Latin American Entrepreneurship

Soy Emprendedor: Barriers for Peruvian Entrepreneurs Need to Change

emprendedor peru

We met Edwin Vargas of Soy Emprendedor (Translated to: I am Entrepreneur Peru) in a trendy café in the heart of Lima’s commercial district: Miraflores. With him was Renee Rojas, a cheerful industrial engineer turned agricultural entrepreneur who is currently running a vertical garden installation business.

“Our goal is to provide a green space for offices and houses. We want to create something beautiful… a little peace of nature for people living in cities,” Says Renne. In addition to providing vertical gardens, Renee also supplies office plants that come in a variety of sizes. “One of my biggest problems is cash flow. Our vertical gardens require a lot of upfront cash and that’s difficult for a small business,” says Renee.    

Matilde Victoria Gonzales Quesada, a chocoholic turned chocolate manufacturer and member of Soy Emprendedor, agrees that cash is a big problem for Peruvian entrepreneurs. “I can’t scale the business the way I want to because I can’t access needed capital to hire other chefs. We have large customers waiting to place large orders, but I can’t produce enough chocolate to fulfill the demand. Right now it is just me and one other employee making our chocolate.”

Matilde's business, Delicias Matty’s produces chocolate without sugar (instead she uses stevia) and with Quinua and Cocoa. “It’s positioned as a healthier form of chocolate,” says Matilde. She’s been selling to boutiques in Lima for two years now.

“There are a lot of barriers for Peruvian entrepreneurs,” says Edwin of Soy Emprendedor. “Financing is tough and the government isn’t pro entrepreneurship. In time, we are hoping this will change.”

Soy Emprendedor is an organization that began 5 years ago to unite and offer a place of community for Lima’s entrepreneurs. Most of the organization is online, but they often meet at a café to discuss their businesses and entrepreneurship at large in the country.

El Mundo Papel: The Starving Artist is Dead!

El Mundo Papel

When we first came across Isrealo Sucro, the young artist and entrepreneur was bent over a sketchbook, ballpoint pen in hand, working on a cartoon. The cartoon’s focus was a fish that was inspired by the waters of Peru.

Five years ago, Isrealo graduated from art school and turned his private art studio into an entrepreneurial enterprise. He transforms his cartoon sketches into cotton t-shirts, tote bags, notebooks, stickers and other forms of merchandise which he sells from his studio/boutique, El Mundo Papel in Miraflores, Lima, Peru.

Isrealo Sucro on left, Andrew Bagwell right. 

Isrealo Sucro on left, Andrew Bagwell right. 

“El Mundo Papel allows me to do what I LOVE while making money. That is something special.” For Isrealo, the term "starving artist" doesn't exist.

“I get inspiration from everything” he explains. “The ocean is a big inspiration. New experiences and traveling gets me the most excited to create.”

He had recently returned from Cusco and, inspired from the antiquated architecture, devised a new series of cartoon drawings featuring Incan houses coming to life with eyes and arms sprouting from the walls.

In addition to creating designs and selling merchandise, El Mundo Papel holds popular classes teaching linocuts, that allow students to create their own unique print.

peru art

“I love to teach,” explains Isrealo. “I can see how happy people get when they create something awesome and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction. My favorite age group to teach are kids because of the excitement they have for art.”

In the future, Isrealo hopes to give back to his community, especially to those kids in Lima that don’t have the opportunity to take art classes. “I would love to teach or create a project with the kids from Lima’s poor,” says Isrealo, reminding us of Lima’s dark side.

Between the neighborhoods of Miraflores de San Juan and Sucro is a 10-foot high cement wall rimmed with barbed wire. Nick named the Wall of Shame, its purpose is to divide the gorgeous modern neighborhoods from the shantytowns of Lima’s poor.  

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

“By stimulating creativity in kids, I think we can really make a difference, especially for kids in poor neighborhoods.”

