Entrepreneurial women in Latin America: challenges, opportunities, and advice on the path to equality

Women represent only 27% of entrepreneurs in Latin America. In celebration of International Women’s Day, three Latin American entrepreneurs and an investor share their experiences and barriers they have encountered with BBVA Spark, as well as potential solutions and recommendations to ensure women have an increasingly prominent role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Inequality remains one of the significant challenges women face worldwide, including in Latin America. According to the Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum, gender parity in Latin America stands at 74.3%, lagging behind Europe and North America. The international organization also estimates that it will take 53 years for the region to achieve complete equality, although it highlights that it is the region where the most progress has been made in recent years.

This gender inequality is also reflected in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. According to the latest ‘GEM 22/23 Women’s Entrepreneurship Report’, the rate of new business creation by women in Latin America and the Caribbean is 21.2%. Despite being a low percentage, the figure is higher than other regions due to “small business activity being a characteristic of the economy” in low-income countries, according to the document. Additionally, in the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem, only 27% of entrepreneurs are women, as reflected in the latest South Summit Entrepreneurship Map.

Women do not have a privileged position,” says Marcela Valencia, Business Innovation & Strategy Discipline Manager at BBVA Spark in Colombia. According to Valencia, inequity arises from two factors: access to education and motherhood. “Issues with access to education create a bias in the selection of professions that women could pursue,” she explains. “Moreover, the fact that motherhood coincides with the peak of a woman’s career leads investors to have a tendency to invest less in startups led by women.”

For Valencia, the solution to address these issues lies in new public policies and improving women’s access to information, capital, and assistance, as well as visibility. “We have to highlight female examples and show the path that other women have traveled so that girls do not think it is impossible to get there.” In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, BBVA Spark has spoken with some of the many women who drive the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem and serve as role models for others.


The road ahead

In 2023, venture capital investment in Latin America reached $3.4 billion (3.1 billion euros), according to Dealroom. The figure, which is down 60% from 2022 data, marks the end of several years of growth. Despite this decline, experts agree: the future outlook is promising. “The Latin America region is a great opportunity for entrepreneurship today,” says Jimena Pardo, co-founder and managing partner of the investment fund Hi Ventures, based in Mexico and focused on investing in Latin American startups. “Not only do we have infrastructure and talent for entrepreneurship, but we also have many needs to address as business opportunities.”

Regarding the role of women, Pardo considers their participation “low and unequal” and believes there is still “much ground to cover” in terms of equality in the region. To achieve this, she focuses on male actors in the ecosystem. “We need to start questioning our colleagues,” she urges.

Her assessment of the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem aligns with that of Verónica Crisafulli, CEO and founder of MO Credit Management Platform, a Colombian credit management platform through which institutions and companies can improve the management of their financial products. “The outlook is promising, but women may face additional challenges,” she says.

Crisafulli speaks from experience: she has encountered situations where she perceived discriminatory treatment. Far from intimidating her, this obstacle strengthened her determination. “The key was resilience and the ability to learn and adapt,” she points out. The CEO argues that a commitment is needed to provide more opportunities for women both in the region and in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in general. “Gender equality is essential for a vibrant ecosystem, and more efforts are needed to encourage female participation,” she asserts.


Startups leading the way

In the region, there are many other female entrepreneurs who, like Crisafulli, have successfully founded their businesses and can serve as examples for other women. This is the case of Ángela Acosta, founder of Morado, a Colombian application that aims to digitize businesses in the beauty sector and provide economic independence to professionals in this industry.

“I always knew I wanted to build technology in an industry where we could impact other women,” she explains. “The idea for the company arises from the need to help grow businesses that exists among beauty salon owners in the neighborhood.” Although she believes there is still a long way to go and it is necessary to reinforce investment in startups founded by women, she remains optimistic. “Today we are more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.”

Laura Velásquez is part of that sum: she has co-founded and chairs Arkangel AI, a Colombian startup that has developed an artificial intelligence application to detect diseases early. She created it after several members of her family and her partner, José Zea, died due to late diagnosis.

It became a driving force for me to build the company,” she says. In the course of her entrepreneurial adventure, Velázquez admits to facing several challenges, both due to her need to train in areas such as health, technology, artificial intelligence, or the entrepreneurial ecosystem itself, and due to her condition as a woman. “I had to understand not only the core of the business but also the industry, how this world works, and the barriers that exist,” she details. “As a woman, I went through many difficult moments that made me feel insecure: at the beginning, when we were seeking investment, they would say no because I was a woman.”

Velázquez believes that the key to overcoming challenges was to defend her own professionalism. “I understood that it was not in my head, but in others’, and that I can create and build my own path,” she concludes.


The future of female entrepreneurs

Nadia Pfeiffer, co-founder of SEOS Energy, a Colombian startup that provides financing to boost solar energy; Paz Álvarez, CEO of ZabiaBIO, an Argentine biotechnological startup that applies artificial intelligence to increase crop drought tolerance; or Giovanna Abramo and Lorena Ostos, co-founders of Plenna, a Mexican femtech project that offers comprehensive health services for women, are some of the many other entrepreneurs driving their projects in Latin America.

For women considering embarking on this adventure, the co-founder of Arkangel AI emphasizes the importance of maintaining a growth mindset, innovation, and resilience. “We need to believe that we can achieve what we want,” she argues. This advice aligns with the recommendations of Ángela Acosta, from Morado, who recommends strengthening self-confidence and “not feeling inferior for being a woman.” “We must compare ourselves with the best and strive to be the best, regardless of whether we are men or women.”

Beyond mindset, Verónica Crisafulli, from MO Credit Management Platform, recommends perseverance and networking. “It is crucial for them to know that it is possible and that there are women like me who can be their support network,” she affirms. The support and example of these and other female entrepreneurs in the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem demonstrate that, despite the hurdles along the way and the need for support, Latin American women are creating their own businesses and serving as examples to many others.


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