Drug violence drove thousands of businesses out of Ciudad Juarez between 2008 and 2011. The Juarez Business Chamber puts the number at more than ten-thousand. But a privately financed innovation hub is working to kick the city’s business sector back into gear.
‘Mandala’ is a fashion retail start up in Ciudad Juarez, launching mobile fashion stores. Bibiana Macias said it’s like boutiques on wheels, rolling selections of fashion apparel and accessories that spring up at the city’s hot spots going where the customers are.
“If you think in fashion you think in U.S. or maybe in Paris, but not in Mexico, right? So what we need to create is fashion here in Mexico and also in the border.” Macias said
Macias project partner Maria Jose is developing the integrated smartphone app for customers to keep up with Mandala’s pop-up locations and latest additions. Jose said the pop-up store will spotlight Mexican designs and labels.
“There are a lot of Mexicans designers that want to express themselves, but there is not a place a that they can do it. But Mandala is a place, we are the place for them.” (Translated from Spanish)” Jose said
Jose, Macias and their her partners met at Technology Hub, a chic new business incubator in Ciudad Juarez. The innovation hub offers business mentoring, collaborative workspace and start up boot camps. CEO Ricardo Mora co-founded the hub to nurture entrepreneurial talent in the region.
“What we are doing is really economic development based on innovation and technology.” Mora said.
Mora says the hub is also working to cut red tape with the municipal government to streamline the process of starting a businesses and expanding sources of investment and venture capital.
80% of Mexican startups fail by their second year, often due to a lack of financing.
But Mora said the challenges facing a new start up are nothing compared to what Juarez businesses faced during the drug war; extortion, kidnappings and death threats. Thousands of businesses fled the city.
“We had to close shop- all our shops that were on the streets got closed-we only kept the ones that are in inside malls. Our sales force had to get separated from our administration. Everybody got smaller we took signs off, you didn’t answer phone calls, if there are unknown numbers – you don’t pick it up. But that is all over now.” Mora said.
Bibiana Macias said opening pop-up stores on the streets of Juarez would have been unthinkable even just 6 years ago.
“In the last years it has been difficult because we have a lot of issues here in the city, but I love my city, I love Juarez and I love all this energy that the people have here” Macias said.
Macias is involved in another start up through the Tech Hub. She said the projects are just as much about building businesses as they are about rebuilding Ciudad Juarez and it’s image.
“It is not just to make money. It is to make a change in the city.” Macias said.