South America Female Entrepreneurs

Las Vecinas: When Trendy Meets Delicious

When you walk through the hidden door of Las Vecinas in Lima, Peru, the first thing you notice is the smell of freshly ground coffee. Next, you notice the walls strewn in photographs and the trendy, recycled furniture and adornments. Lastly, you might take note that the entire menu is vegetarian and local – a bit of a rarity for Peru and Latin America at large.

Las Vecinas

Zonia Zena is a photographer and world traveler turned café owner. She has always had a huge love for cafes, which stem from studying abroad during University, and thought opening a café in virgin territory (AKA Barranco, Lima, Peru) might provide the cash flow to support her second love: Photography.

“It is beautiful and perfect,” says Zonia of the café. “It has been a lot of work and it was a risk. But, I think when you really believe in something and you enjoy doing it, people react to that. The moment I no longer enjoy owning the café, I’m going to close it down.”

Zonia opened the café three years ago with the help of a family investment. “We were the third café in the area. Now there are many more.” And yet, the vegetarian and recycle theme to Las Vecinas separates it from competitors. “I wanted to create an experience in all the senses, enjoying good organic food in a cozy atmosphere.“

When we asked her what her favorite thing on the menu was, Zonia recommended the La Provenzal Sandwich coupled with the freshly squeezed Mango Lemonade. “It’s a grilled Panini with feta goat cheese, olives and herbs, one of the first sandwiches that were created at the cafe”

Today, Las Vecinas has more than 20,000 followers on Facebook. “About 40% of our customer base are either tourists or expats, the rest are Peruvians.” Most of her customers have come from social media and especially Trip Advisor. “I’m really lucky to have such amazing customers. They truly enjoy the café and the vision I created. That is special and I am proud of that."

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. 

Unique: It's all about the fashion!

With walls covered in hand crafted boulder hats, knit alpaca scarves, trendy sweaters and ethnic jewelry, the brand name Unique describes the tienda perfectly. Founder Maria Stach is a veteran entrepreneur. “I used to own a restaurant,” says Maria. “Then one day, I woke up and suddenly being in the restaurant business no longer appealed to me the way it used to. I started looking for other businesses that would fit my personality. The concept behind Unique came naturally to me because I have a real love and passion for handcrafts.” The pieces in Unique are designed by Maria and made by local artisans.

Kaitlyn Ersek on left, Maria Stach on right.

Kaitlyn Ersek on left, Maria Stach on right.

“My biggest challenge was switching from the restaurant industry to the fashion industry. I had to learn a completely different industry and way of running a business.”  For example, it took Maria some time to find the right artisans that would collaborate with her on designs, deliver on time and create a quality product.

Another big problem Maria faced was the location of her store. While the best locations for shops is the main drag in La Paz’s tourist district, Maria’s store is a few blocks away from the main shopping corridor. “My location hurts business. I need to constantly be handing out flyers and getting referrals from customers. My webpage didn’t seem to help matters, but Facebook and Trip Advisor have been extremely useful.”

While being an entrepreneur can be a challenge, “if you believe in yourself, you can make your dreams come true,” states Maria.

Check out Kaity’s finds at Unique! A cholita, inspired felt hat.

Andrew Bagwell on left, Kaitlyn Ersek on right with Unique's felt hat. 

Andrew Bagwell on left, Kaitlyn Ersek on right with Unique's felt hat. 

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.

Start Up Chile: Can we create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chile?

Start Up Chile
Start up chile

“Five years ago, Start-Up Chile was born. Its mission – to literally transform the Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem. It all began with a single question. What would happen if we could bring the best and brightest entrepreneurs from all around the world and insert them into the local ecosystem?” Would it create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chile?

While hanging out at El Centro De Emprendimiento Telefonica Open Future – one of Start-Up Chile’s co-working spaces in the trendy part of Santiago, and looking out at the multitude of entrepreneurs from all around the world, there is no question about it: Start-Up Chile is making a difference for these companies and the local economy.

Today, Start-Up Chile has accelerated 1,100 startups (about 300 per year) from 70 different countries, with about 35% of those entrepreneurs originating from Chile. 79% of those startups are still alive today, 1% have been sold and 20% have died. In addition to providing grants worth 30,000 USD to each team, a six-month mentoring period to jump start their businesses, and a kick-ass academic program, the best startups are also offered a spot on Demo Day where they have the opportunity to connect with investors in Latin America and the rest of the world.  

Chile emprendedor

According to recent data released by Start-Up Chile, their startups are having a big impact on Chile’s economy. 32% of startups in Chile have been funded (outside of Start-Up Chile’s grant), amounting to 41,559,000 USD, and their top 5 most successful startups have valuations from 10,000,000 to 75,000,000 USD. These startups are also responsible for job creation in both Chile and abroad; 485 foreign jobs and 974 Chilean jobs have been created thanks to Start-Up generations 1 through 12. The community has also seen an increase in incubators and accelerators. And the Start-Up concept has spread to Brazil, Peru and elsewhere in Latin America.

“There’s still a lot of ground to cover,” says newly promoted, Director Rocio Fonseca. “The future looks awesome and we are continuing to improve Start-Up Chile.” Already, Start-Up Chile has offered new programs ranging in time frames to meet the needs of different types of startups and industries. “We are also working on improving our academic program and building an investor club to help catalyze an investor ecosystem within Chile. As we continue to improve our services for startups we are hoping to retain more and more foreign startups in Chile” (About 10% of foreign startups are choosing to stay in Chile).

According to Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, “It’s the greatest program I’ve seen of this type in the world! I’m gonna recommend it to my own kids.”

Chile emprendedor

5 Reasons Why You Should Choose Start-Up Chile

1.   It goes without saying that the 30,000 USD grant provided by the Chilean government is a tempting treat for any startup looking to make a name for itself.

