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La Idea, Whose Time has Come

Latin America is a natural market for the growing number of U.S. Hispanic businesses—now, a way to help entrepreneurs gain access

By Stephen Keppel

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Last month I had the pleasure of representing Univision at the opening of the Latin American Idea Partnership, or La Idea, a business competition designed to inspire new ideas and connect U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs with their counterparts in Latin America. Like many innovative projects La Idea started off as a simple but good idea.

The concept originated at the U.S. State Department’s first Global Diaspora Forum in May of 2011 but the seed for the initiative was planted by an op-ed piece in the National Journal and a meeting at a Starbucks—just over 12 months ago. The op-ed was written by Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank and highlighted the significant opportunities that were available to U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs who invested in Latin America.

He called for the government to work more closely with the private sector to connect “businesses in this country [the U.S.] with new markets in a region whose middle class could double to 500 million people over the next two decades.”
At Univision we were intrigued and a casual meeting followed the same week with representatives from the IDB and the State Department at a Washington, D.C. Starbucks. Maybe it was the effect of the strong Latin American coffee but there was immediate excitement; the timing seemed perfect.

Despite our struggles in the U.S., a number of Latin American economies were over-performing, benefiting from a decade of economic reforms and high commodity prices. The results of the 2010 U.S. Census had been released a few months earlier showing a strong rise in the demographic and economic power of the U.S. Hispanic community. According to the Census there were more than 2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in this country creating jobs and generating nearly $275 billion in revenues.

An opportunity was spotted but more needed to be done to connect entrepreneurs in the Americas. The path for a large multinational company to enter Latin America or the U.S. is relatively clear cut, but this can be very challenging for a small or medium sized business. Given a common language and cultural ties, U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs are well prepared to expand to Latin America and Latin American entrepreneurs have a lot to gain from tapping the U.S. Hispanic market—which has a purchasing power of around $1.3 trillion, greater than the GDP of every Latin American country except Brazil.

You might ask: how did Univision, a network more commonly known for blockbuster telenovelas and raucous Mexican soccer matches, get involved in all of this? It’s simple. Our mission is to entertain, inform and empower our audience. We take the empowerment aspect of our mission seriously. We had noticed the rising trend of business ownership among Latinos and were searching for a way spur this on and empower Hispanic entrepreneurs. Together with the State Department and the IDB we are able to do this through La Idea.

So what is La Idea anyway? Basically, La Idea is an interactive platform that aims to connect the American Hemisphere through entrepreneurship and innovation with the goal of creating jobs and prosperity on both sides of the Rio Grande.
The partnership will host a business plan competition (at www.laidea.us) that will provide award grants and loan access to winning ideas that involve U.S. Hispanic entrepreneurs and local entrepreneurs in Latin America. The first round of the competition will focus on the U.S., Mexico and Central America and will target entrepreneurs that want to expand their operations across borders, from North to South or South to North. A second round, expected to kick off next year, will involve South America.

An inspiring op-ed, a productive Starbucks meeting and some good partners can go a long way. This partnership proves that you can do a lot with a good idea. The next step is for this idea to spread, throughout the Americas. •

A longer version of the column first appeared at www.univisionnews.tumblr.com 

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