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Climate Action Community Entrepreneurial life Social Good

Federico Sierra – Impact Hub Medellín – Battling His Way Through The Coronavirus

I decided to talk to some of my contacts who I know are heavily impacted by the Coronavirus. Why? Because it makes me feel like I am doing a difference, shedding some light on some of the problems that might not be obvious to me, or anybody else in the North.

One of the people I decided to interview is truly a brother. A man I felt a deep connection with when I was in New York in September 2019 during the UN General Assembly for +Social Good and UN foundation.

First off – tell me a story about you and me. How did we meet? What connected us? What connection do we have now?

There is a funny story on how I pushed you to eat with me at Chick Fil’A and it ended up being trash. Afterward, I needed to invite you for beer to make up for that… It is not as funny here, but it was hilarious to see your disappointment with the food.

We met because we were both selected as +SocialGood Connectors, local champions of the SDGs, for the UN Foundation. I think out of the other 12 people, I made the connection the fastest with you because of 2 reasons:

  1. Your go-getter attitude which is something the international development community lacks a bit as we get stuck in politics and procedures, leaving impact behind.
  2. Your techy approach to things

Since the beginning, we started bouncing ideas on how to generate more impact and how to connect the impact ecosystem in Europe and Latam.

Then tell me a bit about what you do in your everyday life?

I am a social entrepreneur, so most of my time focused on my startups:

  1. Impact Hub Medellín: an incubator for impact initiatives and a CoWorking space for the innovator moving the world forward from the impact and sustainability perspective. We have 3 main focuses:
    1. Community:

      i.      Networking and connections: we work together with our startups to support them in scaling their impact and solution to more people and other markets

                     ii.      Space: we host +200 entrepreneurs from +40 impact startups

                    iii.      Events: we host spaces to generate connections and learning. Last year we hosted over 180 events mainly focused on SDGs and entrepreneurship

  1. Incubation: We created an incubation program for startups with Impact on the SDGs, last year we incubated 36 startups and it was amazing to see so many different initiatives and work together with them to scale their impact around the world. Some examples: 

         i.      Fokus Green (https://fokusgreen.com/): they produce clothing form plastic bottles. We supported their scaling to the US

        ii.      Fruturo (https://www.fruturo.us/): They work with small farmers from the most violent regions in Colombia and support them in generating world class products to export around the world. We supported them in scaling to Europe

  1. Social Innovation: We lead a program named “Gambetiando” (https://medellin.impacthub.net/gambetiando/) a social innovation program that works with youth in the most affected areas in Medellín, Colombia; to build socio-emotional skills in them and then generate social initiatives lead by these young leaders.
  2. Energía Vectorial: we focus on decarbonizing mobility by accelerating the adoption of electric mobility in Colombia. We have 3 business lines:
    1. Conversion of oil-powered combustion cars to electric vehicles: The cheapest EV in Colombia (Renault Twizy) costs 10.000 USD which makes it a very expensive option for people here. We brought a solution that evolves the current car people have to an EV for a starting price of 7.000 making it a more affordable solution.
    2. Infrastructure: we set up electric charging stations
    3. Education: We work with different organizations, training their people on how to manage and repair EVs.

My daily life goes around working in these two initiatives, apart from work I am a big fan of Video games, so Play Station 4 and Nintendo Switch are my favorite platforms for gaming and a casual beer with friends make for the rest of my time

What made you pursue this?

I had the opportunity to work in international development mainly around youth leadership and social innovation for about 10 years. I could travel to 55 countries and see many different projects, initiatives and ideas led by young people and entrepreneurs all around the world. I decided to come back to Colombia and work to generate impact in my country.

The thing that shocked me the most when I came back was right after I stepped out of the plain and it was the air quality. It was awful.

I started researching about this issue and learned that most of the pollution in my city (and many Latam cities) come from urban mobility, also that up to 90% of that mobility couldbe electric.

