Friday, June 12, 2015

Endeavor events and birthday blessings

My 23rd Birthday

After several weeks of nonstop events at work, I finally have time to reflect on all that has happened, as well as become painfully aware of this fact: I have 3 weeks left in Mexico. 21 days to be exact.
At the start of May, as my flight date drew nearer, I began to become aware of just how much I’ve grown over the past year, realizing that the independent, international traveler I am today is very different from the wide-eyed college graduate who arrived here last July.  I have grown both professionally and personally in ways that I didn’t even identify as growth areas a year ago. And yet, despite all this reflecting, I (ridiculously) completely wrote off the last few months of my time here. Focused on all there was to be done before I left, both at work and in my apartment (ie. the challenge of fitting my life from the past year into just two suitcases), I had subconsciously decided that I had entered “transition period” already and had begun to leave Mexico behind. I couldn’t possibly learn anything new in the short time that I had left and I would be too busy before I left to learn anything new anyway. 

As I am sure you are all aware, there was a key flaw in this way of thinking: I have had other incredibly meaningful experiences that lasted for an equal or even shorter amount of time (my independent research project in Cerro Punto, Panama lasted 3 weeks, the first time I lived away from home on my own was 1 week at a creative writing camp, my first visit to Mexico to meet my family was just 3 days, and my college graduation was a 4 hour ceremony). I was so focused on the looming transition to moving back home that I was not being present to the fact that Mexico still had (and still has) much to teach me about its culture, its language, and about myself. 

The sheer concentration of work events over the last few weeks has taught me more about entrepreneurship and how it is linked to Mexico’s venture capital ecosystem and the economy  than I had learned in all the months prior combined. The first event was “La Cumbre de Directores” (Directors' Summit), an annual event where Endeavor Mexico brings together its mentors, entrepreneurs, sponsors, and supporters to celebrate another year of entrepreneurial growth. Guest speakers highlighted some of the most successful Endeavor companies in Latin America (Grupo Trigo from Brazil and Globant from Argentina) as well as showcased two of Endeavor Mexico’s most promising entrepreneurs (from CitiVox).  Grupo Trigo brought Domino’s pizza to Brazil and then started its own chain of casual Italian pasta restaurants called Spoleto. Globant is an IT company that is the second ever Endeavor Company to be on the New York Stock Exchange. 

 This year was the 10th annual Directors' Summit

 Pilar Aguilar, Managing Director of Endeavor Mexico, gives the welcome address

 My nametag, or "gafete" in Spanish (I have said the word "gafete" so often that I prefer it over nametag, even when I'm speaking English.

Jorge Soto and Oscar Salazar’s story is one of innovation and success in the technology sector. They began with EFlyer in 2007, a mobile marketing service for corporate clients via SMS (text messaging) and then developed “Cuidemos el voto” (We Save the Vote) in 2009, a mobile electoral monitoring tool that allows the public to report fraud or other incidents at the polls and now operates in over 160 countries.  The Mexican government became interested in these serial technology entrepreneurs after the success of their voting monitor technology, so they contracted the pair to develop a national alert system for hurricanes. Currently, their newest endeavor is CitiVox, a mobile technology platform to improve the relationship between citizens and their governments through increased citizen participation and government accountability and transparency.  CitiVox is currently operating in 7 different countries across Latin America, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. 

Jorge and Oscar’s success launching so many unique technology companies in succession seemed unreal and unattainable to me, like they were characters in a movie. But what made it real for me was seeing one of them (who wasn’t able to attend the conference in person due to a commitment in another country) Skype video call into the event. His face floated above us on a screen in front of the auditorium, a slight delay between his movements and his voice, his eyes not looking at the camera but rather just below it at the screen in front of him. Just like how I currently skype my friends, or my parents, or my brother. Strangely, seeing this incredibly successful entrepreneur through a Skype video screen made him more real to me than his partner who was sitting on the couch in front of us. It really hit me that these successful entrepreneurs are just normal people with ideas and determination (and a bit of luck and resources) to see them through. And suddenly, these entrepreneurs and their achievements went from being awe-inspiring and unattainable, to being inspiring and possible.

Interview with CitiVoz entrepreneurs

The second week of events was a visit from a Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) delegation to learn about venture capital opportunities here in Mexico City. Since Endeavor was helping arrange the visit, in coordination with the Latin American Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (LAVCA), I was invited as a representative from Endeavor Mexico to all of the delegate’s events over the course of their four day visit. The opportunity to talk with the delegates and other hosts was incredible, as well as the opportunity to meet important people I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet, like the US Ambassador to Mexico who invited us to a cocktail at the US Embassy. 

