A Promising New Idea to Spark Entrepreneurship in the Americas

This week I had the pleasure of participating in the U.S. State Department’s Global Diaspora Forum and representing Univision at the opening of the Latin American Idea Partnership, or La Idea, a new business competition designed to connect US Hispanic entrepreneurs and their counterparts in Latin America.

Univision has been involved in this initiative from the beginning and as I was preparing for the forum I went back through some emails to find the origins of La Idea.

The concept comes from the first Global Diaspora Forum in May of last year but the seed for initiative was planted by an op-ed piece in the National Journal and a meeting at a Starbucks–just about 12 months ago. The op-ed was written by Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank and it highlighted the significant opportunities that were available to U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs who invested in Latin America. He called for the government to work more closely with the private sector to connect “businesses in this country [the U.S.] with new markets in a region whose middle class could double to 500 million people over the next two decades.”

A casual meeting at Starbucks followed with representatives from the IDB and the State Department. Maybe it was the effect of the strong Latin American coffee but there was immediate excitement; the timing seemed perfect. Despite our struggles in the US, a number of Latin American economies were over-performing, benefiting from a decade of economic reforms and high commodity prices. The results of the 2010 U.S. Census had been released a few months earlier showing a strong rise in the demographic and economic power of the U.S. Hispanic community. The Census showed that there were more than 2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in this country creating jobs and generating nearly $275 billion in revenues. A study by the Kauffman Foundation ranked Latinos highest in their entrepreneurial index.

An opportunity was spotted but more needed to be done to connect entrepreneurs in the Americas. The path for a large multinational company to enter Latin America or the U.S. is relatively clear cut but this can be very challenging for a small or medium sized business. Given a common language and cultural ties, U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs are well prepared to expand to Latin America and Latin American entrepreneurs have a lot to gain from tapping the US Hispanic market–which has a purchasing power of around $1.3 trillion, greater than the GDP of every Latin American country except Brazil.

The opportunities are clearly there but both groups need some support.

You might ask: how did Univision, a network more commonly known for blockbuster telenovelas and raucous Mexican soccer matches, get involved in all of this? It’ simple.Our mission is to entertain, inform and empower our audience–which happens to make up the largest “diaspora” in the United States. We take the empowerment aspect of our mission seriously and had noticed the rising trend of business ownership among Hispanics and were searching for a way help spur this on and further empower Latino entrepreneurs.

Together with the State Department and the IDB we are able to do this through La Idea.

So what is La Idea anyway? Basically, La Idea is a platform that aims to connect the American Hemisphere through entrepreneurship and innovation with a goal of creating jobs and prosperity on both sides of the Rio Grande.

La Idea will host a business plan competition that will provide grants and loan access to winning ideas that involve U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs and local entrepreneurs in Latin America. The first round of the competition will focus on the U.S., Mexico and Central America and will target entrepreneurs that want to expand their operations across borders, from North to South or South to North.

It is exciting that we are finally opening the competition and inviting entrepreneurs to register their ideas at www.laidea.us. This website will serve as the place to register your business and will also provide the resources needed to develop your business plan. As the competition progresses the site will hopefully become a hub for entrepreneurs throughout the Americas.

Wow, this sounds great, but with so many moving pieces how can we pull it off? This is where all of the partners come in and the State Department’s global partnerships team deserves a lot of credit for recruiting such an innovative and illustrious group.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide the expertise and experience from the African Diaspora Marketplace competition whilecontributing $200,000 for La Idea winners.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has pledged $100 million in project financing for La Idea applicants that meet its credit and policy requirements. TheInter-American Development Bank (IDB) is one of the founding partners and will create a virtual marketplace which will link La Idea applicants with other entrepreneurs and potential investors throughout the region. Boom Financial, a mobile money provider, will provide mobile wallets to La Idea winners. The Small Business Association will provide the business counseling and access to workshops through its network of over 900 small business development centers around the United States and Latin America.

WellSpace will provide the online platform to enable visitors to participate as well as to recruit more entrepreneurs to join the initiative. We are looking to make this process as interactive as possible and will encourage online voting, sharing and commenting. (check out the bilingual site, its really cool).

Accion, a financial non-profit organization, will use its domestic and international network in the Americas to support the administration and development of La Idea in collaboration with all the partners.

Finally Univision, the premier media company serving Hispanic America, will utilize its extensive media platforms to shine a spotlight on the competition, the applicants and the winners. We started off in November by producing, streaming and broadcasting the partnership launch event with Secretary Clinton and others and we’re excited to be working with all the partners to develop new and innovative ways to empower entrepreneurs across the Americas.

An inspiring op-ed, a productive Starbucks meeting and some good partners can go a long way. This initiative proves that you can do a lot with a good idea. Now it is time for this idea to spread, throughout the Americas.


About the Author: Stephen Keppel is Univision News’ Economics Editor and Director of Financial Content. Stephen has a background in economics, journalism and social initiatives and is overseeing the development of Univision’s Financial Empowerment campaign. He started working for Univision News in April after three years with the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. He continues to write a bi-weekly column for La Republica, a Colombian financial newspaper and posts regularly on Univision’s English-language blog. Stephen graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a business degree in 2003 and received a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2007. Aside from economics, Stephen has passion for social entrepreneurship and innovation. He started the Economic Growth Initiative for Haiti (EGI) in 2005/06 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to provide training and mentoring and to help find financing for young Haitian entrepreneurs. He continues to serve on its board of directors.


This blog was originally published both on Univision News and The Huffington Post as part of their joint coverage of  La IdEA. The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of the author and its ideas and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of International diaspora Engagement Alliance, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Migration Policy Institute, or any of their partners.