Lissy Giacoman
CEO and Co-Founder
Startup Contributor

The Emergence of Monterrey as an Entrepreneurial Hub

By Lissy Giacoman | Tue, 08/09/2022 - 10:00

Several months ago, during Vinco’s earlier days, when most of our clients were also headquartered in Monterrey, we had a very special guest come to our office. Sofía Segovia — best-selling author of The Murmur of Bees and Tears of Amber, who also happens to be the mother of my co-founder –– came in to talk to the team about our city and its history.

Monterrey, she assured us, may be one of the oldest cities in Mexico but it suffers from the most historical misrepresentation. Just recently, the city celebrated its 425th anniversary. And although its weather is hot and dry, its history violent and tumultuous, its inhabitants have managed to turn the city into one of the most prosperous in the country. In a region that has always suffered from a scarcity of abundant natural resources –– lacking huge lakes or large mines and the capacity to grow good crops due to its rough soil –– the only way to prosper was through generations of hard work and solidarity.

When international friends ask me about Monterrey, I usually start out by sharing two things: first, that as regiomontanos (the colloquial term for people from Monterrey), we jump at the opportunity to establish that “Monterrey is the industrial capital of Mexico.” Second, we also refer to our hometown as the “City of Mountains.” Monterrey sits in a valley surrounded by beautiful, emblematic mountains which loom over you wherever you turn your head. Beautiful as the landscape is, given the region’s unfavorable conditions and its settlement in a valley prone to disastrous inundations of historic proportion, its inhabitants had to work hard and work together to thrive — sculpting the cultural backbone of our ancestors, in which perseverance and the respect for hard work led to the creation of wealth. As Segovia shared with us, “What had started out as a path for survival, soon became the path for progress.” The transition from agriculture to industry was crucial for Monterrey.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Monterrey saw the birth of its first corporations with the establishment of its main industries; factories of steel, cement, glass and beer defined the geography of the city and the values of its people. The city was flourishing but Monterrey’s population remained relatively stunted almost until the mid-1900s. At the start of the 20th century, the city had a population of 62,000 inhabitants — a stark contrast to the approximately 5.3 million it has today. As the city’s population remained relatively small and most jobs were centralized in the first few established corporations, the community was very family-oriented, as it was common that your coworkers were indeed family members. (To this day, there’s an ongoing national joke that everyone in Monterrey is related. The funny thing is, my co-founders Sofía and Miriam are actually related.)

I really believe that the tight-knit family networks are a big reason why it was important from the beginning to take into account the growth and welfare of one's employees, as if you were taking care of your own family members. That day, Segovia closed the conversation by sharing a fragment from a 1906 company manifesto of Cervecería Cuauhtemoc, one of the most important breweries in the world today:

“The company must grant social benefits to the worker’s family, sponsoring their individual development and intellectual improvement.”

To put this fragment into perspective, it comes from a major company based in Monterrey and dates back to a time even before the Mexican Revolution, a decade-long civil war that started in 1910 and led to the creation of the Mexican Constitution, the first constitution in the world to incorporate social rights. A constitution that was founded on principles meant to empower the working class and lay the foundation for free education.

At Vinco, having been founded by three regiomontanas, it filled us with pride to learn that even before the Revolution, the largest companies in Monterrey had already pushed toward more favorable conditions for their workers and the overall progress of all. The Monterrey of today is an important engine of job generation in the country and was recently ranked by the Economist as one of the Top 10 most liveable cities in Latin America. Monterrey’s state, Nuevo Leon, has a GDP per capita of US$16,248, almost double the GDP per capita of the country (US$9,763).

Not only is Monterrey home to some of the largest corporations in Mexico today, the city is also known for its educational institutions. Given Monterey’s growth and the need for highly-skilled workers for different industries, Monterrey has become the cradle of some of the most important universities in Mexico. The Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey or “Tec de Monterrey,” for example, was founded in 1943, inspired by MIT. Today, the “Tec” is known as one of the most prestigious universities in Latin America and has graduated almost 100,000 students. Other important universities include the Universidad Metropolitana de Monterrey, Universidad Regiomontana and Universidad de Monterrey.

On a personal note, both my parents are proud Tec de Monterrey alums and wanted my brother and I to study there. Although I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to study abroad both for college and my MBA, I decided to teach a couple of courses at the Tec de Monterrey, primarily because I enjoy teaching but also to be a part of the Tec community.

Most startups in Mexico (and even those across Latin America) set Mexico City as their headquarters. Mexico City’s position in the country and region gives it a privileged market size and thus a superior ability to attract startups and talent. For Vinco, however, launching in Monterrey made a lot of sense, as we get to work with the main corporations of the city, as well as prominent universities. We’re excited to see Monterrey increasingly becoming a hub for entrepreneurs. Recent Mexican unicorns, such as Nowports, Merama and Clara, all have founders from Monterrey. The values from our history are of community, solidarity, and hard work. We’re proud to do things the Regio way and look forward to seeing how more companies recognize the value in bolstering each other and working as a community, like my hometown has done since all those centuries ago.

Photo by:   Lissy Giacoman