Francisco Noguera

New Ventures Takes Off in Colombia: Laying the First Bricks of an “Ecosystem”

This year (well… no, not “this year”, actually next week!) will see the first gathering of WRI’s initiative to promote sustainabe entrepreneurship in Colombia: New Ventures Colombia. For those of you less familiar with WRI and New Ventures, we work with local partners in emerging economies and bring together critical elements (investors, mentors, advisors, research, connections) that, working together and in coordination, constitute ecosystems of support that enable the growth and visibility of entrepreneurial solutions to the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation.

Our partner in Colombia is Universidad de los Andes and 2009 the first year of operations for the program. Let me tell you briefly about the entrepreneurs and then a couple of words about who’s coming to the venue and our vision for the program. We began working last year and identified a group of companies that are now part of the New Ventures portfolio. The companies have been working with local consultants and mentors for the last eight weeks, improving and sharpening their business plans, and also putting together their pitches to present them to potential investors.

The forum next week will serve the purpose of showcasing these entrepreneurs, as well as connecting them with investors and people interested in this idea. It will also serve as a venue to bring the interesting and vibrant SME/ SGB/ impact investment/ you-name-it conversation to Colombia. Randall Kempner, executive director of the Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) will be joining us as will representatives from organizations like Agora Partnerships, Bamboo Finance, Grupo Ecos, Ecoempresas and Verde Ventures.

I’m really lookig forward to the conversations that will take place between local investors, entrepreneurs and the representatives from these organizations. In fact, one of the things I’ve become most aware spending more time in Colombia lately is that I (and aguably we, regular readers) really suffer from what the Heath brothers call “Knowledge Curse”. That is, we become used to talking about this all day almost every day; we’re part of a community that is very passionate about it; we all read the same papers and attend the same events. Hence, it’s easy to assume that everybody else knows what we’re talking about and knows that there’s such a thing called ANDE, and social investment, and patient capital, and the list goes on and on…

Not true. Far from it. This is why I know (and hope) next week’s forum will be only the first brick of a building that will take many years to take its final shape, a humble effort to start making these interesting conversations more inclusive and, of course, hopefully see some deals take place for the benefit of the entrepreneurs.

As the program in Colombia matures, we envision having more (and more frequent) venues to talk to people about this space and how they can become involved, as well as to share stories of success and failure; we envision a growing interest from other local and international investors to become involved and explore possibilities in Colombia; we envision creating a local network so that this “ecosystem” reaches beyond the borders of the capital city and touche the lives of the most vulnerable regions; we envision students and young people becoming increasingly interested and engaged, and ourselves serving as catalysts for them to see that there is posibility in pursuing this path. In other words, “winning their hearts and minds” (not sure whose the quote is, but it’s not mine).

In sum, we see this as a first step for the next generation of Colombians to be one with curiosity and a sense of posibility around the challenges of creating new ventures as means to address the challenges faced by our country.

If you’re around and would like to attend, please register here. If you’re not around but think that the vision and ideas expressed above make sense, please share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear your ideas about how to “localize” the conversations that often take place in the northern hemisphere, and that way create a sense of “Net Impact-esque” or “SoCap-esque” or “Pop!Tech-esque” or “TED-esque” enthusiasm where it’s still very much in need: locally.