A recent government mandate in Peru calls for universities seeking accreditation to support entrepreneurs and start-ups by establishing and operating business incubators. While the requirement has the potential to help launch innovative new businesses and create sustainable and local jobs, not every university has the human or capital resources to launch an incubator, let alone provide the year-round support to the start-ups accessing business support services.
One such university is Daniel Alcides Carrión National University (UNDAC) located in the city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Nexa Resources, a mining company that’s been working in the region for decades and looking for new ways to help develop the regional economy, saw an opportunity.
“The city is built around the mining industry. Almost every household, if not every household, has a member who is or has worked in the mining value chain,” says Erin Leyson, a member of Palladium’s Natural Capital team. “As Nexa was thinking about the social transition phase for one of its mines, (that is, the point at which a mine begins to ramp down operations and as a result, employment), they wanted to help seed new economic opportunities outside of the mining industry and boost the university’s capacity to support entrepreneurs in the community.”
Nexa worked with Leyson and a Palladium team to provide the capital for UNDAC to launch its first boot camp and pitch competition. “We worked with Nexa and UTEC Ventures to run a boot camp and pitch competition focused on bringing forward local solutions to local problems related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as quality education, decent work, good health, life on land and responsible consumption and production,” Leyson describes.
Through these cross-sector efforts, the Pasco Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge of 2022 was born.
Out of 58 viable applications, the Palladium, Nexa, UNDAC, and UTEC judges whittled the list down to 10 finalists that went through an entrepreneurship bootcamp, and finally a pitch competition from which three clear winners emerged.
The top three included a mobile app that helps students improve their reading and comprehension through weekly reading plans and gamification; a mobile app that calculates the correct mixture for construction grade concrete, helping to reduce construction costs and build more resilient homes; and the winner, Maki Robotics, which creates 3D printed prostheses for people with disabilities. All winners received prizes in the form of seed capital for their businesses and further support from UTEC and UNDAC to develop their products.
The goal of this first bootcamp and competition was to provide a positive proof point that could help the university and other partners understand the value of supporting local businesses through an incubator, and the Pasco Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge of 2022 succeeded in doing just that.
“We knew that such a unique and diverse city had to have some great entrepreneurs, but we needed to find out who they were, what they were working on and what supports they needed to grow,” Leyson explains. “The Pasco Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge of 2022 helped us identify exciting new start-ups and understand the types of supports the eventual UNDAC incubator should offer to best develop local entrepreneurs.”
According to Leyson, the next step is to continue to support UNDAC to solidify the infrastructure to operate an annual competition and bootcamp, as well as support the winners by connecting them with the right people or helping them to apply for public and private funds aimed at supporting start-ups.
“Together, we want to help these entrepreneurs get access to other funding as well as commercial opportunities-- it’s one thing to get them seed capital but connecting them to the right network of people and resources is crucial to developing and diversifying the economy in a sustainable way,” she says.
While it is a mere step on a long journey of regional economic development, Nexa’s support for the Pasco Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge of 2022 helped local institutions better understand the needs of entrepreneurs and set the course for effective, future economic growth efforts that can create sustainable impact in Cerro de Pasco for years to come.
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