Friday, June 12, 2015

Endeavor events and birthday blessings

My 23rd Birthday

After several weeks of nonstop events at work, I finally have time to reflect on all that has happened, as well as become painfully aware of this fact: I have 3 weeks left in Mexico. 21 days to be exact.
At the start of May, as my flight date drew nearer, I began to become aware of just how much I’ve grown over the past year, realizing that the independent, international traveler I am today is very different from the wide-eyed college graduate who arrived here last July.  I have grown both professionally and personally in ways that I didn’t even identify as growth areas a year ago. And yet, despite all this reflecting, I (ridiculously) completely wrote off the last few months of my time here. Focused on all there was to be done before I left, both at work and in my apartment (ie. the challenge of fitting my life from the past year into just two suitcases), I had subconsciously decided that I had entered “transition period” already and had begun to leave Mexico behind. I couldn’t possibly learn anything new in the short time that I had left and I would be too busy before I left to learn anything new anyway. 

As I am sure you are all aware, there was a key flaw in this way of thinking: I have had other incredibly meaningful experiences that lasted for an equal or even shorter amount of time (my independent research project in Cerro Punto, Panama lasted 3 weeks, the first time I lived away from home on my own was 1 week at a creative writing camp, my first visit to Mexico to meet my family was just 3 days, and my college graduation was a 4 hour ceremony). I was so focused on the looming transition to moving back home that I was not being present to the fact that Mexico still had (and still has) much to teach me about its culture, its language, and about myself. 

The sheer concentration of work events over the last few weeks has taught me more about entrepreneurship and how it is linked to Mexico’s venture capital ecosystem and the economy  than I had learned in all the months prior combined. The first event was “La Cumbre de Directores” (Directors' Summit), an annual event where Endeavor Mexico brings together its mentors, entrepreneurs, sponsors, and supporters to celebrate another year of entrepreneurial growth. Guest speakers highlighted some of the most successful Endeavor companies in Latin America (Grupo Trigo from Brazil and Globant from Argentina) as well as showcased two of Endeavor Mexico’s most promising entrepreneurs (from CitiVox).  Grupo Trigo brought Domino’s pizza to Brazil and then started its own chain of casual Italian pasta restaurants called Spoleto. Globant is an IT company that is the second ever Endeavor Company to be on the New York Stock Exchange. 

 This year was the 10th annual Directors' Summit

 Pilar Aguilar, Managing Director of Endeavor Mexico, gives the welcome address

 My nametag, or "gafete" in Spanish (I have said the word "gafete" so often that I prefer it over nametag, even when I'm speaking English.

Jorge Soto and Oscar Salazar’s story is one of innovation and success in the technology sector. They began with EFlyer in 2007, a mobile marketing service for corporate clients via SMS (text messaging) and then developed “Cuidemos el voto” (We Save the Vote) in 2009, a mobile electoral monitoring tool that allows the public to report fraud or other incidents at the polls and now operates in over 160 countries.  The Mexican government became interested in these serial technology entrepreneurs after the success of their voting monitor technology, so they contracted the pair to develop a national alert system for hurricanes. Currently, their newest endeavor is CitiVox, a mobile technology platform to improve the relationship between citizens and their governments through increased citizen participation and government accountability and transparency.  CitiVox is currently operating in 7 different countries across Latin America, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. 

Jorge and Oscar’s success launching so many unique technology companies in succession seemed unreal and unattainable to me, like they were characters in a movie. But what made it real for me was seeing one of them (who wasn’t able to attend the conference in person due to a commitment in another country) Skype video call into the event. His face floated above us on a screen in front of the auditorium, a slight delay between his movements and his voice, his eyes not looking at the camera but rather just below it at the screen in front of him. Just like how I currently skype my friends, or my parents, or my brother. Strangely, seeing this incredibly successful entrepreneur through a Skype video screen made him more real to me than his partner who was sitting on the couch in front of us. It really hit me that these successful entrepreneurs are just normal people with ideas and determination (and a bit of luck and resources) to see them through. And suddenly, these entrepreneurs and their achievements went from being awe-inspiring and unattainable, to being inspiring and possible.