 Endeavor Mexico’s special event, and my main responsibility, was the Mexican Entrepreneurship Deep Dive. We invited over 100 entrepreneurs, mentors, and other entrepreneurs in our Technology Track pipeline to participate in panel discussions, give presentations and network with the SVB Delegation. After listening to the talks (while simultaneously running around making sure the caterers were prepared for every transition and that the event was going smoothly), I have added new word-usage to my vocabulary. The word “unicorns” for example does not only refer to the mythical horse-like creatures whose blood Voldemort drank in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but also software-based startups valued at over $1 billion dollars. 

 The calm before the storm/event begins...

The storm/first panel!

 Before lunch...

 ...lunchtime networking!

 E-commerce panel

 I also happened to be nursing a sprained ankle through all this...

By the time the mariachi arrived for the cocktail at the end of our event, I was exhausted but exhilarated: I had planned a successful event in Mexico, contracted caterers and printers, learned new Spanish words and expressions like “lanyard” and “price quote,” worked remotely with the Endeavor Global representative as well as with our amazing Endeavor Mexico team, managed the event budget, and confirmed the guest list. I was proud of myself for accomplishing this initially daunting task of planning my first event outside of a university setting, but I was also proud of something much more important.  I was proud to have helped introduce the venture capital delegates to Endeavor Mexico’s technology entrepreneurs. The whole day, no one wanted to stop talking. At every transition, we had to kindly remind groups of people talking and exchanging business cards that the next talk/meal was about to start and would they please move into the next room. While it made more work for us, constantly trying to keep the event on-schedule, it left me inspired to see the dynamic networking conversations that were popping up throughout the day. Not only am I proud to say that I contributed to a smoothly-run event, but I am also inspired to have helped connect our entrepreneurs with potential investors. When the cocktail started at the end of the event, I could finally relax, enjoy the mariachi band I hired, and taste the mezcal and h’ordeuvres I had helped select. I even received my own mariachi serenade. Surrounded by co-workers complimenting me on a job well done, eating Mexican dishes, drinking Mexican mezcal, and being serenated by mariachis, I felt completely at home, and more Mexican than American.

                                                       Serenaded during the cocktail

 My family also made me feel at home by treating me to special Mexican birthday celebrations the weekend of my 23rd birthday.  Two days in a row I was invited to “comida” (the large meal in the late afternoon) and two days in a row I was surprised by a huge party of relatives.  While my friends had gathered Friday night to celebrate with me, I found that my family’s celebrations were the most meaningful. Their love for me was like a glow filling the entire room, shining brighter than even the birthday candles (which is saying something because my first cake had 15 candles spelling out “feliz cumpleaños”, and the second cake had one large candle that kept re-igniting itself whenever I blew it out). I am eternally grateful for my wonderful Mexican family and it saddens me to realize that I will be leaving them in just 3 weeks.
                            Jello birthday cake because they remembered I can't have gluten or lactose

Second birthday surprise celebration!

 My birthday beso

 After finding renewed inspiration in both my work and my family, I am excited for the next 3 weeks. I now see the weeks ahead in a different light. They are not three weeks to say goodbye, but three weeks to keep exploring, keep learning, and keep loving this amazing country and its people who have welcomed me with open arms since day one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thoughts from Mountains and Towers

"When I am tired or sad, I look to the hills that surround us. I speak to them and they answer me and in this way we pass the day together, the mountains and I. I climb to the summit and I cry for the hills to help us or defend us, and that they don't leave us all alone. And finally they answer me." - Tepozteco testimonial

Tepoztlán was the nurturing, relaxing, and fulfilling break I needed. With such delicious new foods to try, a knee-cramping hike, a quaint yet vibrant atmosphere, and breathtaking natural landscapes, Tepoztlán is everything that I love about Mexico.

Despite being a popular tourist destination to nationals and foreigners alike, Tepoztlán still exudes a small-town charm that I can’t help but attribute to the people. Everyone we met was so nice! And not just in that superficial “if you buy something from my souvenir shop I’ll be nice to you” way, but rather the way where “if you ask me any question I will go out of my way to help you even if you are not giving me anything in return.”
 Good Friday procession in Tepoztlán 

 Tourists in the market-filled streets of Tepoztlán 

 Some uplifting graffiti (Smile, it's free)

 Tasting itacates (corn flour shaped into triangles and fried with nopales (cactus) and a rainbow of spicy salsas

The juxtaposition of pre-hispanic and post-hispanic culture in Tepoztlán especially fascinated me. Somber Good Friday processions filled the streets upon our arrival while old men in shops no larger than closets sold pulque (a fermented pre-hispanic drink), made from the same recipe their grandfathers had used before them.

