Social entrepreneurs Mauricio Bonifaz and Courtney Lindahl share their recent experiences as La IdEA semifinalists and FLII participants
Chiapas Bazaar is a social enterprise based in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico. We aim to connect rural master artisans with international markets while adapting traditional products to meet the tastes of contemporary urban consumers. Chiapas Bazaar was founded by Courtney Lindahl, a former NYC fashion executive and Peace Corps volunteer, and Mauricio Bonifaz, a Chiapas native and established entrepreneur.
Chiapas Bazaar participated in the La Idea Business Pitch competition in 2013 and was selected as one of 51 semifinalists with diaspora connections developing economic opportunity throughout the Americas. In November 2013, we traveled to New York City to pitch Chiapas Bazaar to prestigious audience of experienced investors, business consultants and government representatives.
To say the least, the experience was eye opening. We work from Chiapas, Mexico, a rural state in southern Mexico, mostly with rural artisans, isolated and far away from New York and large cities where these game-changing players live and work. Suddenly, we had the chance to meet many of them face to face to discuss our challenges and how to surmount them, to find opportunities, and to ultimately to define pragmatic action plans for the near future. Those few days were intense and invigorating. We made really amazing contacts and, in fact, we are still in touch with one of our mentors.
After participating in La Idea, we were extremely energized and motivated. But more than anything, we felt like we had become part of a larger network – one that we were not part of before. This new network opened the door for us to learn about Latin American Forum on Impact Investing (acronym FLII in Spanish). We submitted our application and were selected to do a three minute pitch about Chiapas Bazaar in front of the movers and shakers of impact investing in Latin America and the world. The people who attend these events can make a huge difference in accelerating a project and many of them have personally founded successful businesses before. Networking opportunities abound. The conversations that happen in the corridor or during lunch breaks can change the vision of an entire project; so be open to listening and open to change.
We were truly astounded by the positive energy surrounding the people involved in this social enterprise ecosystem. The people are incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and contacts; they are down to earth and easy to talk with. We saw this remarkable attitude from all types of participants; it was a healthy dose of good spirit and energy.
One realization that we have taken away from both events, is that we, as social entrepreneurs, have to perform well in both the social impact of our project and the economic profitability/sustainability of our business model. It is not one or the other – it has to be both. Going into the La Idea Business Pitch, we focused on the social impact part of the business – but in hindsight, we realized our pitch needed to have a greater balance between social impact and revenue and profits. With that lesson in mind, we re-evaluated our approach for the FLII business pitch and tried to illustrate how through our business model, we create social value and financial value. This way, investors and funds are better able to support your project because they know it will be sustainable, and that is very important to creating lasting social impact. So, we would advise new entrepreneurs to work hard, re-invent and be creative on making your organization to find ways to perform well in both aspects.
We are extremely honored and humbled to hold company with such amazing entrepreneurs, business people, investors and academics. All of these events happened within Chiapas Bazaar’s first year of business, so we can’t wait to see the opportunities and growth we will have in the coming years.