The Future Economic Engine of Latin America: Women Entrepreneurs

Central to the market slide in emerging economies is a crisis of market confidence.

Signs of slowing growth across the globe have resulted in a broad-based market sell-off, dragging down emerging market currencies, stocks, assets and debt. While the U.S Federal Reserve’s reduction of monetary stimulus has contributed to this decline, many other questions and concerns about economic conditions, policies and unrest in emerging markets abound – including in China, Turkey, South Africa and especially in Argentina.

Crises like these don’t pass quickly. Ultimately, the only thing that stabilizes markets is growth. But growth will not come from governments. It will come from business and specifically from the entrepreneurial sector, and most especially from the growth of women entrepreneurs.

Denise Abulafia Educatina Argentina 2013 The Way Women WorkI recently saw this future promise in action. This past November while in Argentina, I met with women entrepreneurs making strides in broad range of sectors. I talked with women like Denise Abulafia, co-founder and CEO of Educatina, a Khan Academy equivalent in South America that has already produced over 3000 education videos, serves more than 300,000 students per month, has employees, hires teachers and has raised funding for growth.

maria cher argentinaI also met with a group of twelve women entrepreneurs all of whom have employees, all of whom are growing, all of whom are innovating. Interestingly, in the majority of the cases, the women’s husbands also work at or jointly run their companies. The men joined their wives after (not before) the companies showed growth and promise. One woman, Maria Cher, launched her own clothing line CHER. in 2001, opening her first store in Buenos Aires. Today, she has 18 stores in major shopping centers in the city. She also started created the Peace Foundation for Nonviolence and developed the “Sewing Networks,” an area of training for men and women in the field of textile work. In 2008, her husband Gabriel Brener, joined her company.

Who is helping these women entrepreneurs grow? More women.

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Talking with Silvia Torres Carbonell (right) at NXTP Labs in Buenos Aires, Nov. 2013.

Women like: Silvia Torres Carbonell, Executive Director and Senior Professor at the Entrepreneurship Center of IAE Business School in Buenos Aires, who is among many things a champion of entrepreneurs in Argentina and a supporter and mentor to many women entrepreneurs; Marta Cruz, co-founder of the accelerator NXTP Labs, Carolina Dams, co-founder of the consulting company A2C Advisors and a PhD student and Lorena Diaz, business consultant. These women and women like them are working overtime to enable other women entrepreneurs.

Then in December, while participating on a panel with Silvia Torres Carbonell at the first Latin American women entrepreneurs’ pitch conference WeXchange, I had the opportunity to meet and hear pitches from over 20 women entrepreneurs from all over South America. These high-growth women entrepreneurs are being supported by even MORE women, including the event organizers Susana Garcia-Robles, Principal Investment Officer of Multilateral Investment Fund, and Monica Pina Alzugaray from the Early Stage Equity Group of the Inter-American Development Bank, along with Patricia Araque, founder of Ellas², and again Marta Cruz of NXTP Labs.

What will help these women entrepreneurs fuel the growth their economies so desperately need? At the WeXchange conference, event sponsor Ernst and Young (EY) America’s Director Bryan Pearce presented some very interesting findings from an EY survey of women entrepreneurs in nine Latin American countries. The surveyed group of women entrepreneurs – most of whom have college degrees, are between the ages of 30 and 49, are married, have children and rely on their business as their primary source of income – wanted strategic advice and access to funding to expand to new markets and grow.

EY surveyed women entrepreneurs in nine Latin American countries – most of whom have college degrees, are between the ages of 30 and 49, are married, have children and rely on their business as their primary source of income…They all wanted strategic advice and access to funding to expand to new markets and grow.


carlina dams a2c advisors the way women work argentina

Talking with Carolina Dams (left) at NXTP Labs, Nov. 2013.

Yet, almost half the women surveyed don’t have mentors. Of the ones that do, only 9% have female mentors. To get an “on the ground” perspective, I asked Carolina Dams why so many women entrepreneurs don’t have mentors. Her answer went beyond general assumptions:

“It does not surprise me that most of the women do not have mentors…however, I believe it is not a gender issue….My guess is that if you ask men about it, you will have a similar answer. I believe it is more of a cultural thing, something that is not that common in this part of the world.” She went on to say that having a more formal business mentor is a relatively new practice in Latin America.

A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem will stimulate, diversify and stabilize growth in emerging economies including in Latin America. Women (and men) entrepreneurs are stepping up to the plate to contribute. In addition to stable market economies and sound monetary policies, what they need is more support in the form of mentoring to think strategically, and access the financing they need to grow their businesses.