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Lessons learned from YLAI 2018

YLAI 2018 Guatemala Etnica Blog Post entrepeneurs young leaders of the americas initiative
YLAI 2018 Guatemala Etnica Blog Post entrepeneurs young leaders of the americas initiative
YLAI 2018 Guatemala Etnica Blog Post entrepeneurs young leaders of the americas initiative
YLAI 2018 Guatemala Etnica Blog Post entrepeneurs young leaders of the americas initiative
YLAI 2018 Guatemala Etnica Blog Post entrepeneurs young leaders of the americas initiative

Being an entrepreneur has been a roller coaster since we started Etnica, we have taken different steps and have been very cautious into defining our business model and making it scalable, functional and profitable for all parts involved. We are very lucky to have a great team of partners and to have the opportunity of sharing Guatemala with many travelers who visit it, we are very passionate about it and sharing what we do, however I used to question if we were on the right path and if I was making the right decisions.

Last September I was able to travel to the United States to participate in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), a US state department sponsored program for entrepeneurs. I started with filling out a very long application online. Honestly, I apply to every startup competition, accelerator and development opportunity that I’ve come across and is appealing, so I’ve gotten a few no’s for an answer and I was prepared for it to be the same with YLAI. A few months later I was invited to do an interview with the US embassy in Guatemala and with previous YLAI fellows and got very excited, hopefully I would make the cut between the 2500 people that apply each year.

Finally, I got the yes I was waiting for and a few weeks later I was traveling to Detroit, Michigan with 8 guatemalan entrepeneurs. I didn’t know what to expect and was very skeptic about leaving Etnica for 5 weeks, leaving my partner, my family and my beloved dogs. After 2 flights I finally made it to Detroit, the program launch was overwhelming; 250 entrepeneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean playing rock, paper, scissors at the same time, speed networking, mentorship sessions and workshops in the short period of 3 days. Everybody had different ideas, creativity and there was so much innovation reunited at the same time. During these few days I was able to connect with others in the tourism industry, gained new tools and resources and enjoy the urban art scene in this colorful city that has so many stories to tell.

I was assigned to Salt Lake City as my City hub and had heard so much about it being boring and very conservative, the truth is this place welcomed me with open arms and showed me I was at the right place at the right time and surrounded by the right people. Not only did I stay at the nicest hotel but I was able to visit some of the most beautiful places in the United States such as South Lake Tahoe, Antelope Island, Dead Horse Pointe and Zion National Park. I have been very lucky to travel to many places and had never seen such a unique sight as the red rocks, snowy mountains and desert at once. I was able to explore Salt Lake walking, on an electric scooter or using the tram; people were very friendly and at every meeting or event I would attend, someone had something nice to say about Guatemala. Such a small country and with a big presence in Utah made me feel right at home.

American Conservation Experience was the rght place  for my fellowship, I was able to take the best from their values, learn about public/private partnerships, recreation management, but most importantly I was able to absorb the love and care put into public lands of the United States. I shared with volunteer travelers who wanted to make a difference and I cannot wait to apply that in the protected areas of Guatemala. So thanks to this opportunity we will be getting more involved in voluntourism in our country. I also met local tourism authorities of Utah, fair trade organizations, sustainable travel startups and other professionals from who I learned a lot.i

Now I have a new international family and more friends around the world. They are all doing amazing things and running great businesses and non-profits with impact. They showed me that we all come from similar backgrounds and face the same limitations in our countries; poverty, corruption and inequality to name a few. I also realized these were some of the reasons why I had become an entrepreneur; I want to do my part in Guatemala and help create impact in any way I can.  

The time came to say goodbye to Salt Lake and move on to Washington DC, I got selected for the pitch exposition for the YLAI closing, out of everybody that applied I made it to the lucky 30. I had never done a pitch before and was extremely nervous the day before. I went to sleep at 4AM practicing, when the moment came I was amazed how comfortable I was and how easy it went. I got great feedback from the judges and from my peers. So bring on any pitch now, I am certain after this experience my nerves are easy to control and the confidence in what we do has spiked! It also made me realize how blessed I am to be able to create something like Etnica and to share it to the world.

As I’m writing this I can’t help and look back how Etnica has evolved since we started and the many opportunities we’ve gotten due to our countless efforts and the support from our partners. I will always be incredibly grateful to Pablo for keeping things running and allowing me to go on this experience,  to my family for their unconditional support, to the US embassy in Guatemala, to Coby and Meshari from the Utah Council of Citizen Diplomacy, to Shane from American Conservation Experience and to every single person that took the time in those 5 weeks to learn what I do, who I am and where I come from. This experience wouldn't have been the same without all of you, it has changed me for the best and reassured me that I’m on the right track and social entrepeneurship is the right path for me and for Etnica.  

Thanks to YLAI there are new plans in the horizon, new partnerships and collaborations in the making.

Like they said at the YLAI closing, this is just the beginning.

Sincerely,

Sofía

Co-founder & COO

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