Written by Daniel Isenberg, Vincent Onyemah and Dhirendra Shukla
On March 21, 2020, just eight days after its first confirmed Covid-19 case, Guatemala’s government issued a nationwide lockdown. That same day, Marsa, an innovative and rapidly growing driving school in Quetzaltenango, the country’s second-largest city, yanked the emergency brake on a 20% fleet expansion. “We were staring at financial ruin,” recalled Saul Calderon, the company’s CEO. “Our whole family, all involved in Marsa, stayed up all night as the initial shock gave way to wracking our brains on how to respond.” But unlike many other business owners that night, Calderon had an idea of whom he could turn to for help.
Two years earlier, Calderon and the owners of 17 other local ventures in Quetzaltenango (commonly called Xela) had banded together in Scale Up Xela, an entrepreneurship ecosystem-development program supported by a national private-sector civic organization called Fundesa. Two of us (Isenberg and Onyemah) serve as advisors to Fundesa, which also gets support from local banks, universities, and corporations. Through workshops and a seven-month training program that we put in place, the initial 18 owners and their teams grew to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and created a private WhatsApp group to maintain their bond and share needs and resources.
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