The Spotlight is on Startup Weekend Central America

From the 14th to the 16th of March, Startup Weekend Central America will take place in Panama, gathering entrepreneurs from Mexico to Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama.

Startup Weekend is going regional. This month, the 54-hour startup event will take place as a multinational forum in Central America.

From the 14th to the 16th of March, Startup Weekend Central America will take place in Panama City, Panama. It will gather 60 entrepreneurs and 12 mentors from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Belize Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia to come together to bring their ideas to life in the course of just three days.

Startup Weekend Central America will take place at the same time as the Central American Entrepreneurial Forum. An opportunity for ecosystem leaders to share success stories, examine public policies and determine what’s missing for the region to develop, the event seeks to define the future of entrepreneurship in Central America.

We spoke with Stefany Cohen, one of the organizers of Startup Weekend Central America, to learn more about the event and the regional ecosystem.

Emily Stewart: This is the first regional Startup Weekend for Central America. What sort of a reaction are you getting? What countries are showing interest?

Stefany Cohen: This is the first regional startup weekend, not only for Central America but also for the whole world. This is the reason why we have been getting a lot of attention from both the Startup Weekend global community as from the Central American region. We have opened registration for Mexico, Puerto Rico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia – but we have also received interest from Spain, France and the Netherlands. I think that the need to create an entrepreneurship community in the region is so high that people have been responding immediately to the idea of a Central American Startup Weekend and support it.

ES: Of the different countries involved, have you noticed differences in how they’re approaching the event?

SC: With the exception of Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia, the format of Startup Weekend is very new for the Central American region. For this reason, I believe that many of our participants are learning as they go what is Startup Weekend and its objectives. It was very inspiring to get to hear the participants’ ideas and find out that they were looking for solutions to problems inside their respective societies. In Latin America, we have an infinite amount of necessities, and it reminds us of the very purpose of this event, to capture the interest and participation of conscious and passionate people. Nevertheless, many of the ideas are conceived with a technological focus to be web or mobile applications.

ES: The Central American Entrepreneurial Forum will also be taking place. What can we expect from that event? 

SC: This will be the first Central American Entrepreneurial Forum. It will be a three-hour conference where we will combine a series of 10-minute presentations with Q&A panels. The forum will be the biggest conversation carried out so far on the topic. Together, the speakers will illustrate the current entrepreneurial landscape in the region. We are looking to discuss cases of success and explore the best practices in order to understand what is missing and completely activate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Central American. The Central American Entrepreneurial Forum will be streamed live in several universities across the region.

ES: When we talk about entrepreneurial hubs in Latin America, we hear most often about Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico. What needs to happen for the Central American region to really concrete its space on the map?

SC: In Central America, we still have a lot to achieve in terms of consolidating the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We still lack the creation of events and organizations that stand out in the region – to the point where foreigners will want to travel and interact there. We have some examples, like INCAE and Agora Partnerships. Our purpose in organizing Startup Weekend Central America and the Central American Entrepreneurial Forum is to create two events at a time at which people can attend once a year, every year, and through that place Panama on the map as a hub in Central America.

ES: What barriers pervade the entrepreneurial ecosystem in terms of culture, investment and legislation?

SC: There are cultural barriers that, in general, are similar across Latin America. However, the legal and investment barriers are more specific to the socio-political situations in each country. If I had to name the one cultural practice that impedes a Latin American boom, it is that we socially punish those who don’t follow the traditional path. The entrepreneur tends to be seen as an unemployed crazy person, and we don’t value the courage it takes to create a new path and new ways to generate value in a society. Instead of rewarding those who take risks, we punish them and therefore close the door to all the others who are looking to start their own companies. In terms of legal barriers, this can have an impact on investment practices, including access to venture capital. We need laws that promote entrepreneurship and facilitate the entrepreneur’s process in terms of time and cost to start a new business.