Julio Salazar’s mother gave him a copy of How To Change the World by David Bornstein. At this point in his career as a recent graduate entering into the business development world, lots of the ideals he embraced in college lagged behind his actual work experience.
“I read about how to help people and make a business viable,” he recalls. “I told my mom I would take four months to study social innovation and impact investing and at the end I would have a job in social innovation. She said I was crazy and good luck.” But Salazar was already attached to innovative methodologies and an entrepreneurial mindset that he cultivated while in Boston for undergraduate studies. And he had already been told “no, that won’t work” many times before.
Salazar’s first big opportunity to test his ideals came in his master’s program in Mexico City. He and a small team tasked with distributing a new product for Pepsi imagined an ambitious business proposal:
They thought I was a young kid with an uncertain future, but that was three years ago. Tweet This Quote
“We initially thought about how this could have a social component,” recalls Salazar. The answer, his team found, was to design a concept that sourced local farms that grow organically. Pepsi responded by saying they would archive the plan and go with a more traditional model. In response, he and a fellow classmate formed a company based on his own vision called Cirklo, meaning virtuous circle.
Julio Salazar says he and his co-founders (Gabriel, Manuel and Daniela) initially thought of themselves as Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night. For six months, he and his cofounders met in cafes after their day jobs with the shared vision of reimagining existing business models to reach their social impact more effectively.
“We’d put on our batman capes to work towards the social side,” says Salazar who never thought he would work as an entrepreneur. Let alone in a country where business as usual does not include straying outside of traditional business models to experiment. Older generations raised eyebrows at his endeavor to experiment. “They thought I was a young kid with an uncertain future, but that was three years ago. Mexico is awaking quickly to the potential of entrepreneurship.”
Since that conversation, Salazar has gleamed personal satisfaction from leveraging existing infrastructure and relationships towards social benefit.
Over 22,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) exist in Mexico, all competing for the same pool of funds. Corporations, too, struggle at a visionary level of how to provide a range of services to the ends of social enterprise and survive as a revenue generating business. Cirklo designs programs to co-develop products and services aligned with their partner’s existing social impact area. Then, they build out revenue centers that gradually minimize donation-based funding to 30 percent at the most.
Salazar believes a lot of NGOs see the value in this approach, but do not always understand how to embark upon it. “We analyze projects for their feasibility, projects that can be linked to existing infrastructure,” says Salazar. Projects like an unconventional sensory tour of Mexico City on behalf of Ojos Que Sienten. “People sometimes think that those with blindness or weaknesses in eyesight are at a disadvantage. Maybe it is an advantage in that their other senses are heightened.”
Cirklo selected this NGO not only because of their global leadership, but because their social mission to lessen the stigma surrounding weaknesses of sight and to increase employment for the blind. Instead of starting from scratch, Cirklo identified infrastructure already available in the community and formed partnerships.
People sometimes think that those with blindness or weaknesses in eyesight are at a disadvantage. Maybe it is an advantage Tweet This Quote
“We started looking for what existing companies that have a tourism or entertainment business model that could link with the social enterprise,” says Salazar mentioning a company that rents double decker buses. “The benefit to the rental company is they make money instead of having their vehicle sit in storage.” The NGO makes money, new jobs are created and there is new awareness around a social problematic. “If we’d started from zero it would be a steep learning curve, which is why we look for existing companies.” Then Cirklo orchestrates them together.
“Given the systemic perspective needed to solve the complex challenges faced in this process, we’ve harnessed a network of institutional partners who collaborate with their expertise and know-how in legal, fiscal strategy, impact investing and impact measurement.”
In 2015, Cirklo plans to launch a venture consulting initiative based on expertise developing products and services for corporate clients. This initiative emerged from experience negotiating with clients whose budgets were limited for their services yet recognized the potential market opportunity.