2.   You are surrounded by some of the most creative, and brightest entrepreneurs in the world. Companies have come from 70 different countries to be part of the program with about 35% of entrepreneurs originating from Chile. As my great-grandfather used to say, “A wise man learns from his experiences, but a super wise man learns from the experiences of others.” By being part of a huge and extremely diverse community of entrepreneurs, you can further your entrepreneurial learning by hanging out with and learning from other startup founders.

3.   They are serious about educating entrepreneurs. Not only do you get access to mentors, but they bring in tons of workshops and events so you can get your learn on. For example, each week they have a intensive pitch training workshop that’s popular with the program’s current entrepreneurs.

4.     El Centro De Emprendimiento Telefonica Open Future Co Working Space is a fun place to work and network. We had the opportunity to sneak in (shhh don’t tell anyone) and hang out with some of the entrepreneurs at Start-Up Chile’s headquarters in Santiago.

5.   Santiago is just plain awesome! Chile’s capital is nestled in a valley of mountains, only a couple of hours from amazing surf, hiking, wine and skiing. The city itself is a fun mixture of cute cafes, businesses and a fun bar scene. Santiago, Chile has been one of our favorite cities (we do play favorites) in South America! What are you waiting for?

GPS GAY: "Giving back to our community!"

Uruguay Entrepreneur

“10% of the world’s population is part of the LGBT community,” explains Magdalena Rodriguez, CEO of GPS Gay, a tech startup located in Montevideo, Uruguay.  “Not to mention the fact that the LGBT market tends to spend 40% more than heterosexuals on themselves.” The LGBT market is big opportunity around the world and few have learned to tap into it as well as this two-year-old tech company, GPS Gay.

Magdalena Rodriguez (Left) and Rosario Monteverde (Right) of GPS Gay

Magdalena Rodriguez (Left) and Rosario Monteverde (Right) of GPS Gay

GPS gay is a platform designed specifically for the LGBT community. It’s an interactive social network where the LGBT community can find LGBT friendly hotels, clubs, events and activities. It also contains LGBT content including movies, novels and other forms of media. “But,” cautions Rosario Monteverde, Co-Founder and CTO, “GPS Gay isn’t a dating app. Instead it’s like a real GPS. It can tell you all the cool places to go and where everyone is hanging out.”

In addition to the website platform, GPS Gay recently launched an app that is already winning plenty of awards and comes in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. They recently were named Uruguay’s best app and won the Monile Premier Award’s best app in the world.

GPS Gay has accumulated a large following in Latin America, totaling 350,000 users and 310,000 fans on Facebook. “Our average age is about 30 years,” explains Rosario. “That’s key because they are not too young that they don’t have discretionary income and are still in the age range where they are native internet users.”

So where did the idea come from? “We were in visiting Brazil and wanted to go to a gay bar but couldn’t find much information,” explains Magdalena. “We thought it would be cool to know where to go. It also allows us to use our talents in design and IT to create something positive for our LGBT community.”

“Our biggest assets is user data,” says Rosario. “But we also make money through sponsorships and commission on sales of LGBT content. Later this year, we are going to launch our first LGBT party. Generating revenue through parties will also be a big opportunity to gain revenue and grow our database.” In the short term, however, sponsorships generated through unique partners that fit GPS Gay core values are their bread and butter. Magdalena sites one important sponsor as Dove. “Dove has great values that are aligned with ours. It’s important to us that we choose sponsors that fit our culture and values. We would never have a condom sponsor for example; we want to distance ourselves from dating sites.”

Looking forward, Magdalena and Rosario are forecasting 1,000,000 users by end of 2015 and 50,00,000 users by end of 2019. A lot of that growth will come from expanding their market to the USA and Europe. “GPS Gay combines aspects of the biggest social media networks in the world, but are fine tuned to suit the LGBT market. Not only is it turning out to be an opportunity of a lifetime, but we’ve found a way to give back to our community,” explains Magdalena. “That’s the thing that is driving us – making a positive impact.”


Sinergia Co-Work: “You Are Crazy!”

uruguay co work

“You are crazy” that’s what my grandmother loves to say of me for starting a company in Uruguay,” says Macarena Botta, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sinergia Co-Work in Montevideo, Uruguay. “But I’m doing what I love. What else could I ask for?”

At Sinergia, their mission is to democratize entrepreneurship for the Uruguayan entrepreneurial community. “Before co-working spaces arrived to Montevideo (Sinergia was the first!), the entrepreneurial ecosystem was a bit elitist,” explains Macarena. “You had to know certain contacts to get into the community. With Sinergia, we wanted to create a space where we could democratize entrepreneurship. We wanted to create a place where entrepreneurs and freelancers could come together as a community.”  

Sinergia co work

In order to develop a sense of community, the co-working space has been developed to encourage networking among the members. “From yoga classes to workshops on accounting and sales, we provide activities each day that encourage networking between entrepreneurs.” Sinergia also has spaces where members come together to socialize like a terrace for asados, chill zones, ping pong tables, and an inside café where entrepreneurs can chat.

Macarena and Kaity pose for a photo

Macarena and Kaity pose for a photo

“The cool thing about co-working spaces, especially Sinergia, is that they shorten the entrepreneurial learning path because you share stories and experiences with other entrepreneurs,” explains Macarena. “It’s about learning from other’s mistakes and successes. It also makes being an entrepreneur feel a lot less lonely.”

While Sinergia only began a year ago, they have already added an incubator to their list of services and have plans to open a second co-working space geared towards the tech and robotics industry in the next couple months. “We hope to have five additional co-working spaces in Uruguay within the next five years.” Luckily, Marcena just might be crazy enough to make it all happen.