Awarding Colombia’s Cream of the Crop

There was an air of excitement in Interactuar’s office, located in Medellín, Colombia; employees were better dressed than usual, everyone was in high spirits and kept a constant eye on the clock. It was all in anticipation of Interactuar’s biggest day of the year: the Famiempreario del Año (family business of the year) award ceremony. Taking center stage in Medellín’s Metropolitan Theater, Interactuar employees, friends, family members and clients filled the seats. For roughly a decade, Interactuar has been honoring its best and most successful entrepreneurs in this way. Each year, ten businesses are highlighted for their entrepreneurial spirit, environmental sustainability, job creation efforts, and for having successfully lifted themselves out of poverty through microcredit and other services provided by Interactuar, which include skills training, business consultation and technology implementation.

This year’s guest of honor, as usual, was Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s ex-president, and according to some, Colombia’s best president. He is largely credited with debilitating the FARC (one of the largest and most violent guerilla organizations in Colombia, known for funding its campaigns via the drug trade and by kidnapping foreigners) and making the streets of Medellín relatively safe in the wake of massive violence. Beyond these accomplishments, Uribe has long been a supporter of small business and for years has partnered with Interactuar to increase opportunities for entrepreneurs in his home state of Antioquia.

Much to Interactuar’s credit, opening remarks were short and the event focused on those it was meant to honor: the entrepreneurs themselves. The ten finalists–dressed to the nines–ran the gamut of productive possibilities, which included diverse businesses such as a school uniform company, a juice factory, a childcare center, an artist (check him out here), a condiment production facility, a grocery store, a chicken restaurant, a corner store, an internet café and a purveyor of cowboy equipment (not sure that’s the official description but you get the idea…).

Each business was highlighted as part of a 45-minute video of exceptional production quality, narrated by a local newsman, that beautifully introduced the individuals, told their stories and their struggles to succeed. Previous year’s winners introduced this year’s nominees, creating a lovely sense of continuity and community support.

Each of the ten highlighted businesses was awarded a prize in a category such as entrepreneurship, innovation or sustainability. Additional categories included best in class for businesses in the start-up phase, and also for more established businesses. Prizes ranged from US$3,000 to US$7,000, and included a computer and additional training and assessment from Interactuar. The grand prize even came with a romantic trip for two to a Caribbean Island. All prizes were donated to Interactuar by local foundations and companies who believe in Interactuar’s mission of alleviating poverty through loans and education. The winners marched up to the stage proudly, all with families in tow (including some very young and sleepy children). Each entrepreneur paused at lengh when shaking Uribe’s hand, hoping to speak to the leader for as long as possible without holding up the ceremony. The cowboy equipment salesman took an especially long time, as Uribe is known for owning horses.

The beachward-bound grand champ Álvaro Andrés Osorio Ciro, owner of restaurant Pollos a la Brasa con Sabor Caleno.

Uribe at the podium

The evening closed with remarks by Uribe, who congratulated the winners and encouraged them to keep up their efforts, particularly in the face of the recent economic downturn. As a newcomer to Interactuar, I was truly moved by the ceremony. Employees and clients alike were beaming, proud of what they had achieved together. I was impressed that Interactuar was able to thank its clients in such a profound way, proving that microfinance and education can truly have a transformative effect on the lives of many individuals. It was a wonderful way to be welcomed into the Interactuar family.

P.S. Think Interactuar is the I do! Join their lending team here!

Betsy McCormick, KF12, Medellin, Colombia

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