Luis Figueroa is the Co-Founder of The Roundtable, a dynamic community of startup entrepreneurs, as well as Investing Partner at Xperiment Ventures. Luis shares his journey in the startup ecosystem, beginning with his background in agricultural engineering and his pivot towards the world of digital business and startups. This transition eventually led to the creation of The Roundtable, where he and other founders exchange experiences and insights in a supportive and confidential environment. The interview delves into the organization’s focus on C-Level executives of growth-stage startups, its case study methodology, and the diverse topics discussed, ranging from business challenges to personal development.
Luis also highlights the importance of fostering trust and maintaining confidentiality among members. Furthermore, he discusses the expansion plans of The Roundtable into other industry verticals and the evolving Latin American startup ecosystem, emphasizing sustainability, traceability, innovative financing mechanisms, and the growing significance of Food Security. Luis Figueroa’s insights offer a compelling perspective on the vibrant world of startups and entrepreneurship in Latin America.
tribu (T): Luis, can you tell us about your background and your journey in the startup ecosystem over the years?
Luis (L): Although I have a background in agricultural engineering, my interest in digital business and startups has always been a significant focus. This led me to initially engage with the Agtech ecosystem, primarily by taking charge of the agricultural sector at NXTP Labs, a regional investment fund. Since 2016, I have consistently worked within the venture capital sphere, connecting with entrepreneurs through acceleration programs, analyzing and selecting ventures for the fund, and structuring open innovation programs that bridge large corporations with the innovation and flexibility offered by startups.
This journey has fostered close relationships with numerous entrepreneurs across Latin America, enabling me to share and engage in their challenges. During the pandemic, one of them approached me, suggesting, “Every time I meet another founder and exchange knowledge, I learn a great deal. Why not do something around that?” This led to the inception of The Roundtable, a community of founders exchanging experiences and insights.
At present, apart from being one of the co-founders of The Roundtable, I also serve as an Investing Partner at Xperiment Ventures, a venture capital fund specialized in Agtech, Energy-Tech and Sustentability.
(T): Please provide an overview of The Roundtable. Who is it specifically designed for, and what types of founders benefit the most from participating in your organization?
(L): The Roundtable is a Peer-to-Peer community of startup entrepreneurs. It’s designed as a collaborative space for entrepreneurs seeking a trusted and confidential environment to share challenges and opportunities with industry peers. Entrepreneurs are organized into working groups where they engage in discussions and information exchange with around 10 other entrepreneurs.
This initiative is tailored for the C-Level executives of growth-stage startups that have already achieved Product-Market Fit, employ between 20 to 100 individuals, and are currently facing the challenges that arise when scaling their company. The program is conducted virtually, which means we have entrepreneurs from key Latin American markets (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay), and each company typically operates in multiple markets, allowing us to benefit from the insights gained in almost all American countries.
(T): Could you share some examples or success stories of founders who have benefited from The Roundtable? How has their participation helped them overcome challenges or achieve their goals?
(L): At The Roundtable, entrepreneurs find a space where they can be vulnerable. One of the pains of being a founder is that you’re always selling, whether it’s to your customers, your team, or your investors. It can be a lonely journey. That’s why entrepreneurs at the table share not only business cases but also human aspects.
To provide some examples of the benefits, they range from relatively simple aspects like finding out in time that Silicon Valley Bank was in trouble and being able to withdraw deposits before its bankruptcy, to more complex issues. For instance, there was a situation where a company had a problem with its workplace culture, and the entrepreneurs collectively brainstormed how to address it, particularly dealing with an employee who was creating a toxic atmosphere within the company. Other discussions revolve around how entrepreneurs manage stress. As you can see, the topics covered are diverse and geared toward addressing the various challenges that founders face.
(T): The Roundtable covers various topics in its meetings. Could you elaborate on the key themes or topics that are discussed, and how are these meetings structured to maximize value for participants?
The Roundtable covers a range of both human and business topics. These discussions are approached using a case study methodology. Typically, one of the entrepreneurs in the group prepares and presents a case, which is then debated collectively to delve into the specific topic of interest. For example, within the business domain, the primary focus areas for discussions typically revolve around the following three pillars of a growing startup:
Everything related to building, organizing, and growing a team. This includes topics like hiring, processes, culture, onboarding, and more.
Matters concerning commercial processes: Regional expansions, market penetration strategies, value proposition presentation, and the review of commercial procedures, among other things.
Matters related to fundraising, spanning from prospecting and investor meetings to contract terms and conditions.
(T): Networking seems to be a crucial aspect of The Roundtable. Can you highlight some of the most valuable connections or collaborations that have emerged from your organization’s activities?
(L): Indeed, The Roundtable is a community of entrepreneurs, and currently, we have around 30 entrepreneurs from various parts of Latin America who share and exchange information. We prioritize the quality of the entrepreneurs as the shared knowledge is what makes the community strong.