El Mundo Papel may have started as a way for Isrealo to sell custom t-shirts to family and friends, but it has evolved to become so much more. El Mundo Papel has become an oasis for everyday people to explore and support the arts in Peru. Looking forward, Isrealo can’t wait to give back to his community, and to expand El Mundo Papel workshops across Peru.

ALLPA: "Start Thinking Like An Entrepreneur."

“We entered the textile and jewelry industry by chance,” Says Maria del Carmen De la Fuente of herself and her co-founder Nelly Canepa at ALLPA – a seller of Peruvian textiles and jewelry. “At the time, we were working for an NGO; training local artisans on how to increase the quality of their products and to sell their products to the regional and global markets.”

Maria loved learning the stories of these local artisans and understanding the production process and meaning behind each craft. “The problem was that the artisans needed to stop thinking like artisans and start thinking like entrepreneurs if they were going to make a living for their families.”

That’s when Maria and Nelly started ALLPA. “We partner with local artisans and sell their goods to The States, Canada and Europe. One of our largest customers in the US is the Ten Thousand Villages stores based out of Lancaster, PA.”  

ALLPA prides itself on transparency, excellent service, fair trade, sustainability and good stories. “So long as we maintain those key aspects, ALLPA grows.”

Through their partnership with local artisans, ALLPA provides training to ensure their products have excellent quality, but also to ensure that their artisans know how to run their small businesses efficiently and safely. “In the beginning our classes were simple, like how to pack the products. But it soon developed into teaching them how to improve their technical skills, and how to manage their books and industrial safety techniques.” To ensure their products were high quality and that their artisans were working in a safe and sustainable manner, “we needed to adapt big industry standards to the local artisan markets.”

A worker at ALLPA creating a beautiful, woven rug. 

A worker at ALLPA creating a beautiful, woven rug. 

At the end of the day however, “we never know exactly what will sell. Each year we develop 500 new products. We will sell 100 and the rest will stay in our showroom. Yet, over the years, we have learned how to smell what will sell and to develop the kind of quality products the world is looking for.”

Twist: A "Twist" on the American Burger

Tucked within Barranco, a colorful community and former fishtown in Lima, Twist has managed to create good, old fashioned American burgers with a twist of Peruvian influence. On the menu, you will find a delicious alpaca burger (one of Andrew’s personal favorites) and the Barranco Burger with spicy aji based sauced on top. For a couple wayward Americans, we were in burger heaven.  

“We’ve been in business for two years now,” says Jimmy McManners, an British ex-pat and founder of Twist. “When we opened, burger joints weren’t really a thing in Lima and we were able to truly differentiate ourselves from local restaurants. We also opened Twist in the midst of an artisanal beer boom in Lima. And there’s nothing that goes better with a good burger than a good beer” (we second that statement).

Jimmy McManners in front of his delicious menu at Twist. 

Jimmy McManners in front of his delicious menu at Twist. 

Opening a business in Peru was anything but a breeze for Jimmy. “It took us a good two years to obtain a license. Most people will bribe their way through the government bureaucracy but I refused. We wound up asking the mayor for special permission to open the business without a license, so we could start operations.”

Aside from the bureaucratic red tape, Jimmy says, “maintaining amazing service has been a difficulty.” When we prodded him on the subject, he admits that he does all he can to motivate employees. “You get way more from people if you provide a fair wage and treat them well. If you don’t, they will lose their drive or quit. If you lose a good staff member in this business, you are stupid. They are hard to find! Your employees are your best asset.”

Today, competition has increased in Barranco. “four years ago, there were few restaurants here. Now they are opening and closing all the time.” The tourism industry has played a role as more and more tourists flock to Barranco and away from Miraflores. “About 50% of my customers are either tourists or ex-pats,” says Jimmy. “The reason why they are coming to Twist is Trip Advisor.” At the time of our visit, Twist was the third most recommended restaurant in Lima. 

MCKC: Living Life as a Kid and Entrepreneur

We were walking around the small neighborhood of Barranco in Lima, Peru on a busy Saturday.

