LatAm List – Sandra Rubio DaCosta is CEO at Imix Consulting where she advocates for financial inclusion throughout Latin America using technology. She created the group Mujeres Líderes y Empresarias which works alongside Colombia’s Vice President, the Women Economic Forum, and Geek Girls LatAm to create female empowerment initiatives.
Imix was recently chosen to take part in Apps.co and Seedstars’ International Expansion Program taking place from November 11th to 16th in Peru. We had the opportunity to do a Q&A with Sandra to hear about her experience and insights on being a female entrepreneur in Latina America.
Q: What does your company do? Why did you decide to start Imix and focus on financial inclusion?
A: Imix is a fintech startup dedicated to creating ecosystems of financial inclusion through the development of financial services networks. Our goal is to reduce poverty by bringing opportunities to those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. We currently offer a platform called Corresponsales Digitales that develops the correspondent banking channel using last-mile logistics to provide access to financial services, which in addition to normal transactions, enables micro-credit, micro-insurance, and simple savings placements. Local shopkeepers can be the agents of change in their communities.
Q: How did your family and friends react to your decision to start a company?
A: When we started Imix in 2011, I had just given birth to my fourth son and needed to start a business that would allow me to be a mother. My family supported me in many ways. Initially our vision for Imix was that it would be a small business that would allow me to keep working in tech.
In a couple of years it started growing beyond our expectations, but in 2016 everything changed radically. Gas prices had dropped, the dollar was rising, and foreign investors were arriving in the country. In 2017 we made a decision: reinvent Imix into a business that would align with our entrepreneurial vision to help solve financial inclusion through networks of financial services. It wasn’t an obvious decision, but we weren’t a small company anymore, and our growth was going to require more capital, greater efforts, and taking risks.
At that moment my family was quite critical of our decision. I understand that their main concern was my children’s well-being. This new phase of the company was a very difficult moment for my husband and I. As a woman, it’s easy to make decisions that will protect our families, and it’s very difficult to make decisions that involve risk. Many paradigms need to be challenged, especially believing in oneself. In my case, my brother is an impressive businessman, and my husband is a very knowledgeable technician.
It took me a while to understand that even though I was surrounded by these great men who I greatly admire, my task was to create my own business vision and leadership model. That understanding transformed me as a leader and cut off the invisible chains that were holding me back.
Q: Can you speak to specific challenges or benefits of being a female entrepreneur in Latin America?
A: Since I was 23 years old I’ve worked in software; my background has always been in technology. I’ve always lived in a world of men. You get used to being a minority– receiving inappropriate comments, or situations in which boundaries are crossed. I’ve never taken it personally. Not even the differences in salary. In my last management positions I would earn half the amount that my male predecessor was earning. However, in the last few years things have changed. Being a woman is an advantage.
Q: What can the ecosystem do to help empower women to found more companies?
A: When I was a little girl, we had few women to look up to. To identify these role models is to plant seeds of transformation. There are two very powerful NGOs that I collaborate with often because I love how they explore this power:
- Geek Girls Latam: The IT industry is in high demand and offers some of the best salaries, yet only two of every ten IT professionals are women. Geek Girls encourages girls and young women to learn STEM careers and to develop careers in tech businesses.
- Inspiring Girls: This organization is dedicated to raising young girls’ self-esteem and aspirations by connecting them with female professionals from different industries who will act as references and role models. It’s the type of volunteering that we should all be doing as women.
It’s also very important to improve the conditions for women to gain access to business financing.
Q: Why did you decide to create Mujeres Líderes y Empresarias?
A: Up until our first Apps.co acceleration in 2018 where I saw the importance of networking, I had never participated in an ecosystem of entrepreneurs. But as a woman who grew up in male-dominated environments, I was used to working with men.
At the moment (of creating Mujeres Líderes y Empresarias), I had been feeling alone. There were still so many things I needed to understand about my leadership, about my challenges with my own limitations, about my struggle with my own paradigms. We made a proposal to Corporación Ventures, led by Carolina Durán.
Doors started opening everywhere. Women in leadership positions needed to communicate with each other. We needed to bring different issues to the table to realize that we weren’t alone. We needed to learn to support each other as equals. At first I was very happy to have found other “viejas locas” like me. But one day made me realize that we are “mujeres extraordinarias”, and that we had broken the mold to build a new society. New phrases like “I’m your equal, not your rival” appeared, along with beautiful concepts like “empowered sisterhood”. I now carry that banner with me wherever I go. Whether it’s women in leadership positions, or schoolgirls, there are extraordinary women everywhere, and when we find each other, we recognize each other and collaborate.
Q: What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs looking to start a business?
A: That they should believe in themselves, in their ability to understand a problem and to find a solution. That they should be stubborn, and be persistent. That they should take on risks. And that they should dream big.
Q: What’s next for you and IMIX?
A: Imix is just starting to achieve its goals. We have much to do! Currently we are in the process of expanding internationally, taking our model to our next market in Ecuador and Peru. Next will be Argentina (with its recently approved Law of Correspondent Banking) and Central America. In 5 years we expect to be processing 10 million monthly transactions.