Business hub tackles Ecuador’s social, environmental issues

Woman holding microphone on stage (© Paco Solsona/Google)
Representing Impaqto, Daniela Peralvo attends a Google summit in San Francisco in February 2019. (© Paco Solsona/Google)

Daniela Peralvo was working as a business developer for a company in Ecuador nearly a decade ago when she had an “aha” moment that inspired her to do her own thing.

The company she had worked for earned huge profits selling soil and planting machines to farmers, but Peralvo, 38, says, “I was disappointed about the business as usual.” She quit, vowing to start a company that helped people instead of focusing only on money.

Six years ago, Peralvo and her business partner, Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter, launched Impaqto in Quito, Ecuador. The company offers affordable coworking spaces, networking and corporate counseling, and business-acceleration programs powered by Google. It pairs Latin American entrepreneurs with mentors.

Peralvo says she and her partner are cultivating a hub for innovators, freelancers and startup entrepreneurs to feed off and inspire each other while avoiding the loneliness that sometimes accompanies self-employment.

“That’s the biggest problem we tried to solve,” Peralvo says, adding that around 650 people a month use Impaqto’s four coworking spaces in Quito. “Coworking spaces have been a huge opportunity for connecting and having a space for all these change agents to work and collaborate.”

Ecuador’s challenges

Impaqto attracts people and companies working on some of Ecuador’s biggest social and environmental challenges.

One of the startups in the company’s accelerator program, Yakupura, created water filters that have reduced the use of plastic water bottles by 30,000 in just two months.

Another client, Amati Foods, produces a lactose- and gluten-free drink made with Ecuadorian fruits and amaranth, an Andean ancestral grain. The company, which adheres to fair-trade regulations, helps support the indigenous communities in northern Ecuador by purchasing agricultural goods from them.

Novulis, a company in the accelerator program, operates mobile dental clinics in rural and near-urban areas around the country, giving impoverished residents access to affordable health care.

Peralvo estimates Impaqto works with nearly 200 startups from Chile, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Paraguay, helping them secure investments and acquire knowledge and capabilities to develop their businesses.

Four years after Impaqto’s launch, the U.S. State Department sent Peralvo to the International Visitor Leadership Program. The three-week program uses short-term exchanges to link current and emerging foreign leaders to their American peers.

“It was interesting to see how the startups, the entrepreneurs, the mentors and investors … knew each other, and they were working in the community to improve how the entrepreneur ecosystem works,” Peralvo says of her time in America.

Peralvo and her partner are looking to expand their enterprise to Ecuador’s third-largest city, Cuenca, this year. They envision Impaqto’s future in smaller, emerging Latin American cities in Colombia and Bolivia, rather than massive urban centers.

“We see that these mega-cities and capitals, they’re having lots of problems around traffic, security, pollution and actual quality of life,” Peralvo says. “In these emerging cities, we see a string of family businesses and we also see a lot of young talent.”

This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.