Over the three years since the initiative’s inception, we’ve had working groups for CEOs, CTOs, CMOs, and we currently run community initiatives that connect entrepreneurs from different working groups. As an example, a few days ago, we organized an exclusive event for B2B sales representatives of Agtech startups in Latin America. The main goal of the event was to connect with other salespeople from startups that are not direct competitors and who share a similar customer profile. The idea is that they might find synergies among themselves, whether it’s to explore a new market, complement their value proposition, or address commercial questions (here’s the link to the event).
(T): Building a supportive and confidential community is essential for The Roundtable. Can you share some insights into how you foster trust and maintain confidentiality among your members?
(L): Indeed, in our working groups, we emphasize three core values that are an integral part of our community’s work culture: Confidentiality, Collaboration, and a spirit of Non-competition.
Each working group is facilitated by two moderators, and their role is to establish trust among the participants. One of the remarkable aspects of entrepreneurs in the startup world is their natural inclination toward an open, collaborative, and supportive culture. This greatly facilitates the creation of a conducive working environment within the groups.
Building trust is a gradual process. Some of our working groups have been active for three years, and we began by conducting exercises to help members get to know each other better and build trust. As entrepreneurs share information about their businesses and personal aspects, the level of trust among them naturally evolves and deepens over time.
(T): I understand that The Roundtable initially focused on the agrifood-tech space. Can you share your experience in that domain and perhaps mention some of the notable agrifood startups or companies that are part of your organization?
(L): As you may have noticed from my professional background, I have a strong connection to the Agrifood-tech sector. Some of the companies that are part of our initiative include Kilimo, Zoomagri, SIMA, Wiseconn, Spaceag, Agrosmart, Zafrales, Agree, Checkplant, among others.
These are companies I personally hold in high regard, and it’s a real pleasure to collaborate with them in our working groups, where we share challenges and learn from each other. It’s a highly enriching environment where we continue to grow and learn together.
(T): What are your future plans for The Roundtable? How do you envision expanding and increasing the organization’s impact in the startup ecosystem?
(L): One recent development we’ve undertaken is broadening our scope to include other industry verticals. While we have always been focused on the agrifoodtech sector, what we have come to realize is that entrepreneurs in other industries share similar challenges.
The most crucial aspect of connecting with other entrepreneurs is to do so with ventures that share commonalities in their business models (SaaS, Marketplace), customer profiles (B2B, B2C), and the maturity stage of their companies (Seed, Series A, Series B). As a result, we will be launching additional working groups for other industries.
Furthermore, we are fostering connections across our entire community by organizing events and initiatives that facilitate interaction and networking among entrepreneurs from various working groups.
(T): In addition to your role as the Founder of The Roundtable, you are also an Investing Partner at Xperiment Ventures. Could you provide some insights into the types of companies you typically invest in and your involvement in supporting agrifood-tech startups in Latin America?
(L): Xperiment Ventures is a venture capital fund that invests in startups with solutions for the Agrifood, Energy, and Sustainability industries, primarily in the pre-seed, seed, and occasionally in series A stages. While we primarily focus on startups in Latin America, we’ve also evaluated ventures from all around the world.
Our typical investment ticket ranges from $200,000 to $1 million. You can explore our investment portfolio here and find more details about the fund here.
The fund prefers to have a significant involvement in the startups it invests in, with the ability to lead investment rounds. As many of our team members are former entrepreneurs, we enjoy working closely with the founders of the startups.
One interesting aspect of the fund is that a large portion of our investors are major Agro and Energy companies. This natural synergy between the startups and the fund’s investors means they are willing to test and validate technologies, creating valuable opportunities for our portfolio companies.
(T): How do you see the Latin American startup ecosystem evolving in the coming years, especially in industries like agrifood-tech? Are there any emerging trends or opportunities you find particularly exciting?
(L): The Latin American startup landscape is on the cusp of a thrilling transformation. As funding dynamics shift, startups are reevaluating and fortifying their foundations to create not just innovative, but also financially sustainable business models. This challenge, while demanding, presents an exciting opportunity for adaptable entrepreneurs ready to harness the growth potential ahead.
In this changing landscape, sustainability has taken center stage. Market access now hinges on proven sustainability, elevating traceability from a mere advantage to an absolute necessity.
Additionally, new and innovative financing mechanisms are emerging, especially to support segments often overlooked by traditional banking systems, such as small-scale producers or those dedicated to sustainability, promising substantial opportunities.
Furthermore, the realm of Food Security is becoming increasingly paramount, offering fertile ground for innovative solutions to safeguard our future. The Latin American startup ecosystem is poised for a transformative journey, filled with potential and possibilities.