Miryam Lazarte is the founder of LatAm Startups, a Toronto-based accelerator that brings startups from emerging markets to Canada and scales them globally. Under her leadership, LatAm Startups has become a designated organization for Canada’s Startup Visa program. Since 2017, the three-phase program at LatAm Startups has worked alongside over 90 tech companies from around the world to obtain validation in North America and launch their businesses in the Canadian market.
A serial entrepreneur since childhood in Colombia, Lazarte is passionate about building stronger economic ties between Canada and Latin America, which is often an overlooked market of 800 million consumers.
Lazarte is a member of the Program Advisory Committee for Business Administration, Entrepreneurship, and Small Business at Seneca College, and works closely with both Canadian and Latin American angels in pursuit of cross-border investment opportunities.
Miryam has been recognized in the Canadian tech ecosystem with multiple awards, the most recent being “Newcomer Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019”. The Newcomer Entrepreneur of the Year is an award presented by Startup Canada recognizing an individual that leads as both a newcomer and entrepreneur in the country.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Miryam Lazarte: First of all I will have to apologize for my grammar as English is my second language. I started as an entrepreneur when I was 15 years old inspired by my parents, they have all types of companies, succeed a couple of times, and fail many times. My journey in Canada started back in 2013 when I decided to quit my dream job and start a consulting company helping technology companies to reach Latin American markets. Besides I have a couple of projects, the consulting company failed, but in the learning process I figured out that many startups in Latin America were looking to expand in North America and they didn’t know much about Canada as a tech ecosystem.
I’ve prepared an event in 2014 to put together startups from Latin America and mentors and investors from Canada, I had no experience in events and the conference was what I called a disaster conference, my ignorance of many aspects of the startup ecosystem in both Latin America and Canada finishing up in having a financial lost– but it was because the conference that LatAm Startups was born, with the support of a few people that believe in the idea of having startups from Latin America scaling up North America through Canada. I had the opportunity to run a second version of the conference in Toronto (the first one was in Chile) and with the former Governor-General of Canada His Excellency David Johnston open it up.
It was a success, 2016 we opened LatAm Startups as a non-profit corporation and in 2017 we started receiving the first group of startups from Latin America. Today we have helped over 100 startups, we become a part of the Startup Visa program as a designated organization from the Federal Government, we are members of the largest investment group in Canada (NACO) and we have 11 employees. Today we have startups that are not just from Latin America but from many other countries in the world and we keep growing very fast.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Miryam Lazarte: It was hard to start the journey of LatAm Startups with -$25,000 in the bank account, the first 3 years were brutal, I was barely paying myself, but I was grateful to have many volunteers believing in the things we were doing. As we increased the number of companies participating in our programs, I realized I needed more staff or at least start paying one volunteer, which I did, I have to take money from my credit card and ask for loans to sustain the company. In 2019 all the efforts paid off and finally, we started to see green numbers, I put more money from my pocket to hire at least 1-2 people.
This is something startups sometimes struggle with as they see hiring people as an expense, but it’s really an investment, it will pay off eventually. Every time I had to take money from my credit card, every time I have to ask for loans when it was hard to pay those loans, I thought of giving up, but I’m surrounded by wonderful people. My family keep believing in me (my parents) and my husband, who was not in the best economic situation either, still supported me every single step I was doing.
Also, my board of directors was there to advise me, and more important, startups, volunteers and staff were very satisfied with the program and they believe we could do more to keep LatAm Startups alive. All of them were right, today I feel that I have achieved all my goals with the company and I’m looking for the next challenge and grow the organization to another level.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Miryam Lazarte: In my experience working with entrepreneurs I have seen myself going through the same mistakes, I believe the most common one is the assumptions. People assume they know their client, they assume they can control their finance, they assume they can do all the job at the beginning. It comes to a hard lesson to know clients won’t pay what you ask or they simply are not as interested as you are in your solutions.
You don’t calculate all your expenses and the risk of putting a company running in a new market. You need staff, you need people helping you otherwise you can burn out with the amount of work and the pressure you may be putting on yourself.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Miryam Lazarte: I would define resilience as the ability to re-invent yourself over and over and over. Countries, people, companies always face crises, and you need to respond accordingly to that crisis. As far as you don’t feel like the victim all the time and be proactive when you have to, you will be able to handle the crisis.
This doesn’t mean it will be easy, it means that you will have to experience mental and perhaps physical pain, talk with other people that have gone through similar situations, and re-invent, even if you have to start over again, the point is to continue your journey as an entrepreneur. The result may be also going in the opposite way and showing that you are not an entrepreneur, and that’s ok too, if after a hard time you realize you may be better at contributing to a corporation then you still tried and you have proven yourself.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Miryam Lazarte: We have lots of collaborators more than competitors per se, other business incubators and accelerators are organizations with amazing programs that really complement what we’re doing in the ecosystem. But for the few competitors we have, our true differentiation point is the business culture of our organization. We are most of us newcomers and we understand international startups and their journey, maybe because I passed through the same situation and maybe because my staff also passed through different situations as newcomers.
We complement this with local talent, so we have too many different points of view. Many people contributing from their perspective on how we can provide a better and welcoming environment to our startups. We also don’t welcome egos in our organization, so we try to avoid as much as we can that type of personality. Being an entrepreneur is already hard and we don’t want to put an extra hard layer on anyone, we try to be as transparent and realistic as possible with the startups we are involved with in our program, so they know what they are facing.
Delegating is part of being a great leader, but what have you found helpful to get your managers to become valiant leaders as well?
Miryam Lazarte: Giving them the opportunity to contribute and try projects they want to work on. My staff makes mistakes all the time, maybe as much as I make mistakes. I just try no to be hard on them when they make mistakes, I want them to realize they can do better and they have my full support to continue learning in the organization.
My organization is a type of first stone for people that are new in the market, either they just graduated from university or they are newcomers and they need an opportunity to show what they can do. I love to see them grow, I love when they actually get better jobs because of the experience with LatAm. Letting them contribute is the best I can do for them that also does the best for our organization when their projects succeed.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Miryam Lazarte: Very important, your brand and reputation are everything in the market. Your brand should reflect your values and should reflect the core business of your organization. I take our brand very personally and we try our best to reflect through that brand who we are.
How do you monitor if the people in your department are performing at their best?
Miryam Lazarte: I have weekly meetings with them. I don’t follow up on every single step or every single task they need to do, I send reminders at the beginning of the week, and then in our meetings, we discuss those tasks together. I love to give them the freedom to work in their own time and space, which I believe is what contributes to performing their best.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Miryam Lazarte: This is a question I hear over and over, I don’t know if people are born entrepreneurs or not, I just know you may have certain skills, i.e leadership, but you need to be a person willing to take big risks and deal with the consequences of your decisions. I believe there are people that want to be an entrepreneur but may not finish up being a good one.
I don’t like to cook, I’m terrible at cooking. If I start a restaurant, even a small bar, I may fail dramatically. I want to cook better for the sake of my own family, but I have come to the realization I won’t be good at it. I think the same is applicable to entrepreneurship and I feel that society is putting pressure to have more people going that path, it seems to me that this is like years ago when your parents wanted you to be a doctor or a lawyer. Not everybody can be a doctor or a lawyer, not everybody can be an entrepreneur.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Miryam Lazarte: I have too many, hard to say which one is good, but I love Tribe of Mentors from Timothy Ferris, one quote that I liked
“Failure is inextricably connected with any major success I’ve ever had” – Kyle Maynard
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Miryam Lazarte for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Miryam Lazarte or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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