It was a roller coaster year for Juliana Sarmiento and her Mexico-based IT/logistics firm EnvioClick. Before COVID-19, Juliana and her partner Rosa Costes were gearing up for significant growth and expansion to other Latin American markets. But due to the pandemic, many of their clients were suddenly losing business. A restructuring of their own company and even layoffs followed. In the end, Juliana still managed to end 2020 with more clients than in the beginning of the year.
Despite having experienced a taxing year, the 34-year old entrepreneur is brimming with energy and enthusiasm. In November, she was one of the twelve finalists of the pitch competition of WeXchange, the largest business forum in Latin America and Caribbean that connects women entrepreneurs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) with financiers, organized by IDB Lab and supported by We-Fi. Sarmiento shared with We-Fi her ambitions for her company and her experience as a female ‘tech’ founder pitching to male-dominated venture capital funds.
Q: What was the main idea behind your company?
Both my business partner and I were working for an online e-commerce platform, one of the largest in Latin America. We realized that many companies using the platform managed to market their goods but then got stuck in the rest of the logistical chain: operations, transport, and shipping. We thought this was a great opportunity and in 2017 we decided to make this spin-off our business. We got seed financing from a VC fund and got going with a cloud-based logistics platform, connecting logistics companies (freight, parcel courier, last mile, fulfillment) with businesses in Latin America.
We use A.I. to predict logistics decisions for our clients which leads to more competitive prices for deliveries. We also help with the logistics services themselves such as shipping, transport, insurance and packaging. We do this for small and micro entrepreneurs who want to sell in other regions or countries, but also for larger corporations, including e-commerce platforms.
My ambition is that in a few years we operate in 5 countries in Latin America. Right now, we are active in Mexico and Colombia and we want to expand to Chile, Brazil and one additional country. We want to be as fast as Amazon Prime in logistics in Latin America. And we can be very fast because we are very flexible and agile. I am a big believer of the potential of the Latin American market. The DNA of entrepreneurship is here – we just need a bit more technology.
Q: Speaking of technology; do you consider yourself to be a ‘techie’?
My partner Rosa is! She is an A.I. expert – one of the first female A.I. architects in logistics in Mexico – and a real IT wizard. I understand how to read some code, but my specialty is more in the commercial side of things.
We have many tech-savvy women in our company. Almost two-thirds of our 25-person technology team are women. We hired them because they were the best, not because they are female. Women in STEM professions are still a small minority, but I see this is changing. There is definitely more interest from companies to hire women as they see they are very good at their job and usually very creative.
Q: Has it been an issue to be a woman entrepreneur in this field?
Yes, I think there is still a bias towards women entrepreneurs. Several times we pitched our company for funding and 98% of the VC funds are male led. We were asked “are you married” or “will you have children” numerous times. While not ill-intentioned or very conscious, these are questions men rarely get.
We are very active in e-commerce marketing, know everyone who matters in this field and are always networking but I still notice there is a boys’ network or a connection that a male tech founder can make in a room with male investors that we cannot make easily. I only know of one fully women-owned technology company in Mexico and Colombia that got series A financing. One! But it doesn’t deter us; it makes us even more determined.
Q: What motivated you to participate in the WeXchange Forum of IDB Lab?
We want to expand internationally, and the WeXchange Forum seemed to be the right place to make those international connections. Also, as a woman entrepreneur in the technology sector, there are so few of us, so I am keen to meet others. Moreover, we wanted to meet VC funders, especially a party who is willing to be a lead investor. Thanks to our participation in the finals, we are now talking to three funds about an investment. I am very hopeful that this will lead to a good result.