things that we were honored to witness;
HARD WORK IS A COMMON LANGUAGE: Startup Weekend Centroamérica brought in 70 participants from all over the Latin American region including Colombia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, Panama. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Uruguay and even had several entrepreneurs from Japan, U.S.A. and the Netherlands. For the majority of the participants and the organizers this was their first exposure to the Startup Weekend format and watching individuals find others as passionate as them from so many different backgrounds was priceless. There is no feeling better than the realization you are not alone and there truly is a group of people just like you.
PEOPLE CAN’T JOIN A CONVERSATION THAT DOESN’T EXIST: We almost weren’t able to live stream the events this year until a sponsorship came in by Panama entrepreneur, Neonety. Our Tech team was thrilled when they ran the stats to see both the FORO and the SWCA were watched in over 13 countries. Speakers and panels addressed topics from “Starting Before You Are Ready,” “Current State of the Latam Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” and “Funding Start-Ups in Central America.” The FORO was attended by an extremely diverse group of 200 people from ages 15 to 80 – the venue had to kindly ask us to clear the room afterwards there were so many people having conversations!
IF YOU WANT TO CREATE AN INTIATIVE FOR ENTREPRENUERS, ASK OTHER ENTREPRENURS: We recruited a team of local entrepreneurs to establish these initiatives for Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneurs. Over 25 different local entrepreneurs came together to donate their services in-kind to make the weekend happen. It was their own hard work that got all of this off the ground.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE DESIRE FOR OTHERS TO SHARE THEIR KNOWLEDGE: The age-old business advice that “You can’t get something until you ask” has never been truer. Mentors and Experts from Puerto Rico, Peru, Panama, Guatemala, the U.K, New York, Colombia, Argentina, with backgrounds ranging from Accelerators, Ecommerce, Angel Investing, Social Media, Crowdfunding, Public Policy, Authors and Serial Entrepreneurs all joined us in Panama City to share their knowledge. We are humbled to hear how many have already made plans to visit each in their respective countries and attend other entrepreneurial events together.
TRUE MOMENTUME WORKS ITS MAGIC ON THE SMALL SCALE: The Facebook friend requests, the sharing of articles, emails from volunteers asking to participate in the next SWCA – In one week we have seen clubs and meet-up groups being formed by entrepreneurs who had formerly only worked alone, Investors who have never paid any attention to the Start-up Community reaching out to connect with the winning SWCA teams, attorneys in the region sharing research and policy suggestions, journalists unfamiliar with what being an entrepreneur even meant writing profiles on young companies– getting out there spreading the word about success stories!
At the end of the weekend, after all the final SWCA presentations were done and the judges had named the winner, our team passed out SWCA sunglasses as a final gift to all the participants. I smiled to myself walking around the theater watching everyone instagram sunglass photos opps, chuckling to myself at what a perfect metaphor they were for the entire initiative. Little did everyone know that the Immigration Authorities almost hadn’t let the sunglasses enter into customs because they were worried we were trying to sell them without a business license. We had to convince them of our initiative and in the end, we wished our new friends to join us to watch it all on live streaming. That passion in the smaller moments – the refusing to give up to make the details count – is just one more reminder that it takes many, many little moments stacked together to create something much bigger than you even imagined.
We are so proud of everyone that participated and hope to see more regional entrepreneurial events taking place in other parts of the world. An ecosystem can be a neighborhood, a city, a country, a region. No matter the size, we believe that a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem allows for more entrepreneurs and businesses to be successful, to solve community and market problems which improves quality of life and strengthens their local community. When all has been said and done, this isn’t just about Latin America. We hope other organizers around the world will know that what a difference one weekend can make.
Kimberly Hall is the founder of Create Invest, a business development firm bringing on entrepreneurial approach to a wide scale of business challenges. Built from her hybrid creative-business background, she is the one you don’t see behind the scenes of everything from large-scale business acquisitions to local non-profit initiatives and innovative arts organizations. A cum laude Vanderbilt Economics Alum, she lives between Panama and New York City.