This article is adapted from AQ’s print issue on entrepreneurship. To see our AQ Top 5 list of young entrepreneurs in Latin America, click here.
From finding a source of good advice to making use of new technology, there are many things that women in Latin America can do to start and succeed in business. We asked some of the region’s most outstanding entrepreneurs for their tips to get ahead.
Unleash the power of mentors and connectors.
A strong mentor is an entrepreneur’s “most powerful weapon,” according to Silvina Moschini, serial entrepreneur and CNN contributor. A mentor trains you on how to start and scale your business and “holds your hand and gives you credibility when they introduce you to key contacts,” she said. For many entrepreneurs starting their first venture, mentors help navigate what seem like insurmountable obstacles. But it’s not just mentors, said Cristina López, cofounder of LOVILL, a law firm in Panama. “A mentor can tell you what you should do, but a connector is someone who believes in you as a person and will connect you with people who will benefit you … it opens so many doors.” This is particularly important in a region where women have less access to strong networks, a key factor in entrepreneurs’ success.
Utilize entrepreneur training and accelerator programs.
Accelerators and training programs, from Start-Up Chile to Startup México, provide strategic support to entrepreneurs throughout the region. For Moschini, these programs are “invaluable to learn how to raise capital, create a strategy, a compensation model, and to scale your business.” Being part of these programs’ networks is equally valuable. For Amalia Sierra, cofounder of Maaji, a swimwear company in Colombia, a government-led program proved crucial for scaling her business to 57 countries. Pro-Colombia provided advice — and funding — to help Sierra better understand and access the international market. For her, providing training and education is just as important as financial support.
Overcoming a lack of access to capital is crucial for entrepreneurs’ success, especially women entrepreneurs. “Without capital you can’t think big, you can’t grow,” said Moschini. According to an International Finance Corporation report, women-owned businesses attract less than 5 percent of venture capital funds globally, stymying high-impact growth for promising business models. Further, up to 70 percent of formal women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean report unserved or underserved credit needs, according to a report by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), and less than one-third of all women had saved money in a financial institution in the past year.
Fight back against societal gender norms.
Pushing back against the gender stereotypes that still exist for women throughout Latin America is crucial. Many women continue to feel pressure to stay at home instead of run a company. As López explained from her experience working at a corporate law firm before launching her own, men and women start off on equal footing in their early 20s, but this changes over the years. “Males, they’ll get married and just rocket-start their career at 30,” López noted. “The opposite is true for women.” When López launched her practice at 29, she didn’t let gender norms get in her way, despite facing gender stereotypes from potential clients. “In my head, in (my partner) Patricia’s head, we were like: We know this, we can do this,” she said. “We never thought that we were not going to get that important client or that important deal.”
Harness social media marketing.
Social media has quickly become “one of the key ways to get your worth out,” according to Susana García-Robles, team leader of venture capital funds at the MIF. To use platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter successfully, however, women entrepreneurs must be more aggressive in showing what they are doing with their company. A woman’s LinkedIn profile “says a lot about her and her startup,” said García-Robles, but women are often less likely to take advantage and be aggressive in efforts to showcase their company and themselves. And since women tend to have networks that fall among their circle of family and friends, it’s important to maintain professional profiles and promote your company — and keep personal relations on separate accounts.
Bons is an editor for AQ. Tummino is senior editor for AQ and senior policy director at AS/COA.