September 30th marked our fifth anniversary as a non-profit corporation. In 2016 along with a group of first believers that included my husband, we incorporated as a non-profit organization. Our work with Latin American startups began two years before we incorporated in 2016.
It took us two years to figure out the best way to create a company and a program new to both Canada and Latin America.
We were not working directly with Canadian startups which meant we weren’t getting money from the government like many other incubators. We weren’t operating in Latin America either which also meant that we weren’t eligible for grants for companies with programs in the region.
In 2016, most people thought that we would not be scalable or even sustainable. We have transformed several times, acting and growing similar to that of a startup. For this reason, our community and organization are unique.
Below are 5 big lessons learned in our 5 years of operations.
- Diversity and inclusion is everything. Being a company that supports startups from Latin America, we were already diverse and inclusive. Most of the co-founders of the companies a part of our programs were self-declared people of colour, and of course, newcomers. Most of our volunteers were also people of colour, newcomers, and some of them, a part of the LGTBQ+ community. Staff? In the beginning, all women. Board of directors? A combination of Canadian citizens and foreign leaders. All this combination of talent and backgrounds helped us see our community’s companies and our programs in a very different way, recognizing the strength and weaknesses of our community. We saw companies in our programs being amazingly resilient in the face of the many challenges while expanding to Canada. They were pivoting their business, teams and being true champions not just for their companies but for the whole community.
- Partnerships are not always BS! I remember seeing a video from Guy Kawasaki a long time ago when he said partnerships are BS. I understand his point of view and his reasoning for saying so, but I would have to disagree. From my experience, when you take good partners with you, you grow faster along with them. If it weren’t for great partners, we wouldn’t have grown in the community. The first partners we had in the Canadian market were DMZ Ryerson, Startup Canada, the City of Toronto and some organizations in Latin America. They gave us the opportunity to introduce their organizations to our community and wanted to learn more from our community as well. We were able to show them the potential of startups coming from Latin America and how they could contribute to the startup ecosystem in Toronto. Today we have partners not just in Toronto but in Burlington, Kingston, Hamilton, and Niagara. We also have startups located in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec. We have extended our network outside of Latin America reaching India, China, Poland, Germany and other countries with truly amazing startup ecosystems.
- Work with those that want to work with you. I wasted too much time at the beginning of LatAm Startups trying to prove myself to others. I wasted time trying to reach some leaders in the startup ecosystem that would belittle us or not believe at all in what we were doing. I took a different approach with time, and now I work with those who value our community and see a path of growth together. At this point, I try to reduce my time dealing with other people’s egos. Everyone has a way to work, and we also have our way to work; I will work 120% as hard as the other person that wants to work with us to build a stronger startup ecosystem.
- The Infinite Game is real. Simon Sinek is totally right about those that are in the game forever. Building a company, no matter what type, requires having a certain vision. It’s an unending process requiring the ability to constantly change, innovate, remain humble, recognize the work of others, recognize shortcomings and having the patience to change and re-build. I will do it as many times as needed with my staff and community for one reason. I want LatAm Startups to keep succeeding in the market, building its presence and leading. To continue growing beyond my expectations, I’ve made sure to keep that mindset of the infinite game. Some day, I won’t be leading LatAm, but whoever takes the position will have a strong foundation to continue growing the community and the company with the same values that have made us what we are today.
- Innovation doesn’t own a flag. In our community, you’ll find people with accents – very innovative people with accents. Innovation and creativity don’t come from a specific country or a region. I believe in people, not in flags. People make the most innovative solutions, and people are the ones with the capacity, audacity and vision to build companies from dreams and grow. We will continue to promote diversity and inclusion in the ecosystem, not just by receiving startups in other regions besides Latin America but by also helping those located in Canada. We want to support them in going beyond North America and diversifying their portfolios, furthering their growth and building a stronger ecosystem in our country. I’m originally from Colombia but also am a Canadian citizen. Most people I know have two or three nationalities, and that’s our community. Those backgrounds matter when you build a company.
We have done so much in these five years. We started helping companies even before we were a part of the Canadian Start-up Visa Program. Those companies believed in growing their business in North America with the support of a very strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. I truly want to thank those that believe in us — from our board of directors, staff, past volunteers and staff, mentors, corporate and community partners, and of course, our startups. Each of you makes a difference, and you are what makes us different than any other incubator or accelerator in the market. Our diversity is what makes us strong.
Happy Fifth Anniversary LatAm Startups, to our community in Canada and to those beyond.