Barranco is a tranquil part of Lima that is known for its trendy bars, restaurants and beautiful scenery. The streets were crowded with people in the main plaza, listening to a live music show and dancing.

Just down the road we stumbled into a fair called “La Feria” (The Fair in english) where local entrepreneurs sell products and food on weekends.

The most interesting entrepreneur we met that day was Marlon Del Alcazar Ruiz, CEO of MKCK clothing line. Marlon, a senior in high school, had started his men’s apparel clothing line in his free time.

Marlon on left and his girlfriend on right. 

Marlon on left and his girlfriend on right. 

“I had a strong desire to become an independent person and contribute to my school payments. At first, MKCK was more of a hobby than an actual business,” explains Marlon.

Early on, Marlon realized that MKCK could be much more than a hobby. “It was growing faster than I expected and I ended up putting more and more time into the business."

MKCK caters to Peruvian and foreign men from teenage years to early thirties. Marlon focuses on a basic design, with small accents that are inspired by Peruvian culture. For example, one navy colored shirt sported a breast pocket designed with a Nazca Lines textile pattern.

“I really like that I get to create something different. The business helps me get in touch with my creative side and teaches me to be more responsible and organized,” says Marlon.

“Having a business and being in University is a bit of a challenge. Getting time to study is complicated, but I make it work.”

According to Marlon, his biggest challenge is making sure he provides time for MKCK, school and all the fun things in life. “Since I’m not alone in this project, it makes balancing work and life a lot easier.” Marlon’s mom helps sell products at the La Feria when he’s busy with school and Marlon’s cousin, Kenyi helps with delivery and creating new designs. “We all work together as a team.”  

But all in all, Marlon still wants to be a kid, hang out with his friends and play soccer. “I am making sure to live life the way I want it, while being an entrepreneur.”

Drop: A New Development in Wearable Health Technology

“I’m a hungry entrepreneur because I’m desperate to reach my goals. I’ll do whatever it takes to complete them,” explains Tony Cueva Bravo, Co-Founder of Drop, a medical hardware start up in Lima, Peru.

Tony Cueva Bravo

Tony Cueva Bravo

In December 2014, Tony was wrapping up his university career with a major in electrical engineering and started having doubts about his chosen career path.

“I really wanted to contribute to society and I wasn’t sure that as an engineer I would be able to fulfill that goal to my utmost ability.”

He decided to take an entrepreneurship course offered by the University on a whim and instantly fell in love.

“I was WOWed! That class has completely changed my life. I realized that as an entrepreneur I would have leverage and an impact on society.”

For the next few months, Tony began spending afternoons sipping on Starbucks coffee and surfing the internet for his big idea. But, each idea he came up with didn’t seem to fit. That’s when Tony realized his hands were sweating again.

He suffers from hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating, a condition he finds embarrassing and uncomfortable. “What if other people are suffering the same pain as me?” asked Tony. That’s when Drop was born. 

Drop is a portable medical device that reduces excessive sweating by applying small doses of electricity.

Right now, the device is a prototype but Tony expects to launch the product by the end of 2016 in Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

His big hurdle has been registration with Peru’s version of the FDA. “It involves a lot of tests and trials. The product could receive registration in as little as six months or as much as a year.” As Tony looks to markets outside of Peru, he’ll have to overcome registration processes in those countries as well.

Throughout the entire process, Tony’s biggest lesson has been perseverance, “If you love what you are doing and you are passionate about the idea, you will gain the perseverance. Perseverance is key because there are a lot of ups and downs in starting a business. Mistakes will be made.”

Need help with YOUR Start Up? Meet MIT'S Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

Tony says one of the biggest things that has helped him during his start up processes was MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, “a nexus connecting entrepreneurs from around the world to the entrepreneurial ecosystem surrounding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

Entrepreneurs selected are expected to start companies in one week and pitch their idea before a panel of investors. Apply for The MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp here:

Merida Romero Art Gallery: "It is for the love of Art"

“My wife and I opened the art gallery four years ago because we wanted to show off Bolivian artists and their talent,” says Jose Miguel Romero, the co-owner of Merida Romero Art Gallery, located in La Paz, Bolivia.

