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Startup Scene: Mexico City

Cameron Cushman

cameron_w_cushman PFWhen one thinks of Mexico City, startup companies would not normally be at the top of anyone's mind. But, I had the chance to spend a few hours with some of the local entrepreneurial organizers there last week and was very impressed with what I saw.

Upon my arrival in Mexico City, a city of about 20 million people, I headed straight for the Roma Norte neighborhood to meet Gustavo Moreno, the local Startup Weekend Organizer. I walked a few blocks around the neighborhood of two to three story buildings with narrow sidewalks and skinny trees lining the streets. I was told later that this neighborhood has become the nexus of the startup community in one of the largest cities in Latin America. It is filled with creative "agencies", incubators and of course, many startups themselves. I entered through a non-descript glass door to find a wide open, two story space with long tables on both levels--tables filled with people hacking away on their laptops.

StartupMexico_scenicAfter asking around for my host, I found Gustavo on the second floor where there were clusters of long tables and many folks huddled around monitors and laptops. We chatted for a few minutes before he introduced me to the local representatives from Dave McClure's 500 Startups organization, who were interviewing candidates from throughout Latin America for their next accelerator class. I had a great discussion with Itzel Lerma who runs their venture arm and was impressed by the number of deals they are doing in this part of the world.

Next, I met with a few local organizers of events that focus on entrepreneurs. You can tell that they are passionate about building their own startup communities and are willing to volunteer their time, effort and money for the good of the startup areas. One such program with the intentionally shocking English name "Fu$% Up Nights" meets once a month features entrepreneurs who tell their stories about their greatest failures and mistakes. The group celebrates these miscues and works to learn from them so that they can hopefully avoid them in their own companies. The program now attracts about 300 people each month and has expanded to multiple locations in Mexico. A San Francisco chapter just launched as well.

I happened to be there on the same day that an executive from Startup Weekend headquarters was visiting. She informed me that the organizers in Mexico were some of the most advanced in the world, establishing organizing frameworks for both Mexico and the UK.

What impressed me the most though, was the cooperative and coordinated vibe that filled the place. The energy was palpable and you could feel the optimism that the people in this space had for the future of their country. The willingness of the Startup Weekend organizers to share space with others in the community had clearly been a catalyst for the impressive entrepreneurial activity taking place in Mexico City.

StartupMexico_tshirtsAnd, these organizations certainly aren't the only ones making things happen in Mexico. Endeavor has a huge presence in country and Junior Achievement has been making great strides for several years now. Both of these organizations have served as very effective country hosts for Global Entrepreneurship Week, which has become the centerpiece of startup-focused events in the country.

The Government of Mexico has also recently gotten into the act. With the inauguration of new President Enrique Pena-Nieto last December, the Mexican government set up a new agency to help fund startups and entrepreneurial-related activities. The new agency, the National Entrepreneurial Institute, seeks to "instill a new entrepreneurial culture in Mexican society". According to the folks I spoke with, they will be providing funding for different activities related to building the entrepreneurial community, including direct funding of startup companies. Though still in its infancy (as far as government programs go), this will be an interesting initiative to keep an eye on.

When it was time for me to depart, my local hosts used a local startup company’s creation, called Yaxi, to call for a taxi in the area. Yaxi is an app that not only allows the user to call for a taxi in the area, but it will also show you exactly where the taxi is, and when it will arrive at your location. Yaxi was clearly a concrete example of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and it was clear that the people in the building were proud of the success they had achieved. It seemed like the perfect way to end my glimpse into the startup scene in Mexico City.StartupMexico_map

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