The Venture Studio model in Latin America2021-08-25 | Juan Pablo Ortíz
Polymath Ventures is the Venture Studio for Latin America, we are a group of entrepreneurs building digital platforms to empower the middle-class. Our story as pioneers of the venture studio model and innovation leaders in Latin America started in 2012 under the leadership of Wenyi Cai, our co-founder and CEO, who had an epiphany during her academic journey at Harvard; leveraging entrepreneurship in Latin America as a tool to encourage social and economic development and generate growth opportunities for the middle-class
Latin America is the ideal emerging market for scalable business disruption: size and growth of the emerging middle class, regional integration, and tertiary education. Middle-class consumption is exploding across the region; consumption patterns show that Latin America will surpass the US by 2030. At the same time, the digital adoption rate of this segment also reflects its readiness for more sophisticated solutions. By 2020 the smartphone penetration in Latin America, China, and the US was around 70%.
Now, methodologically facing some of the challenges and opportunities requires an intentional approach. Building for the emerging middle-class looks very different than hubs like Silicon Valley, so how you design, launch, and fund companies need to look different. At our core, we combine powerful solutions for the emerging middle class with exceptional teams that have the ability and hunger to build big.
As the idea of Polymath Ventures evolved, Wenyi dropped her MPA and MBA studies at Harvard and Stanford University in 2012 and relocated to Bogota, Colombia to launch Polymath Ventures, the first Venture Studio in Latin America. Since then the company has built over 200 business concepts, 11 ventures, 6 of them still operating, raised over $45M US in capital, and built a team of 315+ talented individuals.
So, what do we do at Polymath Ventures? We create companies from scratch and go along with them through the whole journey, giving them advice, capital, talent, and safeguarding the maintenance of the culture of Polymath, so all our ventures turn around the same consonance. Below we are covering the most relevant components of our model and answering some of the most frequent questions about what do we do and how do we do it.
THE VENTURE STUDIO MODEL
Venture Studios are company builders, matching business ideas with proven entrepreneurs. They/We test ideas and back them with funding and resources to launch and grow powerful and scalable startups. Unlike accelerators and incubators that receive applications from startups, Venture Studios start with their own ideas to create companies from scratch; ideas are born, validated, and developed from within the studio.
- Design the company: Our talented team of Business Designers uncovers large opportunities through months of intensive research, business thinking, and iteration, by going to the streets to find out what the needs are, connecting with people, running interviews through the different places where they feel that something’s missing.
- Recruit the founders: During the process of design, we start to assemble founding teams of the best international talent to lead the launch and growth of the business. We always look for passionate people, committed to Polymath´s values, with a huge growth mindset and an entrepreneurial soul ready to put their hands on to lift their venture.
- Accelerate the business: We work full time alongside the founders, the core team of builders, and the early-stage team during the first year of operation leveraging agile and lean methodologies to build and accelerate the venture. As the venture matures, we support the recruitment and building of the early-stage team and support other strategic functions through core experts teams within Polymath, such as fundraising, growth, branding, finance and accounting, legal, talent acquisition, and development. Everything we do aims to drastically de-risk the company (making it more likely to succeed big).
- Assemble the capital: We provide funding to design and launch the business and we support the venture in subsequent financing rounds. One of the most difficult parts of building a company from scratch is finding the capital to make it happen. For this reason, we have structured and launched PVG, a “corporate entity” structure that provides capital to our ventures during their lifecycles, from Series Pre-Seed to Series C.
- Support the venture: We supply the venture with continued hands-on support in tech, finance, marketing, talent, fundraising, strategy & biz development. Our core is to develop technological solutions, not only to cover the people’s needs but to make it in an easier way that eases development and growth. Our proficient team will always be available to start new projects that add value to our ventures.
How do venture studios get financed?
Our investment model provides value to both entrepreneurs and investors. We support our entrepreneurs with capital during the ideation (Series Pre-Seed), launch (Series Seed), and growth (Series A-C) phases. To solve the capital constraints in the region, we are able to lead follow-on funding rounds and leverage our extensive network of investors. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, this significantly de-risks their business and helps them to grow at a faster pace. For investors, we have built a “corporate entity” that provides upside potential but with risk reduction coming from both a diversified portfolio and the advantages of having a group structure in terms of knowledge and capabilities sharing, talent, data, and resilience during hard times. If you want to learn more about our fundraising history, we highly recommend this blog post sharing our journey.
In order to implement the Venture Studio model, we need the right methodology to build from scratch. We designed our own Company Building methodology that combines Human-Centered design, high experimentation, and iteration, along with an entrepreneurial toolkit. This methodology consists of 4 phases, going from ideation to acceleration, each phase has clear timelines, deliverables, and objectives. We designed this methodology to build market-transforming business models. It’s about finding a big untapped opportunity and building a 10x better product. Especially to serve the mass demographic in Latin America, it also means business model innovation.
If you want to have an in-depth view of our** Company Building **methodology, we recommend our latest playbook, which summarizes how we do what we do and some of our best-kept secrets to successfully build ventures for the emerging middle-class in Latin America.
The secret sauce of venture studios
Today there are more than 200 venture studios around the world, according to the Studio mapping done by Enhance. Each of them has a unique approach to the process, for example, we leverage four major components that we consider critical to the success of our operation.
Deep understanding of the segment. Successful company building relies on the right identification of opportunities. It’s not about what startups get the most funding or the trendiest business model, it’s about solving deeply unmet needs and achieving product-market fit before scaling.
Reaching Product-Market-Fit. Reaching Product-Market Fit is necessary before investing in growth, and it is usually a ~12 month iterative journey because of the need to find a 10x value proposition. To do so we have built a digital growth engine focused on customer understanding and engagement, experimentation and metrics, and an appropriate technology stack.
We move fast. We aim to reduce uncertainty, and to do so we embrace experimentation and failure as a part of our journey. Our systematic approach and clear alignment on this mindset allow us to be agile and make as many mistakes at the least possible cost to make sure we continue learning.
Access to global talent. To build disruptive business models you need exceptional talent, so we have designed a scientific approach to talent acquisition that allows us to recruit, develop and grow entrepreneurial talent that shares our building vision.
As pioneers of Venture Studios in Latin America, we are committed to strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the region, influencing how corporations innovate, and overall generating awareness about the importance of building intentional solutions to face some of the most complex challenges of our times.