I also have a niece, she was almost 2 by the time, and she was getting sick very often and we needed to take her out of the city because the main reason was pollution. So this was a calling, this is happening to my niece, it is also happening to may more children across the country, therefore I thought “I have to do something about this”. That is how Energia Vectorial was born.

As I experienced the entrepreneurship and Impact ecosystem in Medellin, I went through the struggles and challenges of a disconnected ecosystem, and this is where Impact Hub was born. I called 2 friends with the idea to work for improving the entrepreneurship ecosystem with a focus on Impact and presented the Impact Hub global network and we started working for every entrepreneur wit impactful and scalable solution to the world’s more pressing challenges.

Is it still what makes you jump out of bed in the morning?

Definitely. 

I get to work together with people that everyday are changing the world and implementing new ways of generating more impact.

My job is to support them with knowledge, connections and tools. For me, it’s a new challenge every day, learn something new everyday and also get to support the implementation of impact projects.

It is not always easy, as there are many challenges

  1. Economical situation
  2. Cashflow issues
  3. Lack of support form the government
  4. Some entrepreneurs don’t speak English, so overcoming that barrier
  5. Leadership and people management inside the startups

It is also amazing to see the collaboration among the entrepreneurs in our space and how they take advantage of every space we open for collaboration and learning. This show us our impact in day to day behavioral changes from our community.

What makes you most excited these days?

It is an opportunity to evolve both as a person and every business.

Each one of us decide if we are going to take it. Make the most out of this.

So I would like to divide my approach to this question in two different ways

First, It is indeed an opportunity to level up, as a person learning something new, tackling what we have been postponing, and most importantly, connecting with others.

Our message at Impact Hub Medellín is not Social distancing but: Physical distancing, social strengthening, as we believe this is when we need to come together as face the situation as a community, generating solutions together.

Second and most important: of course, I am saying this from my position of privilege. I do not depend on  daily income to bring food to my family or have a roof over my head during the night or just having a place to quarantine (this is the reality for about 50% of Colombia’s Population). What is exciting about this is seeing how our country has come together through different actions to support those in need. We are not a rich country, but we have gone through very difficult time by helping those in need.

The largest super market chain put together a basic set of products that cost 4 euros (rice, lentils, coffee, sugar, salt, chocolate, toilet paper, beans, chickpeas, chicken soup…). As of today people have bought and donated 150.000 of this packages for the most vulnerable. The goal is to reach 500.000… which amounts to 2Million Euros and we are on our way. Normal people, with normal salaries, contributing for the wellbeing of the whole. This gets me excited

So the coronavirus. Tell me what it’s like in Medellín Colombia right now on a daily basis?

The government set a national mandatory quarantine since Tuesday 24th. This has changed everything:

-Streets alone

-People working from home

-We have specific days depending on our ID that we can go out

-A lot of news, all the time.

Our healthcare system is not super developed, so we need to be extra-cautious so it does not become bigger than this already is.

When I go to the corner stores or super markets in my neighborhood, there are not all the products, but I see understanding and consciousness from people by not hoarding stuff but by thinking of the wellbeing of the whole. 

How do people feel?

There is a lot of anxiety.

People are afraid of losing their jobs, their companies closing because of lack of cashflow and this is generating social unrest, as people needs a bit of security to hang in to.

I’ve seen that countries like Denmark and Sweden have put together different policies to protect the economy, in the other hand, a country like Colombia does not have this option.

As I mentioned above, there is a lot of solidarity, but also there is a disconnect among local and national government, with different messages and measures going around. The ack of clarity generates fear.

What’s the general standpoint towards the virus from the government and society as a whole?

Colombia took swift action once we confirmed the first case

6 days and we closed our schools

9 days and we closed our borders

13 days and we went into national lockdown

We understand that our healthcare system is under developed (thanks to corruption mainly, and politicians stealing money in the past)

I believe there is national understanding that: 

  1. We have to face this together, let’s do our bit.
  2. Take care of each other
  3. Things will not be the same after this

How does this affect the entrepreneurs that you incubate? 

