Standing Stronger and Stronger: High-Impact Women Entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Susana García-Robles, WeXchange Co-Founder and Principal Specialist at the Multilateral Investment Fund, and Gyoung Joo Choe, MIF Senior Associate

Are you crazy? was the reaction that Claudia Heredia got when she announced to her family and friends that she was quitting her promising corporate career at Procter & Gamble to start her own business. Without a doubt, it was one of the hardest decisions of her life, but the desire to start something of her own, create jobs, and contribute to the development of e-commerce in her native Mexico, a sector still in its infancy, were much stronger than job security and protection. Four years later, Kichink!, the company she started with her husband, became the largest e-commerce platform in Mexico, with more than 45,000 stores registered and a team of no fewer than 100 people. Her mantra? Dare and don’t be afraid to fail.

For her part, while she was pursuing her undergraduate studies in international business only two years ago, Liza Velarde, together with a few classmates in biotech, industrial physics and electronic engineering, founded Semka, a startup that developed a medical device capable of monitoring cancer patients in a detailed way, as a way to be able to provide them with personalized treatment. For Semka, Liza was the winner of the Pitch Competition in the third edition of WeXchange, in addition to having won other important international awards. Her goal? To revolutionize the cancer therapy monitoring industry, and more immediately, to obtain Series A financing to accelerate the growth of her business.

Stories of women entrepreneurs with highly innovative businesses, like those of Claudia and Liza, are no longer isolated cases in Latin America and the Caribbean. The latest “GEM Special Report on Women Entrepreneurship” notes that the rate of women entrepreneurship rose by 6 percent worldwide in the last two years, and that today, women entrepreneurs in half of the economies surveyed represent the same percentage or even a higher one than their male counterparts in the area of innovation. Our region is witnessing this trend more and more. What does that say?

It is nothing new that businesses, especially those with high growth potential, are the driving force behind innovation, job creation, and countries economic prosperity. But it is only relatively recently that numerous studies have appeared showing the increasingly important role of women entrepreneurs in turning developing countries into innovation- and knowledge-based economies, that is, into countries where new ideas and cutting-edge technologies are becoming economic and social solutions, generating positive structural changes in our countries.

What, then, do women have that makes them particularly great entrepreneurs? The study entitled “Sources of Economic Hope” by the Kauffman Foundation points out that:

They have a more nuanced view of risk, tending to take greater financial risks than men, for example, while they take fewer “imprudent” risks.
They tend to be more ambitious than men to transform themselves into serial entrepreneurs.
•Generally, the increase in the number of women in positions of leadership is correlated with the increase in business returns.

Is there any initial evidence that backs up these findings?

Women are 1.17 times more likely than men to create social venture rather than only economic ventures, and 1.23 times more likely to pursue environmental ventures than economic-focused ventures, according to the report entitled “Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Research: Diverse Settings, Questions and Approaches.”

Investments in startups led by at least one woman in the founding team had 63 percent higher returns than investments in startups led only by men, according to a study carried by the Silicon Valley venture capital firm First Round, on its portfolio of 300 startups in the last 10 years.

Following the global trend, our region has been and continues to gain ground in the area of women entrepreneurship, but definitely there is still a long way to go. More women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, more democratic access to sources of financing, (connections with a broader spectrum of investments and the ability to obtain higher amounts of capital) and the expansion of the network of connections and role models (who not only inspire with their success stories but also guide women to navigate their entrepreneurial careers), will be key elements in strengthening the new generation of women entrepreneurs who are standing stronger and stronger.

As the authors of the study “Sources of Economic Hope” correctly point out, in the end, increasing the leadership of women in high-impact businesses is not a question of “nice to have”, of social or gender equity, but rather crucial for the economic growth of our countries.

Susana García-Robles is a Principal Investment Officer in charge of the Early-Stage Equity Group at the MIF. She is convinced of the impact of business and innovation ecosystems and the venture capital industry on development. For this reason, since 1999, she has worked on its creation in Latin America and the Caribbean. A co-founder of WeXchange, she firmly believes in the advantages of supporting women-led businesses. She has a master’s degree in International Political Economy from Columbia University (USA) and a master’s degree in Philosophy and Education from the Universidad Católica Argentina.

by Susana García Robles