Pádraig Belton   14 June 2016

BritMex with its co-founders, Cynthia Vega and Laura Vanessa Muñoz (centre). Picture: Weneli Photography.

When Cynthia Vega arrived in Britain in 2006, she didn’t immediately gravitate to the local Mexican community.

“When I came, I did not know any Mexicans for about five years,” says Cynthia who moved to London to study for a master’s degree.

An unusual start for a woman would go on to co-found BritMex, and serve as president of the UK Mexican Talent Network.

Both these new organisations connect Mexican professionals in Britain with would-be entrepreneurs in their homeland.

The startup culture in Mexico is still new. So is entrepreneurship.

For people like Miss Vega and her co-founder, Laura Vanessa Muñoz, this is the ideal opportunity to use their experiences in the UK to help their native land.

“We have very good quality professionals, they are innovative and just maybe need support,” says Miss Muñoz, who, just like Miss Vega, first came to Britain for postgraduate study.

“Also to change mentality, see how things are done here in the UK, why they are working,” she says.

BritMex offers a networking platform for budding entrepreneurs. Picture: Weneli Photography.

BritMex also lets Mexico showcase its talent in London. With 118,000 engineering graduates each year, free trade access to the US, and now more than 100 incubators, it’s an attractive offering for UK businesses seeking global opportunities.

Mexican entrepreneur meet-ups

Census data shows that the number of Latin Americans living in London is growing quickly, increasing four-fold between 2001 and 2010. Mexicans are one of the largest groups within the UK’s Latino community.

Chevening and the Bulldog Trust present ‘BritMex: Scaling Innovation’. Picture: Weneli Photography.

BritMex aims to promote “entrepreneurship and innovation as a lifestyle choice”, according to its founders.

So far, it has hosted events to help Mexicans with startups in London think about how best to grow their companies in Latin America.

“How can you start a business from scratch, and then quickly scale and be able to duplicate and adapt it to the other country?” asks Miss Muñoz.

A Mexican-British Hackathon

Last October, BritMex held its first virtual hackathon.

The organisation opted to go virtual because “we wanted to open it to more people, who didn’t have to travel to the UK to participate,” says Miss Vega.

There were 64 participants. Each project had to involve collaboration between people in the UK and Mexico.

Judges chose the winners on how well they used technology to address a social challenge facing both countries – as well as their commercial potential.

Alan Alejandro Trejo with his BioCorder team at the hackathon.

One of the winners - BioCorder - was created by Alan Alejandro Trejo Tapia, a recent computer science graduate from Martínez de la Torre, in Mexico’s state of Veracruz.

Like the Tricorder on Star Trek for plants, BioCorder is an inexpensive analysis tool that looks for pathogenic agents in a dirt sample. It tells you what it finds, and what other farmers have found nearby.

So if a pathogen is quickly spreading, farmers can take measures to prevent it.

“If all producers could have access to affordable technology,” he says, “they could safeguard the health of their crops, and reduce losses by 60%.”

Quickly spreading agricultural diseases could wipe out the livelihood of subsistence farmers in Mexico.

Alan Alejandro Trejo with his BioCorder invention.

And there’s an opportunity for both nations. Britain’s recent experience with foot and mouth disease shows the damage spreading pathogens can cause in the UK’s farming sector.

Mr Tapia is now devoting himself full-time to launching BioCorder as a startup.

Be bold

One way that the intercontinental exchange of ideas could help, says Miss Vega, is encouraging Mexicans be more open in promoting their ideas.

“In Mexico, if someone’s working on a project, they will not tell you about it, there’s secrecy,” she says.

“But when you’re working in a startup, you want to sell your idea, and get more people to support you.”

Scaling begins at home

The BritMex founders know a thing or two about startups themselves, too.

Miss Muñoz studied in Cardiff as a Chevening Scholar, returned to work in Mexico, and then came back to the UK to help launch a startup called Homeshare.

Homeshare matches elderly people who would be unable to live on their own with young graduates unable to afford their own flats. Both sides are carefully vetted.

Now she lives in Blackheath in London, where she has begun a social enterprise.

Called Empowering Futures, it takes students from non-traditional backgrounds, places them in internships with early-stage startups, and coaches them on skills such as making presentations and time management.

She hopes, within the next year, to export it to Mexico City.

Tea pigs for Mezcal

One pair of entrepreneurs closely linked with BritMex - one in Mexico City, the other in London - is a startup called Tea & Tequila.

Sarah Goodwin and Millie Wilson: the founders of Tea & Tequila.

“We try to source the best of Mexico and trade it with the UK, and back again,” says Millie Wilson, the London-based partner.

Their products include Frida Kahlo purses and sustainable tequilas from Mexico, Tea Pigs, Green & Blacks chocolate, sustainable Elephant Gin representing the best of Britain, and their own line of jewellery and clutch bags.

In both countries, they sell through wholesale to boutiques and online.  This summer, they will have a pop-up shop in Notting Hill.

It is an example of the type of startup collaborations that can be made between two countries, Miss Wilson says.

The company offers a wide range of merchandise, available for purchase on their website.

“A lot of the time it’s about the connections you make,” says Miss Vega, explaining their decision to begin BritMex.

And entrepreneurs who move between two countries making connections are an asset to both, according to Carlos Serra, a tech startup veteran who spoke at their hackathon.

It is a two-way bridge, he says, forging “the next generation of commercial relationships between their home country with the UK, and bringing a new entrepreneurial approach to traditional deal-making.”

One of the BritMex founders has also just become a bit more bi-national herself.

“I became a British citizen last month,” adds Miss Vega, laughing, “so it’s really exciting being truly BritMex.”

From Notting Hill emporia to new tech startups in Central Mexico, BritMex is showing what opportunities can come from two countries joining together.

But most importantly? It’s doing it in a way that is distinctively British and Mexican.

“The BritMex founders,” concludes Mr Serra, “would find a way to make the Queen drink Tequila with a fine London dry gin while watching Lucha Libre.”

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