Photo: Instituto Invertir
A version of this story originally appeared as a series of blogs on the CIPE Development Blog.
Since the early 2000s Peru has seen a period of sustained economic growth and poverty reduction. Many of the benefits of this growth have centered on the capital, Lima. As a result, fewer economic opportunities exist for people living in the regions, and those that do are typically associated with mining and energy projects that are seen as controversial with some local residents. Nearly half the population in the Andean and Amazonian regions of the country still lives below the poverty line, and public services have not improved in many places. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), 20 percent of young Peruvians are not in education, employment, or training, and of those that do have work, 85 percent remain in the informal sector, underemployed in jobs that do little to foster their talents or stimulate economic prosperity.
Karolo Perez Vigil was born and raised in Tarapoto, a city on the edge of the Amazon jungle in the region of San Martin. Like many of his peers he saw education as a path to securing a formal job in the future. “I thought I would finish my architecture degree and work as an employee in a high impact or multinational firm.” Yet from an early age, Karolo harbored a desire to start his own business. Nearing the completion of his architectural degree in 2008, he applied for and was selected as a fellow in the first ever EmprendeAhora (Start Now) program sponsored by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and Peruvian-NGO Instituto Invertir. The four-month program provided Karolo and 200 other university students from rural Peru the necessary technical tools and empowerment to open their own businesses, generate income, and create local employment.
Karolo and his teammates were awarded first prize in the capstone EmprendeAhora business plan contest for their idea to inject adventure into bio tourism in the San Martín region of Peru, an idea that Karolo had since childhood. With their business knowledge and guidance from the program’s volunteer mentors, Karolo and his team possessed the tools to bring it to life.
Yet the challenge with a tourism related business is that you need a steady flow of tourists. Despite the natural beauty of the Amazon jungle in San Martín, it lacks the same tourism infrastructure and tourist flows as a place like Machu Picchu. While BioAdventure did well, it was a business with limited growth potential in the current environment. Karolo’s ambitions were bigger. He wanted to develop a business with unlimited growth potential. He sold his shares and decided to put his architecture degree to use.
So began Selva Constructor, a design and construction company launched with the funds from the sale of BioAdventure. Under Karolo’s leadership as Design Manager, Selva Constructor has positioned itself as one of the most important construction companies in the region and is recognized for its innovative and modern designs and use of advanced technology.
In any given week Selva Constructor is working on projects for eight to ten different clients. In 2015 the company generated approximately 1 million Peruvian Nuevo Soles (roughly $304,000 USD) in revenues. Its portfolio includes industrial buildings, multifamily homes, single family homes, and remodeling projects. Selva Constructor is providing productive employment and decent work for eight employees in its headquarters and on average 60 laborers on construction sites, providing economic opportunity for more than 50 families. These employees now possess benefits and a stable income. Aside from the obvious contribution to the community’s innovative and resilient infrastructure development, Selva Constructor adds to the tax base that supports the sustainable economic growth of the San Martín region.
Despite the time demands of running a small and growing business and staying competitive in the local market, Karolo maintains a strong conviction to inspire more young people to live their dreams as entrepreneurs. On a number of occasions over the life of EmprendeAhora he has traveled to Lima to share his experiences with the latest cohort of program fellows.
Karolo has also served as a speaker and coach at CADE Universitario, an annual gathering of young leaders from all over Peru with a desire to improve the country; and at various regional leadership conferences. Many of the young people he has coached over the years have gone on to start their own businesses, including Grupo San Pedro and ECO Rutas, a family operated adventure company in Tarapoto.
Karolo is a prime example of the level of impact that entrepreneurs can have on a country’s efforts to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Eight years later, Karolo still credits EmprendeAhora for the success he is having today. “After the training and coaching I received, I can’t believe in eight years that I founded two businesses and am now working on a dream called Selva Constructor.”