It’s going to be rough.

I have spoken to each of our entrepreneurs in the last few days to understand how are they facing this situation.

Most of them had to stop operations and are figuring out how to keep people’s jobs and salaries as long as they can.

Anxiety is the main feeling I got from them because of the uncertainty that we really don’t know when this is going to end.

The idea of talking to each startup and entrepreneur in our community is to:

  1. Connect with our people. Understand how everyone is doing and how are they dealing with this situation: emotionally, financially and with their teams.
  2. Next steps and way forward

We have set up multiple partnerships to support our people with psychologist to provide a line to express and receive advice, legal and management advisors to understand how they can use different options from banks and other entities to face the situation.

We have been hosting webinars to keep our community active and keep the human connection alive. Some of the topics we have talked about are:

How can startups contribute to solutions to the current situation?

Cashflow management during uncertainty

How to manage stress

Ways to stay productive while working at home

Finally, we are generating financial plans with each member to alleviate their future cashflows and support their come back when society “re-opens”. This means waiving membership fees in may and discounted prices for accouple of months.

How does it affect the impact hub in Medellin?

This has been a challenging time and has push us to step up our game. Our first decision was to keep our whole team in place. We are where we are because of our people, therefore we go through this together. My whole team is working from home and figuring out how to evolve our business model to create value to our market and new revenue streams. Here some impacts we are facing:

  1. Space: as mentioned above, we will see this income halted and reduced for a while as the entrepreneurs we host start regenerating income again
    1. Solution: waive the membership (mentioned above) for a couple of months and set longer term contracts. The idea is to co-operate and work with each other on how to contribute to each others business.
  2. Programs (Incubation): half of this program operates through sponsors (local and global) and right now every partner and organization is focusing their budget to face the Covid19 situation
    1. Solution: We are setting up an online incubation program, so geography is no longer a barrier for entrepreneurs. New revenue streams working together with incubated entrepreneurs and getting a % of their sales in the future as they grow (This still future revenue tho)
    2. Keep contacting potential partners in Europe and North America
    3. We have launch an initiative to generate solutions through an online hackathon that is going to take place 3-5 of April, so far we have +250 solutions submitted: https://cadadiacuenta.org/
  3. Gambetiando: Activities stop
    1. Solution: Gambetiando Virtual: we have produced a series of short videos we shared with our youth through WhatsApp to keep them engaged with activities and workshops to perform at home
    2. Weekly calls to keep connection with the families and youth

Every situation we are facing also is an opportunity to evolve and think of different approaches to our business and initiatives

In Energía Vectorial, the situation is more similar to other startups… we have stopped operations in the 3 business lines: Conversion, Infrastructure and Education. We are very lean in our startups in terms of costs, but the upward curve of sales we were experiencing, is going to be affected as people are not looking into expending money now and the upcoming months.

We are looking into how to upgrade or services and implement a tech solution connected to our conversions.

How can people in the global impact community help ?

Connections!

Investors, sponsors and corporates interested in cooperating and working with Impact startups in Colombia. We are fundraising and setting up partnerships to make it even more relevant.

We are setting up a fund to support the entrepreneurs in our space and others that will face financial troubles in the upcoming months, so they can still have a space to work from and a community to connect. Our idea would be to divide the monthly fee this way:

35% covered by the entrepreneur

35% discount from our side

30% covered by the fund

Our monthly rates start at 80 Euros and go up until 200 Euros

How do they get in touch with you?

Email: Federico.restrepo@impacthub.net

WhatsApp: +57 305 391 2346

Lastly, how will you have changed after this experience?

This is deep.

This experience has strengthen my connections with my team. We are going through a challenging time and we are facing it with a solutions oriented perspective.

Our main objective is to foster the entrepreneurship ecosystem and my whole team is constantly looking for more and better ways to do so