Mexican startup accelerators have become common in a country where entrepreneurship and innovation has been surging, but not all of them offer enough support to incubate success.
“In Mexico, it’s not that easy to achieve a solid start from scratch if you’re product or idea requires a certain amount of research and development, or technology development in general,” said Julián Curiel, CEO at Mosaico, a Mexican tech startup.
While most startup accelerators will offer support, mentorship, and funding for an equity stake in the business, there is one that is leveraging a vast network of business contacts and R&D capabilities to develop companies differently, for an initial fee, that is.
As part of the countrywide private university Tec de Monterrey (ITESM), Tec Lean Accelerator is taking a different approach to startup incubation. By leveraging the university’s influence, Tec Lean is able to provide startups with more involvement in the country’s technology ecosystem, utilizing a strong network of investors and providing access to successful mentors.
However, as part of an educational institute, Tec Lean cannot legally fund startups like regular accelerators. To get around this, it charges MX$25,000 pesos (US$1,400) for startup projects to join up for five months. In 2016, the accelerator accepted 43 entrepreneurs, all with technology-based projects.
Educational Approach to Entrepreneurship
ITESM itself is dedicated to evolving Mexico’s entrepreneurial talent base, with every student, regardless of their choice of program, having to take a course that helps them to identify business opportunities, validate them, and develop a business plan.
One branch of the university even helps teachers and students acquire grants for patents from the Ministry of Innovation, whether they are developed on-site or off. Any technology created with ITESM resources becomes co-owned by the inventor and the university, but are the sole ownership of the creator if developed themselves.
While the Tec Lean program is already up and running in 12 out of the 30 ITESM campuses in the country, the Guadalajara campus has been particularly successful due to the city having the largest number of startups in Mexico.
“We analysed the Jalisco innovation ecosystem to determine how the campus would work with the city,” said Geraldina Silveyra León, Director of Business Incubation at Tec Lean. “This resulted in us focusing on five verticals: Life sciences, smart things (IoT), creative industry (games, animations), social impact, and business (fintech, retail tech, tourism tech).”
Despite a large chunk of its registrants coming from with the university, Tec Lean told us that it will consider literally anyone into the program, whether or not they were a student at ITESM.
Room for Improvement
For Curiel, one of the main points of contention for his business was on the finance side. “This was the most useful part of the Tec Lean program, as well as how to identify the market for our product and approach it,” he said.
“The program is very useful, but there is always a way to perfect the method. The mentoring was kind of complicated at first because of scheduling. Furthermore, with many projects across different technologies and services it makes it hard to identify one purpose per session and leverage the same knowledge for each one. More specific sessions would be beneficial.”
Guadalajara is home to a number of other accelerators, which are starting to improve their tech skills, but the benefits of ITESM’s technological, research, networking, and mentorship resources mean that Tec Lean Accelerator has those skills already. “There are some decent government accelerators, but the bureaucracy surrounding them is way too cumbersome,” said Curiel. “Like most startups, we wanted to go straight to the acceleration stage quickly.”
If Mexican accelerators can take a page from Tec Lean’s book and partner with a broader network of successful entrepreneurs, while utilizing resources from established technology and R&D facilities, the country’s startup ecosystem will be set to explode.