On May 23 about 140 people gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Guadalajara to honor the 100 most prominent entrepreneurs in Western Mexico. The gathering was sponsored by the E|100 support program, which is mandated to recognize the top entrepreneurs in the region.
“All 100 are winners, there is no first and second place,” said Alem Muminovic, the program coordinator for E|100. “We had about 80 of the 100 winners at the event, as well as 60 specially invited investors and representatives from government agencies.”
The winners are evidence of the dynamism and diversity within Western Mexico’s entrepreneurial community. For example, Angel Alejandro Mejía Santiago, aged 26, is developing new technologies and business models for efficient energy use at his company Inventive Power. And Jesús Briseño Gómez España, aged 34, is a brew master at Cervecería Minerva who has single-handedly heated up competition in Mexico’s beer industry.
“The primary objective of the event was simply for people to get to know each other,” says Muminovic. “And the secondary objective was to build dialogue between investors and government agencies.”
A notable quality among the winners is a desire to put Western Mexico on the map. These entrepreneurs are taking local opportunities and turning them into global advantages. One winner, Agustín Zamná Zambrano Brambila, 37, is a software engineer exploring export markets for microfinance software via his company, SIAC Software. And another winner, Francisco S. Navarro Montes, 36, is an industrial engineer who is leveraging Guadalajara’s burgeoning multi-media sector after having founded a successful 3D animation studio.
Members of the E|100 were selected online by the entrepreneurial community, who voted for candidates based on the question: who has a great idea that will become a big business in the next two or three years? It was a two-stage voting process. First, a survey was sent to thousands of businesses, entrepreneurs, incubators, universities, chambers of commerce, investors and entrepreneurs.
“In this first stage we asked people to nominate entrepreneurs who have the potential to create a successful business,” says Muminovic. “From this we got about 300 nominations.”
The next stage consisted of a straw poll where the nominees selected up to ten colleagues, logging about 1,500 votes for other entrepreneurs. “The nominees are also the voters – this is what makes the E|100 award so significant,” said Muminovic
He notes that after the “Tequila Crisis” in 1994, which resulted in the sudden devaluation of the Mexican peso, banks stopped lending to small- and medium-size businesses.
“Right now in Mexico about 85% of the lending goes to only 5% of the companies,” says Muminovic. “It is only the big companies who have access to finance and debt.”
This is the problem that the E|100 hopes to tackle by providing access to new resources, mentors, capital and partners. Ideally, the E|100 will help form support networks for entrepreneurs and their projects.
“We want to create a new asset class, and to democratize access to capital,” says Muminovic.
The challenge is that affluent Mexicans are conservative investors who stick to tangible bricks-and-mortar assets such as real-estate. For this to change, the next generation of investors must be willing to change course and invest at least a small portion of their wealth in higher-risk, entrepreneur-driven enterprises.
“But we are not only asking for money,” says Muminovic. “We want to see some societal change, to see people believe in entrepreneurs, and for mentors to get involved to help expand mindshare and distribution channels.”