In 2011, Stela Maris da Silva won the BiD Challenge in Argentina and in 2012 she became a finalist in our Women in Business Challenge. Her company BIOPRO aims to educate and change farming practices in Argentina by the introduction of organic methods and products. Our business competitions have helped Stela to get the financing she needed to grow her company and since then, she has been funded to the value of $ 656,000. We interviewed her to hear more about her experiences, tips and the journey since.

Stela, first of all: congratulations with your success! You won the BiD Challenge Argentina 2011 and you also participated in the 3rd edition of the Women in Business Challenge where you were selected as one of the five finalists to attend the Growing SMEs conference in The Hague in 2012. We are curious to hear more about your story.

“When we heard about the BiD Challenge Argentina 2011, we only had an idea for a business. We thought by participating in the challenge, we would perhaps get help to be able to improve our business plan. That was the main reason I applied for the challenge. At that moment I had no idea, I had no experience and no knowledge on how to set up a business. I thought I would never be selected to participate in the challenge, but I was! The last week before the deadline was very stressful, but my coach was always available and dedicated. He helped me with my business plan up until a few minutes before the deadline. Later, when we were among the finalists, when we even obtained the first prize, I cannot describe the emotion. The same goes for the Women in Business Challenge: I could bioprohave never hoped to be one of the five finalists. I cannot explain how that made me feel, it was a unique experience. You have to participate to understand the feeling.”

How did you hear about the Women in Business Challenge and what made you decide to enrol in the competition?

“Margarita Carlés, who was responsible for the BiD Challenge Argentina 2011, informed me about the Women in Business Challenge and asked me if I was interested in participating. Although it was a busy time for me, I finally decided to enter the competition. I thought it would be a good opportunity to refine my business plan. When I heard that I was among the five finalists, it was a huge surprise for me.”

What did you like most about the Women in Business competition, what was the most valuable experience for you?

“The competition wasn’t as much about winning as it was about the experience itself. We had a collective feeling of solidarity, even with the participants of other competitions. So from my personal point of view the most valuable thing about the competition was the opportunity to get into contact with people from all over the world, to be able to talk to people with so many different cultural backgrounds and to see how things work in the rest of the world. This was very enriching. From a business point of view, I gained a lot of practical experience; I learned about how to present your plan to investors, how to make it interesting to them.”

The finals of the Women in Business Challenge 2012 took place during the Growing SMEs event in The Netherlands. What is your experience with the Growing SMEs event of last year? How do you look back at the event?

I had the opportunity to deal with people who do not know you or your background and that make the effort to study your business and help you improve. The knowledge that there are people who believe in your plan and your venture: wow! Moreover, the opportunity to meet other people that are dedicated to change things for the best in their societies and countries was very inspiring and instructive. I would not have been where I am now if it were not for the courage and knowledge I gained from these experiences.

Could you tell us a little more about your journey since the competition last year? Did the event help you to get where you are now?

“Thanks to the courage I gained from the BiD competitions, I have participated in other national competitions. My coach from BiD Network actually continued mentoring me during these competitions and I have won several prices. The BiD Network events helped me in terms of experience and knowledge for these other competitions afterwards.”

How did you experience the contact with your investors? How did you try to get them on board?

“The investors of my business were a university and the government. I approached the management of the university first to present my plan and to ask for their support in terms of presenting my plan to the government. They were interested in my project from the beginning and they decided to get involved. We also approached the government and some of the connections were made through the network of the university. The first time we presented our plan it was rejected. However, a few months later, after our visit to the Netherlands, we presented our business for a second time. We had more experience now and we understood the kind of technical, economical language you need to employ in order to convince the judges.”

Would you have any recommendations to other entrepreneurs to help them achieve your kind of successes?

“I would like to encourage entrepreneurs to always look for alternative ways to attract investors, like for example participate in national competitions, and always take every opportunity to present your business plan. The most important thing is to always situate yourself on the front line. Another advice I would like to share is to always have a flexible attitude towards investors and their expectations. You have to be able to make changes to your plan in order to meet opportunities. And finally: do not get discouraged!”

What message would you like to give to investors in general?

“I would like to encourage them to have an open attitude towards small businesses in Latin America and Africa, because there are so many creative entrepreneurs with great ideas that do not ask for large investments, but that can make a real difference.”

Thank you, Stela!