 Light plays on the archways of the ex-monastery in Tepoztlán 

 The view from a window of the monastery. This monastery was home to only those in the order who were ill because the fresh air and serene landscape was good for the healing process.

But the mountains and sharp cliffs surrounding Tepoztlán stole the scene. From every street corner, window, and store, the view of these majestic cliffs never failed to take my breath away. At the top of one of the highest peaks sits the Tepozteco pyramid built to honor the god of pulque (that fermented drink I mentioned earlier). The climb to the top seemed like a simple enough task: at the start of the trail my friend and I looked like some of the most prepared people setting out for the hike. Among us were elderly grandmas wearing slip-on shoes, stylish couples in sandals, toddlers and puppies. But the mountain soon weeded out the ill-prepared and wary, and took its toll on the rest of us.

 Beautiful scenery along the start of the hike. Seemingly innocent and inviting.

 Happy nature selfie at what we thought was halfway but turned out to be just 1/4 of the way up.

 Sitting in the roots of one of the most amazing trees.

Single file climbing. Up a gorge. Casual.

When we reached the top about 2.5 hours later, it was certainly an accomplishment. At first I looked at all of the people sitting on top of the pyramid under the scorching sun like they were crazy. It was only until I sat down on the stone ledge of the pyramid and saw the incredible view  stretched out endlessly in front of me that I realized why people sat there getting sunburnt for so long. The cliffs shot up from the hills like great stone giants, the tiny roofs of the town nestled between them. Black vultures gracefully circled above the scene, seemingly admiring it as we were. 

 Floating on top of the world while sitting on the pyramid ledge.

Sitting atop that pyramid I couldn’t help but want to talk to the mountains, just like the locals have done for centuries, to thank them for giving me this precious moment of peace and awe after such a tiring climb.

 The view from the top of Tepozteco.

The next morning, my friend and I woke up to roosters crowing and decided to watch the sunrise from our hotel’s roof. I was enchanted by the simultaneous glow of pink peering over the mountains in the distance and the chorus of birds that welcomed the sun back into the sky. When I got back to my apartment in the city later that day, the first thing I did was sit on the roof of my building to admire the sunset before I began to unpack everything. And I realized something. There was a chorus of chirping birds wishing the sun farewell here in the city just like they had serenaded it hello in Tepoztlán.  I have always found nature to be a very healing presence for me, and had been feeling suffocated in such a large, cement-laden city. Yet there is so much nature right here. I went to Parque Bicentenario this week as well, just a thirty minute metro ride away from my apartment, and immediately fell in love with its grassy fields, replicas of various ecosystems, reflection pools, and winding pathways. 

The sunrise over Tepoztlán 
The sunset from my roof in Mexico City

 Enjoying grass in Parque Bicentenario

 Medusa-like maguey and agave plants in Parque Bicentenario

Despite its hectic urban nature, Mexico City has stolen my heart. I recently realized this while admiring it from the “mirador” atop the Torre Latinoamericana in the city center. The sprawling, concrete jungle of chaos looked so peaceful and inviting from so high up. I could see my street and my neighborhood that I have come to call home. The beautifully illuminated Alameda Park, with paths so white they seemed to glow, lay next to the ornate Palacio de Bellas Artes, where I had led a Meetup group through a public art display a few months ago. The Zocalo city center (closed currently due to the filming of the newest Bond movie) was merely a dark square outlined by stately government buildings off in the distance: it was where I visited when I first came to this city as a tourist, not knowing I would call it my home two years later. Insurgentes, one of the largest roads in the city, appeared a giant artery of red break lights, where I take the Metrobus to visit family to the north and south. Chapultepec Park was a sea of dark greens and blues, where I have gone for walks and bike rides with new friends. The skyline of shiny silvery skyscrapers north of the park was Polanco, where I first learned my way around the city, traveling from meeting to meeting on my own. The lights along the mountains at the far edge of the skyline were from offices in Santa Fe, where I have worked with a variety of entrepreneurs. And beyond the shadowy mountains that rim the bowl of the valley, was the rest of Mexico, some places known but others yet to be explored. I was overcome by a wave of love and appreciation for a city and country that have shown me so much and that still have so much more to teach me.

