Our mission at Agora Partnerships is to empower entrepreneurs creating positive social and environmental change across Latin America. It’s not an easy mission. Entrepreneurship, especially in under-resourced communities, is extremely difficult to pull off. Most new companies fail. Status quo forces, anti-competitive behavior, and lack of access to knowledge, networks, and capital can grind down even the most promising entrepreneurs. Since entrepreneurship is a key driver of human progress, this should concern us. We can’t afford to sit back idly while opportunity to advance the human condition and address the UN’s global goals is squandered. We need to advance entrepreneurship and carry that torch high.
Agora advances entrepreneurship by building community, treating every entrepreneur as an individual with tailored support, connecting them with a network of impact investors, all while working to strengthen the environment for entrepreneurship in countries in which we operate.
2019 was a busy year for Agora. Below are some of our activities and accomplishments.
Start-up support across the Americas
We welcomed 54 new companies from across Latin America — all working to solve the UN Sustainable Development Goals — into the Agora accelerator community through bootcamps in Chile (partnering with Co Lab and others), Ecuador (partnering with Sistema B), Mexico (hosted with our friends at Impact Hub) and Peru (partnering with Kunan). These bootcamps enable us to find and support high potential companies at half the cost of our previous model and ensure we can meet each entrepreneur where they are on the start up journey.
In Nicaragua, we focused our work on resilience against a challenging economic climate for entrepreneurs and political instability. We broke all previous records of program participation with over 600 entrepreneurs joining our workshops throughout the year. We organized numerous informal group gatherings as well as 6 commercial fairs, where we connected entrepreneurs with new partners and with a community of peers. In 2020, the Nicaragua team will expand the financial inclusion program (VPO) we have run in Nicaragua to Colombia and will begin work for the first time to train local business development trainers across Central America.
In Chile, the eruption of social frustration this year – juxtaposed with Chile’s leadership of COP25 – has made the case for high impact entrepreneurship as a central plank of the development of a new, more inclusive economic paradigm.
Our team experienced a productive, if difficult, year and was able to work directly with 23 Chilean companies, across 5 Bootcamps. We supported another 13 early stage social entrepreneurs with a lighter version of the program, designed with CoLab, the social incubator of the Universidad Católica. We provided technical training to educate the growing impact investment sector in Chile and collaborated closely with other partners, including working to build the GSG National Advisory Board.
We are convinced Chile has enormous potential to showcase how an economy can become more sustainable by supporting inclusive entrepreneurship.
Helping Entrepreneurs Access Capital
Helping drive capital to companies solving social challenges is a key part of our work. This year we premiered a new service offering for entrepreneurs in our investment marketplace. We welcomed our first company, RePhone, to pilot this new phase of entrepreneur engagement. RePhone aims to develop a formal market for second-hand smartphones in Chile through reconditioning used phones and reselling them in large retail stores up to 40% cheaper to the end customer.
We held an investor training in Santiago and hosted our third annual investor community reception at SOCAP, both of which are designed to connect investors and expose them to opportunities to create impact through Agora’s investor network.
Patients loans between $20,000 and $50,000 at entrepreneur-friendly interests rates are incredibly important and very hard to come by. Agora increased our KIVA portfolio to 12 loans, supporting three new companies this year:(1) A loan to Clearpath of $45,000 will help buy equipment to support over 260 Colombian coffee farmers living in post-conflict regions and increase their income by 80%.(2) A loan of $25,000 to Cruz Campo will double its plant processing, benefiting 40 additional families in Peru as well as build new washing and peeling stations which will create an additional 20 new jobs for women, and(3) A loan of $50,000 (our largest yet!) to health provider Doktuz in Peru to reach over 550,000 low-income patients all while creating 280 additional jobs by the year 2022.
Through a unique partnership with the World Impact Foundation, we designed a new kind of entrepreneur-optimized investment model for high impact businesses that simultaneously also helps strengthen the entire ecosystem. Our first investment will be announced in early 2020. Stay tuned!
Strengthening entrepreneurship across the Americas
We produced two case studies with support from the Inter-American Development Bank, one on how Agora’s programs supported 140 companies between 2016 and 2018 and another that is more of a deep dive into how Agora’s work impacted a Colombian company focused on sustainable agriculture.
Realizing the need to train a new generation of leaders and educators to foster entrepreneurship across the region, we launched with support from the US Embassy in Mexico a new train-the-trainer program, Inspirando Catalizadores. This program is key to our strategy to scale our approach and method across the region, starting by training over 40 members of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative network in Mexico City. As governments like Peru’s require that all universities include incubators, we aim to share our experience with a new generation of entrepreneurship educators and activators, starting with a pilot workshop with Innovate Peru.
We hosted a delegation of Brazilian women leaders to a discussion on building entrepreneurship ecosystems in our DC office and a group of students from Buenos Aires in our CEO’s home. Our team presented leading entrepreneurship gatherings across Latin America. We spoke about our model at a pioneering entrepreneurship conference in Puerto Rico, where we met with entrepreneurs and ecosystem leaders (and where we hope to expand soon!). Our team also presented and gathered Agora alumni together at FLII Merida, FLII Central America, INC Monterrey, Premio Verdes, GSG, and we were honored to be able to celebrate ANDE’s 10th anniversary.
We partnered with the CLIIQ conference in Ecuador to help entrepreneurs prepare for investment, starting with an online series of 7 webinars over one month and culminating with an intensive in-person workshop to help companies tell their stories to investors.
Agora Community impact
- Our community of entrepreneurs continued to grow their impact long after receiving consulting from Agora. Starting with a median baseline of $112,000 in sales at the start of the program, Agora’s community of entrepreneurs has collectively generated nearly $300 million since completing the program, creating over 4000 formal jobs, indirectly creating tens of thousands more jobs, and impacting an estimated 6 million lives across the Americas.
Growth and Environmental Impact
- Agora companies on average grew by 22 percent in 2019, providing over $37 million in tax revenue to their governments. This growth did not come at the expense of the planet. 123 Agora-accelerated companies are partially or fully focused on protecting the environment. Companies compensated for approximately 17 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and reused/recycled over 900,000 tons of materials.
- Agora entrepreneurs continue to find support from each other. We deeply value the men and women who comprise our entrepreneur community, the energy and thoughtfulness they bring and the assistance they give each other. We were delighted to host over 20 entrepreneurs, each with a tailored one pager describing their businesses at a special private reception in San Francisco during the SOCAP conference.
Looking towards 2020
Our world has many challenges. It is hard to imagine how we address them and make the world better if we don’t get better collectively at driving resources to people genuinely committed to building thriving businesses — the kinds that can harness markets to produce value for all stakeholders, including local employees, communities, and the planet. Economies don’t just need to grow. They need to grow ethically and responsibility in a manner that is considered legitimate and that creates public as well as private value. Entrepreneurs are uniquely poised to help build this new kind of economy. They create most net new jobs and invent many of the innovations that move society forward. In 2020, we look forward to growing our programs and celebrating 15 years of advancing entrepreneurship throughout the Americas.