Alejandro Brenes is the co-founder and CEO of Enertiva Costa Rica, a leader in solar power projects. He has been featured as one of the 40 leaders under 40 years old by Costa Rican business newspaper El Financiero and since 2012 he has been serving as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Brenes is also director of GEW Costa Rica, a campaign that has been run by Yo Emprendedor for the past three years. Leading into last year's GEW Costa Rica, Brenes and his colleague, Andres Riggioni, contributed to the blog La Ruta Emprendedora for El Financiero that provided direct advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in the country.
With GEW only a few months away we asked Brenes to share his thoughts on the entrepreneurship climate in Costa Rica, GEW’s progress and plans for Yo Emprendedor’s fourth GEW campaign.
When and how did Yo Emprendedor first get involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week?
Yo Emprendedor got involved with GEW four years ago. We had being doing work with several international institutions to help promote entrepreneurship so it was a natural next step for us to spearhead the GEW Costa Rica campaign.
Why is Global Entrepreneurship Week important to Costa Rica?
Entrepreneurship plays a vital role in crafting solutions to the biggest challenges and problems Costa Rica faces. GEW is an opportunity to inspire, engage and support established and potential entrepreneurs to highlight their importance in this process.
How does GEW support the work that you do throughout the year?
GEW complements the work we do of trying to foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Costa Rica. It’s a celebration where all the entrepreneurs, organizations, government institutions and the private sector unite to talk about entrepreneurship. We see GEW as the pinnacle event of the year with regards to our work and achieving Yo Emprendedor’s goals.
How has GEW grown? What are you doing to build on its momentum?
GEW has grown exponentially. The first year we had 40 activities and 800 attendees; the next year we had 70 activities and 10,000 attendees; last year we planned a three day celebration in the National Stadium (Costa Rica’s most well-known and important venue) with over 30 activities and the support of 50+ institutions. This year we hope to grow even more!
What makes your GEW campaign unique?
I think one of our differentiators is that the campaign is lead by entrepreneurs. While Yo Emprendedor is the official host organization, our core team is made up entirely of entrepreneurs. Our strategy with GEW is built around three pillars:
- Inclusive reach: Bringing the entrepreneurship message to rural communities, women, schools and others.
- “Global” impact: Spreading the message that we’re living in a global market with the opportunity to share and connect with millions of entrepreneurs that are changing our world
- Powerful campaign: Trying to maximize the reach of GEW, highlighting entrepreneurs, startups and institutions that foster entrepreneurship.
ABOUT ENTREREPRENEURSHIP IN COSTA RICA
How would you characterize the entrepreneurial environment in Costa Rica? If you could change one thing to make it better, what would it be?
The entrepreneurial environment in Costa Rica is not fully developed, but good things are happening at a fast pace: successful startups are developing, the culture is gradually changing, the government knows the importance of supporting a healthy entrepreneurial environment and the financial landscape for startup funding is improving. That being said, we have lot to do, the most important challenge is how we can develop a sense of community that could grow organically and could efficiently tackle all the challenges that startups are facing.
What methods and mechanisms are you using to encourage entrepreneurship?
A few years ago, we created the biggest business plan competition in Central America that had more than 300 applications. We are also working to change how entrepreneurship and related concepts are viewed in Costa Rica. We are doing so by promoting successful local entrepreneurs in different areas, promoting local entrepreneurial role models, changing the perception of failure, as well as organizing several networking activities.
What are the key differences between entrepreneurship in a developed country and entrepreneurship in a developing country?
There are many differences between the two, starting with a lack of access to funding. Venture capital is not fully developed in developing nations, making access to capital limited. Another key difference would be that there are fewer exit strategies in developing nations. That means that while entrepreneurs can sell their company to a bigger player or focus on growing the company organically, an IPO is almost impossible. Despite resources such as mentors, education and networking activities being limited in developing nations, economic growth is higher, providing more opportunities.
For more information on GEW Costa Rica, visit http://www.gewcr.com/