“We wanted to be part of the lives of people who pass our gallery on the street. So, we turned our gallery into a personal experience for visitors, allowing them to look at books of art and choose the music playing in the gallery from an Ipad.”

Merida Romero Art Gallery in La Paz, Bolivia

Merida Romero Art Gallery in La Paz, Bolivia

As we walk around the gallery with Jose, he points out some of his favorite Bolivian artists, like the sculptor Leon Savadra and 87-year-old painter Alfredo Lapla.              

Alfred is one of the most important and representative artists in Bolivia; not only because of the multitude of paintings he has created, but also because of his amazing talent with oil and acrylic paints. Jose proudly tells us that Romero Gallery has the honor of hosting Alfredo Lapla’s last exhibit ever later in October 2015.

Picture of painting by  Alfredo Lapla      (Copyright:

Picture of painting by Alfredo Lapla  


Earlier this year, Jose expanded the Romero name and opened a new art gallery in a high-end mall in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

“Selling in a mall is a completely new experience for us,” says Jose. “We are seeing if people will react well to the concept.” With 5-meter high paintings and large abstract sculptures, the exhibit is drawing people in and doing well.

“Santa Cruz is a tropical, almost jungle-like setting and the people are very eccentric! We are getting amazing reactions from the abstract work in the exhibit.”

At the end of the day, “our goal is not to just sell art in our galleries,” reminds Jose. “It is to promote art. Merida Romero is not just a business for my wife and I, it is so much more than that, it is a love of art.

Silvana Cosulich: Design that tells a story

Bolivia emprendedora

We walked up the stairs of an apartment building in La Paz, Bolivia and entered designer, Silvana Cosulich’s studio which doubled as her home. A manikin was dressed in an almost lacy looking alpaca sweater and on the coffee table beside her “look book” were beautifully crafted stained glass necklaces. Over the last eight years, Silvana has dedicated her life to style and to giving back to alpaca crafters in the La Paz region through her design workshops. While she has typically sells to boutiques in the La Paz area, her designs are also available in Colombia and Mexico.

Bolivia entrepreneur

How did you get started?

I’ve always loved drawing and painting. I studied art and design in Mexico and Colombia. I learned early on that selling art is difficult but when you can couple a piece of art or design with a product, you can make a living while creating something beautiful. That is why I started getting into alpaca fashion and jewelry. I have been creating my own designs since 2007.


Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?

At the end of the day, people want a unique product that tells a story. Through my designs, I am truly telling the story of La Paz and passing that story along to people outside of Bolivia.

Almost all of the materials I use are made and produced in Bolivia (the stained glass in her jewelry is from France) and much of the inspiration comes from Bolivian folklore and the colorful culture we have here.


How do you give back to alpaca artisans in Bolivia?

I teach workshops to alpaca artisans. I show them how to create a prototype that tells a story and then I teach them how to sell. I show them that their work is highly valued and to not sell their products for less than they are worth - which is a problem here in Bolivia. I am very proud of Bolivian artisans. They are doing incredible things!


What is a key piece of advice that you would give a fellow entrepreneur?

No matter your product or service, design is key. It has to tell your company’s story… or whatever other story you are trying to tell. Also, you must have a vision and a lot of perseverance to see it through.

UNITEC: "Each moment in your life adds up. It makes you who you are."

chile emprendedor

When BP – the owner of Castrol Products decided to pivot and change their Chilean business model to incorporate distributors, Carlos Herrera decided to take advantage of the opportunity and open his own Castrol Distribution. That’s when UNITEC was born. “Ultimately, it’s been a win-win for both BP/Castrol and UNITEC,” says Carlos. “We’ve been named one of Castrol’s top distributors worldwide for the past the past two years in a row.”

