WeXchange: a unique opportunity for female entrepreneurs – and a key stepping stone for WABA.network

By Marina Solanas.

I was first introduced to WeXchange in 2016. Created in 2012 by Susana García Robles (IADB Labs) and co-organized at that time by Marta Cruz (NXTP Labs), it was designed to become a high-quality event for Latin American and Caribbean women entrepreneurs in STEM, with inspiring talks, helpful content and tips for early stage entrepreneurs, mentoring with experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and amazing networking opportunities in an empowering environment. And, above all, a one of a kind opportunity for female founders: a Pitch Competition in front of an outstanding jury of serial entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and startup advisors.

This year I had the honour of being invited to participate in that same Pitch Competition, and got to know the behind-the-scenes of that amazing process I had first heard about two years ago. This time, Angel Ventures took care of the entire selection procedure. After an online application, WABA.network was chosen among 400 projects to move onto the next stage, consisting in 3 rounds of 5-minutes pitches in front of a different jury every time. At each conference call I had the opportunity to listen to the other entrepreneurs’ excellent pitches and learn from them.

The next stage gave me the opportunity to present a longer and more complex 15-minutes pitch, twice and in front of different juries. After this round I was selected as one of the 6 entrepreneurs that would take part at the Pitch Competition’s Final. A couple of weeks later I joined Juliana Villalba from Rebus (Colombia), María Laura Palacios from Agro Puma (Argentina), Ángela Pinzón from Dashfleet (Colombia), Amparo Novarte from Culqui (Peru) and María Laura Mendoza from Unima (Mexico), in our way to the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru.

Right from the beginning the experience with our Peruvian hosts was outstanding. They picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel, where we were warmly welcomed again. November the 5th kickstarted the agenda, when Elizabeth Acuña and Yanira Carraza from Angel Ventures took us for lunch to get to know each other, and then to WeWork offices in order to review our presentations and practice our pitches. At the end of the day we attended the launching event of Women In STEM Entrepreneurship (WISE), a program directed by Silvia Torres Carbonell (IAE Business School) and designed to support female entrepreneurs that is already active in Argentina and Ecuador, and is now launching in Peru and Colombia.

The next day was the big day: the time for WeXchange’s Pitch Competition Final had come at the Universidad del Pacífico. After a couple of talks in the morning, it was the turn for the other 5 finalists and I to make a 5-minutes pitch in front of a 300 people audience, followed by another 5 minutes of Q&A. Greg Mitchell, regional director of Angel Ventures, was there to help us get ready and introduce us to the audience. It was a challenging, fruitful and useful experience. Hundreds of people got to know our value proposition and what drives us to build the WABA.network: to help millions of SMEs across Latin America and the Caribbean become more competitive and build more resilient communities. Luckily, I got lots of compliments and questions about the project, and the whole experience was really useful to network and build meaningful connections.

However, the best opportunities to meet more fantastic people and learn from them came the day after the Pitch with the mentoring sessions. After an application process we were chosen to have individual sessions with Eric Pérez-Grovas (Jaguar Ventures), Roy Ramon, Catherine Carlton and Marta Cruz, who gave me excellent feedback. I am very grateful for Eric’s inputs on the KPIs we could use to better demonstrate our products’ performance and his suggestions on potential key partnerships to make them scale. Roy gave me good insights on our strategy, CAC and CHURN, and highlighted our advantage in Latin America: namely, that we are first movers and that our products are already being used by hundreds of people in the real economy. Catherine came up with a new idea for one of our next products, and Marta provided very good feedback on our pitch and excellent advise on our go-to-market strategy and potential partners. Thank you all for your time and knowledge!

When the time to make the announcement came, María Laura Mendoza from Unima was chosen as the winner of the Pitch Competition. All the finalist were awarded a WeWork membership, vouchers for courses and mentoring sessions, and María Laura was also given an invitation to join an Innovation Experience program in Israel. At the end of the second day Susana García Robles made some closing remarks and we shared a wonderful cocktail, where I had the pleasure to meet Sylvia Cheby from ThalesLab, who provided me with some very interesting ideas for encouraging fast user adoption.

During the event I got to know dozens of amazing women doing very interesting things in the tech and fintech industries. The general vibe throughout the event was very friendly and inspiring, and collaboration was a key common value clearly shared by all the female entrepreneurs. This is the spirit that WeXchange cultivates in all its events and keeps promoting even after they end. That’s why it was so amazing to be able to spend time with the other finalists and several WeXchange alumnae. Our preparation, lunch and dinner times were as fun as fruitful. Thank you Eric Pérez-Grovas for joining us!

I set aside one last day for additional meetings and getting to know a little more about Lima. After a short visit to the Pacific ocean I met with Alvaro Castro Lora, partner at SUMARA Hub Legal, fintech lawyer with years of experience building venture capital and angel funds, and startup mentor at the Universidad del Pacifico. He taught me a lot about history, politics, society and business in Peru. Thank you very much Alvaro for sharing your local experience with me!

Alvaro also introduced me to Matías Garrido from Bitso, who was visiting Lima. Bitso is the largest crypto exchange in Latin America and it focuses on currencies with actual use cases, making it a great potential candidate to list our WNT. Last but not least, I shared my ride to the airport with Victoria Simón from Alquilando, whose pitch I had listened at the WeXchange 2016 edition. We shared stories from our paths as female STEM entrepreneurs, as well as tips, useful contacts, resources and ideas for our projects. Thank you for everything Victoria!

It was extremely encouraging to see so many people interested in implementing financial and commercial systems such as our Moneda Par and Discoin Networks in Peru. Particularly Luis José Giove, chief of the Emprende UP program at the Universidad del Pacífico, who wants to support us finding the right business partners for us in Peru.

I am now flying back to Buenos Aires with long follow-up and to-dos lists, but also with an amazing amount of key business insights, an invaluable network of truly wonderful and inspiring female entrepreneurs and an even larger number of reasons to make WABA.network’s dream come true.

Thank you WeXchange, IADB, Angel Ventures, Emprende UP and Universidad del Pacífico for this amazing opportunity, which I’m sure will be a key stepping stone not only for my career as a female entrepreneur, but for WABA.network’s development as well.