Punta de Mita on Mexico’s Nayarit Riviera is a sanctuary with beautiful, natural surroundings that have been developed to meet executive needs. Is there more to it? Perhaps the presence of seasoned technology executives and innovators in Punta de Mita paves the way for incubation and technology-based economic development. It might be described as a place where naïve and inexperienced technologists meet seasoned leadership and can overcome challenges with funding, guidance and sometimes both.
Lynne Bairstow and Robin Reyes, co-founders of the The MITA Institute and Tech Accelerator (MITA) are betting on the latter. While each is aware of the beauty and desirability of Punta de Mita and the region’s coastline, both are also intimately familiar with the Mexican government, the technology industry and the dynamics of funding and growing a start-up, and they have a vision of how opportunities for connecting Mexico and Silicon Valley can ignite growth for both Mexico and the United States.
Do Business in Paradise
Bairstow explained that Punta de Mita is a desirable destination; a unique, gated community with 200 homes, providing direct access to the coast where powerful executives from many locations come together. U.S. technology executives have established a presence in the region and Bill Gates recently purchased the Four Seasons Hotel, as reported in December 2013 by Nearshore Americas, pvpulse.com and others, through his investment organization Cascade Investments, LLC.
As pvpulse.com reported, “it is not the first time a high-profile technology personality has invested in the region. Executives from Apple, Siebel Systems, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, Qualcom and British Telecom have vested interest in this private luxury enclave at the north tip of Banderas Bay.” Gates is in good company.
Bairstow and Reyes see opportunity knocking. Besides the region’s beauty and the existing talent that has been attracted to it, Bairstow explained that “Mexico has a vibrant and growing under-30 population with many engineering graduates entering the job market each year.” Punta de Mita’s proximity to Silicon Valley, recurring presence of executive skills and growing resource pool drove Bairstow and Reyes to launch MITA.
The characterization of technical resources was articulated by the Miami Herald in 2012,which noted “On a per capita basis, (Mexico) graduates three times more engineers than the United States. Some 30 percent of Mexico’s 745,000 university students are enrolled in engineering and technology fields, and 114,000 of them graduate yearly.” U.S. enterprises and start-ups have trouble attracting and compensating engineers locally, making Mexico’s labor pool appealing – not to mention the aging population in the United States.
MITA was founded in 2011 and has since developed three target programs: TechTalks, TechAccelerator and venture funding. The Institute began with an annual event called “TechTalks” and has hosted this event aimed at collaboration since 2012. TechAccelerator is an advisory and mentoring program that links resources. According to MITA, it “utilizes [its] strong network of financial, academic, policy and organizational partners in Mexico, Latin America and the U.S./Canada, to foster cross-cultural opportunities and investment in technology startups.” This is the “tried and true” advice that is often lacking in start-ups no matter where it originates.
Venture investment is the third program and perhaps the most important. MITA has been raising funds to establish its investment program. It began with a small seed fund called “MITA Seed Fund” in 2012 which was similar to a “friends-and-family” funding source. In 2013, it began raising monies for “MITA Fund II,” which is targeted to be $75 million and will fund both U.S. and Mexican start-ups. MITA Fund II will follow a funding strategy that is split three ways with 15% going to seed and early stage companies, 10% as follow-on investment where the start-up is demonstrating positive cash flow and 75% targeted at large-scale expansion stage companies.
Bitcast.oi and Rally.org are organizations that have benefited from the MITA Seed Fund; both receiving under $100K. Bitcast is an educational platform that enables screencast sharing amongst developers. Rally, on the other hand, is a fundraising platform for social causes facilitating the connection between donors and causes collecting funds. MITA has participated in Rally’s Series A round as well as its initial investment.
Companies that have received mentoring support from MITA are:
- SocialItem – Social metrics/commerce
- WiP – community/social guide with ad revenue
- Kueski – online micro-lending
Aspirations are high for MITA. The organization is addressing a range of needs, filling gaps for depth of IT knowledge, trademarks & patents, legal needs, human resources, scaling and really any other growth-inhibiting challenges that arise. Its long term plans are to house MITA initiatives in a facility where all parties can work together during two separate time periods. The first session will run from January to April and the second from September to November.
Today, this process is patched together and business is conducted where resources and start-ups can find common meeting grounds. The end-goal is to drive growth opportunities first in Mexico and then more broadly as opportunities present themselves. MITA’s goal is to drive “at least one $10B tech start-up outcome in the next 15 years.”