LinkedIn: Stevon D. Darling
What do you do currently?
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is the private investing arm of the World Bank Group where we invest on average $20 billion per year in emerging markets to help support the World Bank’s twin goals of alleviating poverty and improving equality.
I help lead the IFC investments across Latin America focused on Venture Capital. Our team invests in innovative early stage technology companies in many sectors including health, logistics, mobility, fintech, internet, and B2b SaaS.
Over the past ten years, we have allocated more than a billion dollars to startups across all emerging markets. In Latin America, we have invested in some of the leading technology companies including Loggi (Brazil), Liftit (Colombia), Clínicas del Azúcar (Mexico), and Konfío (Mexico).
In addition to direct investments in startups, we also invest in best-of-class VC fund managers.
How and when did you get involved with the Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Growing up in The Bahamas, I’ve seen first-hand how entrepreneurship can help improve the livelihood of those living in middle- and lower-income countries.
Since then, I’ve spent most of my professional career focused on financing or building global businesses.
During the summer of 2016, I came to Mexico to create a fintech company to finance renewable energy projects. Although the business was unsuccessful, I had a first row seat to the dynamism of the Mexican venture ecosystem and wanted to continue supporting the community through investing and strategic advice. Fast forward a year, I joined the Venture Capital team of the IFC focused on Latin American investments.
How would you describe the ecosystem in Mexico?
The Mexican VC ecosystem has seen much development over the past 2-3 years. There is an increase in talented people pursuing entrepreneurial pursuits, more successful fundraises and exits, and increased influx of private capital which illustrate international investors belief that Mexico is a top market to achieve outsized venture returns.
There is a healthy diversity of global themes that are impacting the local Mexican market and influencing the types of businesses that are being created. There continues to be strong interest in fintech plays, principally online lending and payments. Logistics technology is also gaining steam with a lot of activity in the micro-mobility and cargo transportation verticals.
At the same time, local funds are raising bigger funds to support the local ecosystem.
What do you expect in the next 12 months?
I believe that more international funds will make their first investment in Mexico this year. Recent high profile exits such as Cornershop (Mexico and Chilean grocery delivery service) combined with strong fundamentals such as continued GDP growth, rising middle class, and attractive penetration of cell phone usage continue to signal opportunities for disruption.
I also believe that there will be more cross-border partnerships between Chinese and Mexican players. Chinese companies are actively looking to expand to Mexico and they will follow the Didi / 99 taxi blue print which was laid out in Brazil. This creates attractive exit opportunities for leading Mexican tech players.
What are the main challenges?
There continues to be a funding gap in the Mexican VC ecosystem. Historically there have been a good number of funds focused on seed and Series A funding but far less focused on Series B and C which is essential to help companies scale.
Secondly, venture funding globally tends to follow a “flock mentality” where investors follow certain hot sectors. This at times can become problematic as it creates tons of fragmentation amongst startups and they end up competing with one another instead of taking business away from incumbents.
Thirdly, the Mexican VC ecosystem is relatively disconnected from those in other regions that are tackling similar problems. Entrepreneurs would benefit from being able share knowledge with startup CEOs in other markets to be able to import some of their best practices in order to accelerate growth.
What change or result would bring the greatest benefits to the ecosystem?
Increased Series B and C funding is important to provide startups with essential capital to scale their businesses. There also needs to be more positive government intervention to help jumpstart businesses.
Describe your typical day
Most of my day is spent speaking with startups to learn about their business and how they are tackling their respective markets. I also allocate considerable amounts of time to analyzing specific sectors in which IFC invests to better understand the major pain points and tech solutions that could exist to resolve them.
For the most part my day is a combination of data gathering through speaking with various market players and data analysis.
Who is your favorite entrepreneur?
I deeply admire all of the CEOs of companies in our portfolio as they are not only tackling significant problems that have the ability to improve the lives of millions of people but they are also constantly using their leadership skills to develop the next generation of tech CEOs across Latin America.
A recent book do you recommend?
I highly recommend Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The novel details the struggle of self-identification and survival when we are removed from our native communities. It’s told through the eyes of a Nigerian lady who moves to the USA and has to struggle with finding her Nigerian culture in a foreign land.
I love this novel because although I grew up in The Bahamas, I’ve spent the last 12 years living in 4 different countries and often face the real problem of allowing myself to grow and develop from my new environments while keeping my culture close to heart.
The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro will probably become a classic. It’s a true coming of age story and pushes the boundary in terms of cinematography and the concept of love.
Smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop?
I haven’t seen a desktop in probably 5 years.
Think that tablets lack true functionality.
Laptops become less important as time goes on.
And smartphones are becoming more powerful by the day.
I choose smartphones.
iOS or Android?
iOS although I’m considering moving over to becoming a Samsung user because of its camera capabilities.
Lyst because it has an amazing e-commerce platform and has done a great job hacking the discovery process.
Favorite social network?
Instagram because it’s better at combining entertainment and communication / messaging capabilities.
Discovering a new cosmopolitan city that has many opportunities to explore diverse cuisines and nightlife. I’m very much a city person.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Professionally, I’m focused on continuing to provide value to my portfolio companies through strategic advice.
Secondly, I would like to support 2-3 new companies through first-time direct investments.
Thirdly, would like to broker conversations between Latin American startups and those tackling similar problems in other markets so that startups in our region can learn from past successes of more mature companies.
Socially, I’m 100% focused on discovering different parts of Mexico. So far I’ve visited Guadalajara, Monterrey, Zacatecas and the Yucatan Peninsula so have a lot more to go!
One word that describes you?
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