During the last week of February, I was fortunate to attend the fifth Latin American Investment Forum (it goes by “FLII”, its Spanish Acronym). Over the past five years, this annual gathering in Merida, Yucatan has grown into a premier event in Latin America that seeks to strengthen the ecosystem for social entrepreneurship and impact investing.
This year, more than 300 organizations gathered in Merida, Yucatan representing social entrepreneurs, investors, government entities, development banks, financial institutions, corporations and academics – to exchange knowledge and build the region’s community active in the field of impact investment and entrepreneurship.
It was my first time at the FLII and what immediately struck me was the variety of different players it attracted. On the first day of the conference, the panel representing the Government of Yucatán, National Institute of the Entrepreneur, New Ventures, HSBC and CEMEX welcomed the participants. This sent a strong message on the need for cross-country and cross-sectorial strategies required to address social issues in the region.
The conference has three overarching objectives: 1) mainstreaming impact investing in Latin America; 2) promoting ideas, trends and innovation in the impact investing eco-system and 3) fostering social entrepreneurship as a critical driver for growth in the emerging economies. The busy agenda spans three days of back-to-back sessions: speed pitches by the impact businesses, inspiring speed talks, roundtable panels with specialists, interactive workshop sessions and networking lunches. This whirlwind of a program is meant to inspire and encourage participation to ensure the conference results in collaboration opportunities and lasting connections.
FLII is organized by New Ventures Mexico, a leading platform that catalyzes social and environmental entrepreneurs and fosters development of the region’s ecosystem that supports them. New Ventures Mexico is a Toniic member. New Ventures provides innovative impact businesses with financing, technical assistance and networking opportunities such as FLII. The acceleration program provides innovative businesses with strategic support to strengthen their business models and scale impact.
The financing is provided through Adobe Capital Social Mezzanine Fund. Rodrigo Villar is the Managing Director at New Ventures Mexico and Partner at Adobe Capital as well as a Toniic member. The fund provides capital ranging from $100,000 to $3 million in debt, mezzanine and capital options, with flexible terms. What is unique about this arrangement is the technical assistance component – through taking board seats, supporting GIIRS certification, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and strategic networking.
Such combination of the accelerator support, investment and conference outreach creates an effective and powerful platform to support social entrepreneurs and ensure successful outcomes.
This year, the conference featured ten finalists of “I3 LATAM: Impact Fostering Innovation in Latin America”, a joint initiative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Hystra, Ashoka and New Ventures Mexico. The program identifies and catalyzes top ten entrepreneurs in the region who are then given an opportunity to pitch and connect with potential partners and investors at the FLII. The acceleration program includes a trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley to meet with leaders in entrepreneurship, innovation and impact investing. The participating companies are also assigned a mentor in their home country to develop a strategic plan. These ten cases of success serve as inspiration for the region’s new generation of entrepreneurs.
I was impressed by the innovative ideas entrepreneurs presented at the conference. One of the companies, Ecofiltro, produces and distributes water filters for rural communities in Guatemala employing people from local communities. Another company, Carbon roots, aims to replace wood charcoal by converting agricultural waste into a cleaner cooking fuel to combat deforestation in Haiti. These are just some examples of the many outstanding entrepreneurs who participated in the conference.
The plethora of talented entrepreneurs and active engagement of the local private and public players encourages Toniic to continue supporting FLII. Stephanie Cohn Rupp, CEO of Toniic, introduced the goals and scope of the conference together with Toniic board member, John Kohler of Santa Clara University. She also led the workshop on due diligence. I was privileged to participate on the “Green Initiatives: Climate Change” panel and share the work of Divest-Invest Philanthropy.
For me, the conference was a unique opportunity to learn about the vibrant and growing impact investing sector in Latin America and meet the key players. At Toniic, we are excited to see the region’s impact investing community grow and an increasing number of innovative ideas successfully implemented and scaled.
by Jenna Nicholas, Toniic Fellow