If the global pandemic has shown us anything, it is that the rules have shifted. Across the world, people are waking up to a new normal and we are seeing profound changes in the way business behaves.
Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter is at the frontier of this change. Born in Ecuador she left her home country as a teenager to pursue an education in human rights, returning some years later with a master’s degree from Oxford and a post-graduate degree from Berkeley University in California. As the founding Country Director of Asylum Access Ecuador, a legal clinic for refugees that later scaled to Asia and Africa, she also undertook direct advocacy at the United Nations in Geneva.
Today she is CEO and co-founder of IMPAQTO, a B Corporation with a mission to help impact entrepreneurs in South America reach their goals by building the ecosystem and network they need to thrive.
Agents for change
“When I returned to Ecuador over 8 years ago,” says Michelle, “I became aware there were a host of entrepreneurs working on socially-minded enterprises who were operating alone. My co-founder, Daniela Peralvo, and I set up IMPAQTO as the country’s first co-working space. We wanted to change the dynamics between business and the community, open up networks for startups and make the world a little less lonely,” she says.
To create change, there were first major obstacles to be overcome. As a female-led team of social entrepreneurs, the organization had to operate in a highly polarized environment. Politics runs hot in Ecuador and the country has gone through enormous upheavals in recent history, leaving aspiring change agents with few non-ideological pathways to operate.
Reaching beyond borders
This situation is not exclusive to Ecuador, and the women behind IMPAQTO have already reached beyond borders with their work to 7 countries in Latin America, and hope to see their business model expand even further.
“As we have expanded our network our success stories have grown exponentially and we are changing attitudes about both business and social enterprise,” says Michelle. “We have business leaders from multinational corporations working with us to give start-ups the leverage they need to launch and thrive. Meanwhile, business is profiting from being seen to be doing the right thing,” she says.
Another female leader who has joined the team, Carolina Brito, now heads up the co-working spaces that have had to adapt through the pandemic to become firstly virtual community spaces and now safe spaces.
Today the spaces have grown to embrace community meetings, start-up labs, accelerator events, and consulting services. Over 200 companies have graduated from the IMPAQTO accelerator program, raising over $10 million in investment so far. More potential business leaders are waiting in the wings.
“Business doesn’t have to operate without compassion,” says Michelle. “Social enterprise can be profitable, and considering all stakeholders is good business – it makes sense and creates goodwill. More businesses are seeing the potential of this model, we are carving out a new future, and it’s fundamentally changing the way things are,” she adds.
By encouraging a meeting of minds, money, and meaning, IMPAQTO has seen how successful this model can be. One of their early success stories is with Waykana, a tea company that uses guayusa leaves that grow exclusively in the Amazon region and are best cultivated within the forest.
“We hosted Waykana in our coworking space,” says Michelle, “then we connected them with investors and offered them structured support for their growth. They now sell in 28 countries and impact hundreds of families. The best thing about this is that the farmers in the Amazon benefit directly and the forest is protected as a result,” says Michelle.
Bridging the business gap
IMPAQTO is today among the top 100 certified B Corporations in the world and Michelle is now recognized to be among the top 100 business people in Ecuador.
With allies that include tech giants Google and Facebook, investors like Diners Club, and corporate clients that include the delivery unicorn Rappi, IMPAQTO is uniquely positioned to give entrepreneurs a leg-up to build their businesses while at the same time improving lives and supporting the environment.
“We have lived through every pain, obstacle, and experience that our clients experience,” says Michelle. “We are always connected with them. We also operate in a horizontal, three-headed leadership structure of sorority which allows us to fully utilize the superpower of each of the partners. We are such a rarity in this part of the world; it gives us room to try things no one has tried before.”
Business with purpose
IMPAQTO Consulting works with corporations, NGOs, multinationals, and foundations through purposeful innovation processes.
“For regional development banks, philanthropists, and multilateral agencies, there are people who are looking for financially sustainable models to create decent jobs, improve the environment, and have a positive impact on health, education, and gender equality,” says Michelle.
“We believe that this is no longer the exclusive territory of non-profits. We think young entrepreneurs can use the power of the market to tackle our region’s most pressing problems,” she says.
IMPAQTO has also created a formula that supports entrepreneurs without doing the work for them. “We simply create the conditions for them to thrive,” says Michelle. “We know how to do coworking well in an emerging market, where real estate businesses rarely succeed; we know how to produce impactful start-ups through a business accelerator we run in partnership with Google; we connect them to corporate leaders through our consulting services, and we are closing the financing gap through our impact investment fund,” she adds.
Inclusive business models don’t happen by accident. IMPAQTO has created a process that takes entrepreneurs from idea to scale. Through their start-up labs, ideas are turned into solid business plans, ready to impress potential investors, accelerating companies with a positive social impact model and exponential growth potential.