No, You Don't Have to Be a Saint to Be a Social Entrepreneur

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The co-host of this week's Founder Friday Mexico City explains how a regular young woman ended up helping supply thousands of rural communities with electricity. 

By Mariana Astrid Gonzalez Pacheco (Co-founder & CEO, ILUMEXICO)

What I love about my story as an entrepreneur is its simplicity. Most people think that only rich, powerful or blessed people become entrepreneurs or businessmen and businesswomen; and it gets worse when talking about social entrepreneurs. Then, no one knows if you care about people or money, and if you start becoming successful and your cause benefits more and more people, everybody assumes that you are something like Mother Theresa, Gandhi or the Pope, I wish that were true. But the truth is that none of these is right, entrepreneurs aren’t different from everybody else. Perhaps the only difference would be that we are very hardworking and passionate and, in my case, a woman who thinks it’s necessary to pay it forward for what I’ve learned and lived.

Ilumexico was born in 2010 as a social enterprise co-founded by eight engineers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Iberoamericana University. I’m one of these co-founders and, at least for me, Ilumexico was the result of lots of previous work. As students, my partners and I actively participated in founding student associations to promote entrepreneurship and renewable energies. By 2008 five of us cofounded a technology enterprise.

We were focused on experience design, and it looked as a good idea, the problem back then was that we didn’t have good sales skills and we left everything in prototypes. Well, not everything. Fortunately we met the other three cofounders of Ilumexico and they invited us to design and create  a new idea together, to focus our efforts on renewable energies and to think about rural electrification and what’s been done in India or Bangladesh in the same field. One of the prototypes that came from that experience is the Prometeo (Prometheus), a solar charge controller that Ilumexico uses to provide solar lighting in impoverished communities in Mexico.

I must say it wasn’t easy. We were young, inexperienced and wanted to work along with the poorest people in our country when we had never been in a rural community before in our life. That’s why I say that we are completely normal people. Like any other recent graduate we also thought about getting a job in a large corporation and earning a big salary. Nevertheless, we found out that there was a problem that existed in our country even though we had never experienced it. We had technology skills and a lots and lots of passion to overcome challenges.

To prove that we were right was the first one. We applied to many contests and awards for entrepreneurs to get the seed capital for our pilot test. Being young was another challenge. It was difficult to convince adults and government officials that we were proposing an innovative but functional model to fulfill that need for electricity in some communities. And finally, I would say that the design of our social engagement model was the third biggest challenge, we made many changes to our model so it could be more inclusive and useful.

And we did it! After three years we have installed more than 2,000 systems, benefiting around 13,500 people in eleven states in Mexico. Now, we are 25 employees and we expect to become more in order to assure energy access to the more than 3 million people in Mexico who don’t have it.

After these three years, I’m sure that there is a lot to be done. I think my story and the story of Ilumexico as a team, shows that anyone can decide what to found a company at any point in their lives. You don’t need to be born a genius or as a saint, you can change if you want. You can dream and it doesn’t matter if it sounds crazy. It’s always possible to make those dreams come try as it was possible for us to turn on the lights of Mexico.

MarianaAbout the guest blogger: In 2008, Mariana Astrid Gonzalez Pacheco co-founded of TECSUS, which worked on design and marketing for renewable technologies. She is co-founder and CEO of ILUMEXICO, which has been recognized by many institutions and awards such as Santander Business Innovation Award, fIniciativa México and CNN-Expansión for Entrepreneurs.