What started as a small idea on how they could take advantage of the leftover goat milk from local farms, is now a sprawling business with over 16 differentiated products. This is the story of Ananké, and they're not alone, many other small business in Venezuela are following their path. Doing entrepreneurship in Venezuela has become a case study by itself, and those who follow this path will have to truly innovate and develop lateral thinking abilities to overcome the local barriers.
Dunia de Barola, Executive Director of “Venezuela Competitiva” said in the entrepreneurship workshop at Plan Pais, 2017: “The question we should ask ourselves about the entrepreneurship environment in Venezuela isn't why there aren't many companies starting new businesses, but instead, why are there still entrepreneurs daring to challenge the local environment to innovate and create new products."
Through the workshop at Plan Pais 2017 we learned that the fundamental issue in Venezuela wasn’t the ability of its citizens to innovate, in fact, according to the latest “Doing Business” report, we have vast amounts of “Startup Skills” in comparison with other Latin American countries.
Dunia commented that the reason we are lacking behind other Latin American countries is because of the way Entrepreneurship is perceived in the nation: Who are our role models ? She argued that there hasn’t been enough models of successful businessmen or businesswomen in the country, even the most successful businessman, Lorenzo Mendoza (CEO of the biggest food distributor in the country), is perceived not as a “businessman” but as a successful entrepreneur.
What’s happening in Venezuela, Dunia said, is that people want to join the race, but don’t like the finish line. They want to create products and work on their own ventures, but don’t want to deal with the many regulations established by the local government. Venezuelan citizens want to call themselves “entrepreneurs” but not “businessmen”.
"People want to join the race, but don't like the finish line"
A “businessman” is perceived as them those who long-time ago chastised the public and reaped out all of the benefits of the working class. The entrepreneur is perceived as us the hard working population who strives to create value for society through the acceptance of risks and new challenges.
A vibrant example of this is Rosa Gonzalez. Rosa owns a successful laundry business in the hilly neighborhoods of Caracas, Venezuela. She realized that many people around her area needed to clean their clothes and were unable to purchase a washing machine. Rosa went to the bank, took a microcredit loan and bought a pair of washing machines; everyday people from the neighborhood would walk to her place and clean their clothes for a small amount of money. When the electricity or water would run out, Rosa would hire people to lift the washing machines up the hill and connect them so business could go on as usual.
Amazed by her business prowess and adaptability to change, Dunia asked her how she had learned to become such a successful businesswoman. Taken aback by the question, Rosa started to blurt out how she would never want to be a businesswoman, business people "hurt the country and took advantage of her community for years”. Even though Rosa had already been an accomplished business owner for a couple of years and had hired many employees as well as expanded her business to other local areas she would still insist on being regarded as an entrepreneur.
In the international news we hear about all of the macroeconomic factors that might affect the entrepreneurship landscape in a nation. We also look at rankings such as the “Doing Business Ranking” and World Economic Forum’s reports on entrepreneurship for guidance on how to boost our local economies. However - as we could see from Rosa’s example - sometimes the most important insight come from the bottom-up approach. By actually listening to the business owners and prospective entrepreneurs we can learn their stories and what are their biases that guide each of their business decisions. Latin American culture is very complex and has been shaped by many geopolitical factors along the years, in order to design better economic policies and produce growth we must first understand its past.
"Sometimes the most important insights come from the bottom-up approach, by first understanding the people"
Dunia de Barola and “Venezuela Competitiva” - a non-profit organization in Caracas, Venezuela - has taken this bottom-up approach and through their work have highlighted stories of success such as Ananké and Rosa’s business. They have been working on this project since 1993 and have highlighted hundreds of successful entrepreneurs who had the courage to become businessmen or businesswomen. If you want to stay updated and read more about their story follow their story at: http://venezuelacompetitiva.com/(Spanish website).
Plan Pais is an International Conference that gathers thinkers and doers of Venezuelan Policy from all over the world. Its latest conference was organized in Washington D.C. and held many workshops to discuss the social and economic development of the country. (planpais.com)