After an initial drill and a fun back and forth between them, the interview spun around Newtopia VC’s mission in Latin America, his current vision of the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem, the current web3 industry landscape after the FTX collapse, and the commitment to narrow the gender gap.
In addition, Mariano took a brief tour around his professional career, from his experience as a lawyer in the private sector, to his subsequent passage through the public service, and his first steps in Newtopia. Next, the full interview.
– I am struck by the number of entrepreneurs that are part of the Newtopia family. They have had an important development in the short time they have been active. Do you want to tell me about that process?
Honestly, yes, we invested in a little over 50 projects in just over a year. So it was a very intense first year for Newtopia and we enjoyed it quite a bit, because it was a unique year for Latin America. Those of us who have been in this for a long time believe that this is a very particular moment, beyond this winter that we are enduring. For the first time, talent from Latin America was completely unleashed.
One of the positive effects of the pandemic was that prejudices about whether or not it was possible to transform, improve, and digitize the different economic sectors that were previously in question, were broken. The forced pilot tests that took place due to the pandemic showed that it could be done, and that triggered the entrepreneurs who have come out to seek transformation in the region with talent and technology.
It is fascinating to see that beyond the proper maturation of the ecosystem that had been ongoing, there was an acceleration sought, in addition, to solve very real, very tangible, very serious and very urgent problems that our beloved Latin America has. The deep transformation movement is here to stay.
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– How long did it take you to come up with Newtopia? Considering your participation in the ecosystem since you started working as a lawyer and going through public duty.
The idea of setting up a fund had been around since I finished my civil service. I wanted to do something regional that had impact and scalability. It was what I saw as a natural step after working as a lawyer and in public policy. It seemed to me that I wanted to continue doing the same thing that I had done all my life, which is to accompany entrepreneurs, but from a different place.
The pandemic started and we began to meet with people who came from different stages of our lives, but all with the desire to do and above all, noticing that there was a match between what we liked to do and what we had done all our lives, which is to help entrepreneurs who are just getting started. What we noticed was that perhaps Venture Capital investing was mostly concentrated on later stages and we were looking to do something earlier.
The most powerful thing was seeing that there were a lot of established entrepreneurs, athletes and leaders of tech companies. They were seeing the same thing and wanted to participate in some way in the transformation of the region. Several months of that process ended in partners and investors, until we finally decided to start Newtopia.
– How do you see the gender issue at Newtopia and all the actions to promote equality in the participation of women in the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem?
We are working on encouraging women’s participation in two dimensions, both in ventures and investment funds. Starting at home, our team of analysts is made up of two women, Karin Tenenboim and Sarah Gandini, who are very good, and we are actively working on getting more and more projects led by women.
At the moment, more or less 25% of our portfolio is female founders, but we want them to be many more. It is not easy, since this percentage is a reflection of what we get and we want to get many more.
In the most technological digital sectors, there is still a large gap, so it is a challenge for the entire region. There aren’t many female investors either. So we’re starting to out together a couple of initiatives to engage more women investors and we want our portfolio to grow in this regard.
– Although Newtopia does not invest exclusively in Web3 technologies, but also in other verticals, regarding the FTX embezzlement that occurred a few months ago, did you take any action?
In this case, it seems to me that we must separate what individual people are from technology. We find the blockchain theme fascinating. Beyond trends, which are absolutely unavoidable, I think it’s quite difficult to avoid the fact that in the entrepreneurial world there are relevant cases of individuals who stand out and we make them gods, and well, sometimes these things happen. But I think that it does not have to affect the entire ecosystem and all the rest of the people who are working seriously, educating, seeking to change, improve and transform.
Of course, these are cases that attract a lot of attention, and there are also a lot of people who lost money, it is painful, and there are many people who are having a hard time, but we believe that this should not affect the ongoing profound transformation movement.
Also, I think it was a big wake-up call. There are frauds and other issues that are beyond any control that a Venture Capital fund may have, but hey, I think you also have to adapt to the new realities of entrepreneurs.
– Considering your experience in the public sector, what is your intuition about how the relationship between Web3 and the regulatory body will be? Do you think there is something fundamental that is going to be insurmountable or is there a desire for dialogue?
I see it as unstoppable and it will be a matter of discussing some regulation. In many cases, the regulator’s concern is legitimate and regulations will have to be adjusted to try to respect the general principles of law, but there is no way that a government can stop the development of these technologies, especially in our region where there is a great need for financial inclusion.
The State has its role, but regulation itself is not enough. Ultimately, what we need is financial education, which is an overdue matter in Argentina, there should be financial education in schools, not in the university.
– Imagine yourself in the future, a few years from now, when your time with Newtopia is over because you have achieved everything you wanted and you find yourself in a place with a lot of time and resources available, what would you like to undertake?
Social issues have always been part of my life, always appealed to me and that’s where I started. When I was studying at the university, I participated a lot in a social action group working on different solidarity initiatives, later some more related to law, working in prisons with people who were looking to get out and reintegrate. But hey, basically, I was fascinated by the entrepreneurial topic and I wanted to dedicate myself to helping entrepreneurs because I saw them as agents of transformation that could help others. Also from the public sector I was able to collaborate even more with those who are seeking to transform, and now I continue to do so with a fund.
I have spend all my life at it and tomorrow, from where I have to, I will continue doing so, and the matter that gets me the most is employment, it seems to me that work dignifies everything that one can do so that a person can achieve things on their own and not get giveaways, to me this is radical change. Helping someone to get dignity, seems to me it’s worth the effort.
At present, and after the momentum marked by the pandemic, the opportunities of the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem are endless, and it is more ready than ever to continue growing and innovating with technological solutions for the problems of today’s world.
So.. are you an entrepreneur and you want to get in touch with us to analyze what you are building? That’s great! We really appreciate that interest.
If after reading our Manifest, you consider that you check all of the boxes, do not hesitate applying to Newtopia VC Latam!