 The view of the Torre Latinoamericana from the entrance of the MUNAL museum

 Mexico City from above (La Alameda and el Palacio de Bellas Artes)

Relaxed and rejuvenated after my Holy Week vacation, I am eager to dive back into work at Endeavor:  to meet new entrepreneurs, continue developing friendships, and see what my last three months in Mexico have in store.

Monday, March 9, 2015


 El Nevado de Toluca

I haven´t felt like writing in a while. Partly because I used up some of my creative inspiration in this guest post for Anglo Info´s expat blog ( ) but that is just an excuse I made up for myself as to why I haven’t written. It’s certainly not for lack of things to talk about. Since I returned to Mexico in January I have climbed to the top of el Nevado de Toluca and part-way up la mujer dormida (Iztaccihuatl), visited a handful of museums in Mexico City,  attended Endeavor Mexico’s High Impact Party, and wrote 3 company profiles for Endeavor’s next national selection panel. But the real root of the reason is just that I just haven´t felt particularly inspired. Until now.

El Nevado de Toluca

 Waterfall at Iztaccihuatl

 View of el Popocatepetl

 Museo de Antropologia

Visiting family in Orizaba, Veracruz (Tías Lupita, Coco, Kachon, and Chiquis)

 View from el Cerro de Borrego, Orizaba, Veracruz (where my grandpa was born)

With Tío Luis and Tía Lupita at el Cerro de Borrego, Orizaba, Veracruz

 I just returned from a wonderful weekend in Tequisquiapan, Querétaro to celebrate an uncle’s 75th birthday. I hadn´t seen any of my family members in months since our January trip to Orizaba and it was so refreshing to reunite and be reminded of how wonderful my family is. I especially enjoy what is called “sobremesa” here: basically that moment in the night when you have eaten dinner and dessert and are just sitting around the table talking and laughing and sharing stories (I love that Mexicans have created words for things like this). Hearing all of the old stories about my grandpa’s sisters and their children firsthand is a moment I will always cherish. Yet this large family event (a party with over 100 guests, friends and family alike) also reminded me of the equally caring family I left behind in New York. Seeing everyone made me miss my cousins and uncles and grandparents so suddenly that I shocked myself. And then I began thinking…

 Happy 75th Birthday to Tío Raymundo!

Part of the reason why I haven´t felt particularly inspired to write is because I find myself at another crossroads in my life: searching for the next opportunity once my fellowship ends in July. Not only is it difficult to fathom this transition, but it is also making me realize that the lives of my family back home and those of my family here in Mexico are not the life I will lead nor the life I necessarily desire for myself. Traveling is an incredible privilege, and once you realize how much bigger the world is than your tiny reality you can easily become addicted to further exploration and discovery, setting the stage for a nomadic type of lifestyle. Yet I have always been someone who values strong relationships, and those two interests seem to be at odds. I realize that while I miss my family in New York, I do not want to move back to Long Island. And while I love my family here, I do not envision myself staying in Mexico for the rest of my life either. 

I spent 18 years developing strong family relationships on Long Island, 12 years building close-knit friendships in the suburban town I grew up in, 4 years building more close friendships at college, and recently 9 months nurturing new relationships with extended family and new friends here in Mexico, only to wonder: what is the point of all this relationship-building? I don´t see myself being geographically near to any of these people for any concrete period of time in the foreseeable future. And there is something simultaneously discouraging and liberating about this realization. It seems I will always be missing someone, and yet I will continue to meet new people and develop new relationships. My future is uncertain, yet filled with possibilities.

Spending these last few days talking with my great aunts and uncles and cousins, I began to appreciate individual moments and stopped worrying about the future. I am blessed to have been able to get to know my Mexican relatives, and to travel across the country and learn more about my grandpa´s culture and family history. It dawned on me that it was not just chance that I decided to come to Mexico: I was drawn to better understand my roots. And this experience has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.

 With Tío René and Tía Esperanza at the party in Tequisquiapan

With Tía Charín at the party

I also have surprised myself by the number of close friendships I have formed with people who were complete strangers just 9 months ago. I have shared wonderful memories and laughs with friends not only from Mexico but also from all over the world, purely the result of my outgoing nature and value of relationship-building.

Regardless of where the next chapter of my life leads me, I know that I have many homes: the one on Long Island I grew up in, the one at Villanova I discovered myself in, the one in Mexico that continues to embrace and challenge me to be my best self, and the potential for future homes that I carry with me, creating a new home wherever I go. And this is just the beginning. 

 La Peña de Bernal, Querétaro