An Invitation to a New Path for Latin American Entrepreneurs

Few moments have had such an impact on my life. Rarely has an event changed my understanding of the world so dramatically, with such perfect delivery. Yet it has taken me nineteen years to act on what I learned that day. It was 2003 and I had the opportunity to attend a conference by Al Gore at Stanford Law School, on what three years later would become “An Inconvenient Truth”. Gore’s oratory, research, and sense of urgency captivated me. Yet I felt powerless to the challenge, willing to learn more but abstracted from the policies and actions needed to solve the biggest challenge humanity has faced.

You can only connect the dots looking backward”, famously said Steve Jobs. I worked in the Mexican energy sector in my early years, witnessing solar panels cut their cost per kWh by 90% in a decade; I worked for eight years making real estate investments, thinking about urban processes and the challenges of megacities. I’ve worked for the last twelve years at the forefront of the most important advancement of entrepreneurship and innovation in Latin America, cofounding ALLVP, a leading early-stage venture capital firm, and contributing to hundreds of startups as an advisor, mentor, investor, and board member. I’ve witnessed the transformational power of technology in societies. I’ve seen testimony of the entrepreneurial spirit of society, and how it responds to challenges and incentives. I’ve been blessed to work with the most talented and committed women and men imaginable, and I’ve contributed to the completion of the innovation value chain, from ideas to exits, in Latin America.

Is it fair to say that these last twenty-five years have prepared me for what Al Gore was urging us for, and what today John Doerr summarizes as an action plan for solving our climate crisis in “Speed & Scale”? In the prologue to his book, Doerr described how his fifteen-year-old daughter challenged him to solve the problem: “Dad, your generation created this problem. You better fix it”. That resonated deeply, as my own teenager is not only profoundly aware but acts to contribute ever since she fundraised to save the vaquita porpoise when she was nine. Am I to leave this problem to my children’s generation, or am I going to connect the dots, bend my narrative, and accommodate all my life experiences, learnings, failures, successes, mistakes, and opportunities to the broad mission of getting to zero net CO2 emissions during my lifetime? I choose and publicly commit to the latter.

The challenge we face is gigantic. Yet I join the ranks of Doerr and Bill Gates, who truly understand technology and innovation will be paramount to achieving this. I am optimistic, a necessary condition for a successful venture capitalist, yet paranoiacally productive (paraphrasing Jim Collins). We need to act now.

The innovation needed to decarbonize the grid, electrify our transportation, fix our food production, clean up our industries, remove carbon, and protect nature need not come exclusively from Silicon Valley and other traditional innovation hubs. The world has gone through an accelerated globalization and democratization of innovation in the last ten years, just in time to show that solutions for reaching net zero will come from everywhere, and the capital to support them must be there.

Latin America is up for the challenge. We have the talent, knowledge, entrepreneurial spirit, and connection with nature to become a main contributor to carbon reduction, to a new way to relate to our world. The startup ecosystem is rapidly maturing, with enviable entrepreneurial energy that I am convinced must be directed towards our biggest challenges. Nothing defines our generation more than the challenge of climate change and the potential for solving it with innovation, action, entrepreneurial mindset, and leadership.

Such an ambitious task requires leadership from you and I. Political leaders lose valuable time on short-term compromises and rhetoric. It is you and I who need to lead on this challenge. Let’s make a joint commitment. Let’s identify those who believe this change is possible, that are working towards this goal. Let’s bring the capital to them. Let’s make the next transformation in Latin America a clean one. Let’s take a new direction, a higher goal, and put all our energy towards accomplishing net-zero through startups. I am committing my life to this new path. Will you join me?

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Fernando Lelo Larrea

Venture Capital Investor. Entrepreneurship. Economics. Seeking Innovation & Impact.