Chile Emprendedor

UNITEC focuses on selling Castrol products to engineers, with most of their clients in the mining (they hold an exclusive in the national mines), pulp and paper, steel, metal industry, and class industries among others. 

“A big reason why we are so successful is because we are super transparent when dealing with clients and we don’t stuff the pipeline. We focus on building long-term relationships instead of short term gains. It can be difficult sometimes but overall, I believe it is one of the reasons why we have been so successful at UNITEC.”

At the end of the day however, to lead and win in your industry Carlos reminds entrepreneurs to stay focused and to push, push, push. “Find your idea and follow it,” urges Carlos. “Select your top priority or two for the year and stick to it.” Once you have chosen your focus, Carlos says, “keep moving and don’t stop. If you stop… even for a moment, the competition will catch up.”

And, when things go wrong? "Everything happens for a reason. Every moment in your life and every learning opportunity you come across, adds up. It makes you who you are. It's connecting the dots," states Carlos, echoing a quote from Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Speech. 

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”  -Steve Jobs.

Equilab: The two greatest gifts an entrepreneur can have...

Chile emprendedora

“When I first entered the family business, I was known as being a witch,” admits Angela Diaz of Equilab – A medical supplier based in Santiago, Chile. “I was horrible. I was afraid of the responsibility that I had and not having the strength to live up to my father’s expectations in running the company. I used to think that my only job was to have the most intelligent ideas for the company. And, when I didn’t always have ideas or when someone else had better ideas than mine, it affected me greatly.”

After leaving the company for a short time, Angela realized that, “it wasn’t my job to have the most intelligent ideas but to give space for intelligent people to have intelligent ideas. This shift in thinking completely altered things for me and the company.”

Equilab was founded 34 years ago by Angela’s father. Her father's story is truly a rags to riches tale. At age eight, he ran away from his aunt’s home where he was treated as a servant, and ended up living on the streets. “In the past, a lot of kids were living on the streets. It was a tough period in our country’s history.”

At age eighteen he decided it was time for a change and he joined the Chilean military. “It transformed his life and he studied at night while working during the day. After seven or eight years, he applied to university where he studied chemical engineering,” says Angela. After working in the science lab supplies industry for a few years in Venezuela, her father returned to Chile to start his own business.

“Equilab went from one employee to 150, and in 2013, we were bringing in 8,000 Million Chilean Pesos.” Today, things aren’t quite so rosy for Angela who took over the family business after her father passed away. Between 2013 and 2015, sales dropped 50%, the Chilean economy grew tumultuous under the current president (who took office in 2014), and to make matters worse Angela discovered that her CIO was lying to her regarding the company’s financials.

“In turned out that my CIO was only showing me the numbers I wanted to see and I trusted him completely and didn’t dig into the numbers myself.” After several months of running the company under false numbers, the situation grew out of hand, and in February of 2015, the CIO stepped forward and explained the real situation.

“It turned out we were going bankrupt and I had no idea.” After taking a second mortgage out on her home, cutting the staff down to 30 (from 90) and selling some of the lab facilities, things are looking a little bit more manageable. It’s been a really hard learning experience, but one Angela has clearly taken to heart.

When we asked her what the number one lesson she had learned over the years of adversity, Angela said: “at the end of the day we aren’t in the science lab equipment business, we are in the listening business. Our number one goal is to help solve our clients’ problems and to continually add value to their businesses. We have become listening machines! The two greatest gifts you can have as a person, entrepreneur and organization is:

1. The capability to always learn, learn, learn

2. The capability to continually listen, listen, listen

Angela repeated her top lesson several times throughout the interview, affirming to us that above everything, these were the two nuggets of wisdom we had to leave the interview with.

“Customers buy for their own reasons and they may not be the reasons you expect. As an entrepreneur, your job is to discover why they buy what they buy, and to continually listen to your clients and the market at large.”