Interview with CitiVoz entrepreneurs

The second week of events was a visit from a Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) delegation to learn about venture capital opportunities here in Mexico City. Since Endeavor was helping arrange the visit, in coordination with the Latin American Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (LAVCA), I was invited as a representative from Endeavor Mexico to all of the delegate’s events over the course of their four day visit. The opportunity to talk with the delegates and other hosts was incredible, as well as the opportunity to meet important people I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet, like the US Ambassador to Mexico who invited us to a cocktail at the US Embassy. 

 Endeavor Mexico’s special event, and my main responsibility, was the Mexican Entrepreneurship Deep Dive. We invited over 100 entrepreneurs, mentors, and other entrepreneurs in our Technology Track pipeline to participate in panel discussions, give presentations and network with the SVB Delegation. After listening to the talks (while simultaneously running around making sure the caterers were prepared for every transition and that the event was going smoothly), I have added new word-usage to my vocabulary. The word “unicorns” for example does not only refer to the mythical horse-like creatures whose blood Voldemort drank in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but also software-based startups valued at over $1 billion dollars. 

 The calm before the storm/event begins...

The storm/first panel!

 Before lunch...

 ...lunchtime networking!

 E-commerce panel

 I also happened to be nursing a sprained ankle through all this...

By the time the mariachi arrived for the cocktail at the end of our event, I was exhausted but exhilarated: I had planned a successful event in Mexico, contracted caterers and printers, learned new Spanish words and expressions like “lanyard” and “price quote,” worked remotely with the Endeavor Global representative as well as with our amazing Endeavor Mexico team, managed the event budget, and confirmed the guest list. I was proud of myself for accomplishing this initially daunting task of planning my first event outside of a university setting, but I was also proud of something much more important.  I was proud to have helped introduce the venture capital delegates to Endeavor Mexico’s technology entrepreneurs. The whole day, no one wanted to stop talking. At every transition, we had to kindly remind groups of people talking and exchanging business cards that the next talk/meal was about to start and would they please move into the next room. While it made more work for us, constantly trying to keep the event on-schedule, it left me inspired to see the dynamic networking conversations that were popping up throughout the day. Not only am I proud to say that I contributed to a smoothly-run event, but I am also inspired to have helped connect our entrepreneurs with potential investors. When the cocktail started at the end of the event, I could finally relax, enjoy the mariachi band I hired, and taste the mezcal and h’ordeuvres I had helped select. I even received my own mariachi serenade. Surrounded by co-workers complimenting me on a job well done, eating Mexican dishes, drinking Mexican mezcal, and being serenated by mariachis, I felt completely at home, and more Mexican than American.

                                                       Serenaded during the cocktail

 My family also made me feel at home by treating me to special Mexican birthday celebrations the weekend of my 23rd birthday.  Two days in a row I was invited to “comida” (the large meal in the late afternoon) and two days in a row I was surprised by a huge party of relatives.  While my friends had gathered Friday night to celebrate with me, I found that my family’s celebrations were the most meaningful. Their love for me was like a glow filling the entire room, shining brighter than even the birthday candles (which is saying something because my first cake had 15 candles spelling out “feliz cumpleaƱos”, and the second cake had one large candle that kept re-igniting itself whenever I blew it out). I am eternally grateful for my wonderful Mexican family and it saddens me to realize that I will be leaving them in just 3 weeks.
                            Jello birthday cake because they remembered I can't have gluten or lactose

Second birthday surprise celebration!

 My birthday beso

 After finding renewed inspiration in both my work and my family, I am excited for the next 3 weeks. I now see the weeks ahead in a different light. They are not three weeks to say goodbye, but three weeks to keep exploring, keep learning, and keep loving this amazing country and its people who have welcomed me with open arms since day one.

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