Are you thinking about working in Latin America?
Four years ago I was at the same place and my decision to work in Latin America was driven by two reasons. The first was the desire to build meaningful companies from the ground up. After spending 8 years making PowerPoints and sales calls at banks and consulting firms I wanted to actually create things. The second reason is the belief that entrepreneurship can create significant positive social impact in emerging markets.
I see entrepreneurship, and particularly the Polymath company builder model, as a beacon of light, a truly meritocratic and honest economic unit operating outside of the crony capitalist system.
The economic systems of Colombia, and Latin America in general, are dominated by crony capitalism. The stark reality is that in the traditional economy connections tend to be more important than ability, work ethic, or values. I believe that entrepreneurship, and particularly the Polymath company builder model which focuses on the middle-class, is an important agent of change and that reinforced my desire of working in Latin America.
Company building to foster growth and disruption
The economy remains dependent on the extraction and export of natural resources, which is not sustainable in the long-run. Colombia needs a new wave of economic growth based on the diversification of the economy and innovation in order to continue the momentum built over the last decade, and I believe entrepreneurship has a very important role to play, especially when the entrenched economic players have very little incentive to change or innovate.
Entrepreneurs will drive innovation and economic diversification because they are dreamers who push for a better world, and they will do it the way they always do; through hard work, passion, grit, creativity and fearlessness; and perhaps most importantly, they will be meritocratic and inclusive, because to entrepreneurs, ability, and results, not family names, mean the most.
The company building model, implemented by Polymath Ventures, reunites the best of the global entrepreneurial talent along with core methodologies and a risk mindset that aims to truly disrupt business models and economies. Latin America is leapfrogging from a traditional economy to a digital one, which presents a massive opportunity to build consumer-centric digital solutions that respond to the needs of a traditionally underserved segment.
I have seen first-hand how entrepreneurship is leading Latin America forward.
Aflore is a great example of how entrepreneurship can disrupt an industry and create significant positive social impact. The financial services giants in Colombia could not figure out how to lend money to the lower-middle class.
Aflore, a Polymath Ventures company launched in 2014, has been able to crack the nut by leveraging the trust of existing relationships in lower-middle-class communities to offer financial products. By daring to serve a population that the banks turned their backs on and by creating an innovative new channel for financial products, Aflore has unlocked critical credit to this underserved population. Taking on the status quo is never easy, especially when the incumbents are willing to fight dirty, which they often are.
Latin America thriving landscape
After years of financial, security, and reputational struggles, Latin America has become the epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship. Several cities of the region are now leading hubs of technology and disruption.
According to Contxto, in 2019 Latin American startups have raised US$1.6 billion, Brazilian Nubank became the most valuable digital bank in the world, and top global funds such as Softbank, QED, Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz doubled-down on their bets in the region.
When considering the rising opportunities for the region, it is important to note that Latin America has similar market conditions with China in terms of income level and digital infrastructure. The size of the middle class in Latin America is also growing rapidly, currently represents about 30% of the population – this is similar to the level of China, and much more significant than the 3% of India.
Also, it is important to highlight the resilience shown by the Latin American markets amidst COVID. Besides the evident economic impact and the upcoming challenges to recover, we have seen a remarkable performance in a variety of sectors.
- E-commerce growth is impressive. Colombia showed a 209% increase in retail e-commerce from February to May and Mexico had an 82% YoY sales increase in “Hot Sale”, Mexico’s largest online shopping festival.
- Boosted by e-commerce, logistics and last-mile delivery also increased significantly. Logistics startup Loggi saw a 94% increase in orders in April compared to March.
- Fintech has taken on strong growth. The region increase by 30% the number of contactless transactions in 2020 and the acceleration in mobile banking represented massive growth for financial institutions, HSBC digital customers grew 60% YoY.
Rising opportunities to build and grow
I believe the entrepreneurs will continue to win these fights and that they will lead the next phase of growth and progress in Latin America. They will win thanks to hard work, passion, grit, creativity, and fearlessness that cannot be matched by the incumbents. This is crucial for Latin America’s development and this is why I joined at Polymath Ventures.
If you are thinking about working in Latin America, check our Service Design Fellowship, a six-month opportunity to experience the Polymath and Latin American culture, discover the rising professional opportunities for you and expand your cultural experience by living in one of the most interesting, fun and diverse countries of the region.