This is a guest commentary for CNBC.com.
With daily news reports of drug-related violence on the U.S.-Mexico border, our neighbor to the South may not be the first place most wealth managers think of in search for returns on investment. But in recent years, Mexican businesses have grown at an impressive pace, making the country a new destination for venture capital firms in search of impactful returns.
I have seen it first-hand. For the last 15 years, the nonprofit Endeavor has worked with entrepreneurs in emerging and growth markets around the world to build their companies, with an eye toward improving the sustainable growth of local economies.
With roots in Latin America, Endeavor has built a network of 708 high-growth (or “high-impact”) entrepreneurs, including 98 in Mexico, who are mentored by a volunteer network of 2,500 local and global business executives and investors.
While Endeavor continues to see impressive entrepreneurial talent throughout global markets —from Latin America to Africa, the Middle East to Southeast Asia — many of our star performers hail from Mexico.
Mexican companies in the Endeavor network outgrew, on average, those of every other country in which the organization operates, both last year and from 2008 to 2011; in 2011, the Mexican entrepreneurs saw a 45 percent growth in average revenue. With the growth of these companies came significant impacts on the local job market; these companies grew their workforces by 23 percent in 2011, accounting for an additional 63 new jobs per company, the second largest average growth among the 13 countries in which Endeavor operates.
Investment buzz is growing louder. Now more than ever, we find ourselves fielding requests from global investors interested in Mexico, who previously were solely interested in “hot” emerging markets such as Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa. At the same time, we have also seen the rise of Mexico’s homegrown VC industry, enjoying more investment options than ever.
This enthusiasm is backed up by Endeavor’s own recent experience launching Catalyst, a passive co-investment vehicle—funded by private donations—which automatically invests in Endeavor Entrepreneurs already receiving professional rounds of $5 million or higher. Currently, Mexico has the healthiest pipeline of candidates for imminent investment; of the next 10 planned investments for Catalyst funds, many of the deals are with entrepreneurs located in Mexico.
These are not isolated results. Economists at Nomura Group recently predicted Mexico could overtake Brazil as Latin America’s largest economy in as little as 10 years. The investment firm is telling its clients to expect the country to repeat its relatively strong economic growth from last year; Mexico’s GDP grew by 3.9 percent in 2011, and Nomura expects a figure of 3.7 percent in 2012. This growth compares favorably to the recent slow patch faced by Brazil, which faces higher inflation and a moderating growth rate.
Nomura cites as reasons for Mexico’s performance: the rising cost of labor in China, which has a greater impact on Mexico’s industrial economy than the more commodity-based economy of Brazil, and the impending structural reforms of President-Elect Enrique Pena Nieto and the new Mexican Congress, to be sworn in next month. The country has seen a streak of new factory announcements from the automotive industry, and the new government is widely expected to eschew the recent populist political dominance of the region for more investor-friendly industrial policy.
As mentioned, philanthropic concerns are not the only funds that have begun to take an interest in Mexico. A growing number of venture capital firms have recognized the potential for significant profits in the country’s growing start-up market. Earlier this month, Monterrey-based Alta Ventures finalized a $70 million fund targeting the burgeoning Mexican tech sector. In addition to their own investments, the founders of Alta Ventures are convening a network of regional entrepreneurs and investors interested in Mexico.
The Mexico Venture Capital Conference (MVCC) is intended to provide a space for the sharing of ideas and closing of deals. This November, MVCC will announce the members of E|100, a peer-selected group of the 100 individuals most likely to lead a successful venture in the next few years. These entrepreneurs are building what will likely prove to be the foundation of a strong, profitable Mexican business expansion over the next decade.
More and more investment firms, including those with a purely profit-driven model and those pursuing the triple-bottom-line, are turning to Mexico for results. With one of the fastest growing economies in the region, a healthy start-up culture, and a shift towards a more business-friendly industrial policy and tax structure, the country is poised to take the lead in Latin America. If you have yet to include a Mexican strategy in your portfolio, it is time to take note.