Andrea Viejo is the country manager of Laika, a Colombian e-commerce platform that offers products and services for pets.

What’s the overall landscape for women in the Latin American VC and startup industry?

There are very few female founders or C-suite executives in the region. In 2021, female founding teams received only $38 million of the $14 billion in funding that was deployed in the region — less than 1%. Much of this problem is because most investors are men. You see this everywhere: from very visible regional VC firms to other more low-profile ones. They usually don’t support diverse teams during the startups’ early stages; there are basically no female mentors or investors that can help the teams so early on. Women show up when the startups start growing and making headlines and suddenly people say they’re a boys’ club. There are large companies today that did have women in their funding teams, like Kavak, but that’s rarely the case. 

That’s part of why I joined Tarasa Collective. It’s the first women-only angel syndicate in Latin America. We have women investors based all over the region with very diverse profiles, coming from VC firms like Brazilian fund Monashees or companies like Duolingo. All of us at Tarasa have entered the region’s boys’ club because they’re our colleagues and co-founders, so we can support women who are new to the ecosystem by helping them with introductions and protecting them once they’re inside. Our investment parameters are also strict. During the height of the VC boom in the region, someone with just a PowerPoint presentation and an idea was able to raise money. Now, we’re really looking for companies that already have traction and a proven track record — and they don’t need to be exclusively founded by women. They just need to be making a conscious effort to promote diversity in their teams. 

Early-stage startups in the region usually have a better shot at raising money from local VC firms, and start looking for international funds when they need larger rounds. What’s the challenge for gender diversity in this context?

Big institutional funds based in the U.S. are quite aware of diversity. They immediately see a red flag when they get an early-stage company with no women in managerial roles. International startups are light years ahead of what we have in Latin America in terms of gender perspective. Some of them are even paying for egg freezing to help women grow their careers while they’re younger. We need a larger conversation in the region, because we need women in the early stages. It’s quite different when you have a woman as a founding member than when you start poaching female talent from other companies once you’ve grown large enough that you need to fill your diversity quotas to get funded by international funds. 

You have to push for diversity since the very beginning. Right now, it’s really hard to find senior female talent in Latin America. It’s easy to find young women who are starting their careers in their 20s, but when their roles start evolving as their companies start to grow, they often have a hard time … working if they also choose to start their own families. The problem is that the HR benefits of a startup are built as the company grows. Startups in the region don’t usually have medical insurance or paid family leave since day one, but it’s key that they start doing that on paper so they can guarantee a pipeline of women execs later on.

What has the tech downturn left for the region now that profitability has become a priority, and issues like growth or diversity have been left in the background? 

We started seeing very successful rounds completely led by women in 2022. Paola Neira, a Colombian founder based in Brazil, raised a $6.7 million early-stage round for her insurtech company, which was great. But these types of success stories are becoming even more rare, and the good news we started seeing is losing momentum. I see Slack channels or WhatsApp groups where founders are sharing information on new deals, and right now, all of them are led by men. Muni, a Colombian e-commerce startup founded by Maria Echeverri, had to fold because her committed investment was canceled. The risk [is] that in an environment that’s being twice as strict, those who already have a foot in the door will get in first. And they’re usually men.

The ecosystems are different in each country. Brazil leads in C-suite executive diversity, both in VC firms and startups. Cristina Junqueira from fintech giant Nubank has set the example, and firms like Maya Capital also have female-led teams. Neither Mexico or Colombia have something similar, though. We had a really hard time inviting young members for Tarasa in Mexico, specifically. We’re certain, however, that these types of female-led efforts will help sustain the small victories we’ve managed to achieve as women in the past few years.