February 18, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
One of the most important lessons from my time as an entrepreneurial ecosystem weaver is just because the landscape looks more fertile elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s magical. There are entrepreneurship ecosystems that look more lush because they are artificial, they receive fertilizers and pesticides, because they are retouched with Photoshop or because the comparison game simply does not allow us to see things clearly.
When I think of how Latin American entrepreneurs traditionally view Silicon Valley , I think of how much we are missing by looking there as if it is somehow better than what we have here. Silicon Valley and the biggest companies that are built on its foundations are often considered unicorns – mythical entities with stratospheric missions and the venture capital to prove it.
It may seem that, as Latin American entrepreneurs, our goal should be to aspire to any combination of qualities that will lead those companies to success and notoriety, but what if I told them that the real job shouldn’t be to try to emulate their process, but instead to honor our local processes?
For a couple of years, the metaphor of “zebra companies” was born in startup circles, which in contrast to unicorns, are real, grow collectively and firmly anchored in their communities. The business history of Latin America is full of examples of endurance, innovation and resilience that cannot be learned or taught in webinars – it has to be lived fully. We have a story that not only encourages us to be the zebras of the corporate world, but reminds us that we are already those zebras, we just have to choose to adopt this narrative with great honor.
Our countries have seen political revolutions, natural disasters, and currency instabilities, and yet our goods and services do not collapse. While Silicon Valley has built a foundation for its businesses that is often backed by its government, our infrastructure is different, but not worse for that.
Latin American companies and entrepreneurs who choose to innovate within our countries may not always have the support of our governments or have rescue methods, but they do have a community and a center of values that remains faithful no matter the circumstances.
One of my favorite quotes is that of Humberto Maturana, a Chilean philosopher, who said the phrase: “The most important thing about innovation is what you want to conserve …” The COVID-19 pandemic has been an excellent example of how to adapt to new Circumstances focused on what does not change have benefited a company like mine and our community.
At IMPAQTO , our spirit is based on community. When the global pandemic started, as a Company B , our coworking network had funded our efforts to incubate, accelerate, and fund entrepreneurs building businesses that have a positive impact on our communities and on the planet. In the midst of the health emergency, we had to learn to satisfy the market demand, which was now looking less for a physical space and more for what was happening in an intangible way between the walls of that space: our community needed its community.
Through virtual hackathons , we find ways to mobilize our community of startup founders and change agents to create solutions that support UN agencies, NGOs and WHO in the challenges related to the pandemic around the gender violence, homelessness and migration.
Our own pivoting showed me that there is tremendous power when we focus on the long term of being a zebra in a world of unicorns and appetites for quick rewards. It’s not always the sexiest way to grow a business, but I see longevity in this narrative because it’s built on people and communities who are willing to help sustain it.
My belief in the zebra mindset is confirmed when I observed, for example, how three founders of the telemedicine platform Goctors serving senior private physicians spent six weeks working double shifts to switch their services to serve the clients of the bottom of the pyramid after realizing that populations at risk had even more limited access to health care.
Or, a food delivery company, Tipti , whose founders may have been solely focused on growing their user base during the pandemic, decided to continue the human aspect of their business and built a special platform for elderly customers to receive phone orders for those who They do not use smartphones or applications.
As a zebra company, the pressure stops focusing on scaling and acquiring users at any cost; Instead, it focuses on the possibility of protecting and growing seeds in our communities that will help rebuild and conserve our region time and time again.
I am not against companies that follow the unicorn model, I just hope that Latin American entrepreneurs know that a unicorn model is not the only way to build a company. Most importantly, instead of trying to build an entirely new foundation to make unicorns viable in our Latin American countries, perhaps we should use the foundation we already have and see zebras thrive as engines of economic reconstruction, this time. focused on our communities.