As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, Colombia has much to be proud of.
In the World Bank’s most recent Women, Business and the Law index, Colombia placed higher than the average for the region, scoring 84.4 out of 100 points. It also boasted full marks in four of the eight categories, including workplace and mobility.
Female entrepreneurship is also a driving force in the Colombian economy. In just five months last year, the country welcomed 70,000 new businesses that were started by women.
The Bogotá Post has identified fifteen of Colombia’s current and upcoming leaders who have established themselves as pioneers in their industry and embodied a change towards greater gender equality.
1Camila Escobar – CEO at Juan Valdez
Anyone who has been to Colombia will recognize the name Juan Valdez, the iconic coffee shop that seems to be in every airport, shopping mall and street corner. Even those who have never visited its birthplace may have come across a Juan Valdéz in one of the 30 countries that it has expanded to over the past 20 years.
While the fictional namesake of the coffee empire enjoys global recognition, the name Camila Escobar is perhaps of greater relevance today. Before starting as CEO in 2018, she directed the business intelligence unit at Belcorp and led strategic consulting projects at McKinsey & Company.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, growing international competition, and inflation, Escobar has expertly managed Juan Valdez since 2018, leveraging her considerable business experience to ensure that the company’s coffee production and distribution continue to thrive.
2Beatriz Fernández: President and Co-Founder at Crepes & Waffles
Crepes & Waffles is a Colombian institution, offering an extensive menu to hungry diners across the country. Founded in 1980 by two students at Los Andes University, the chain has proven popular and now boasts dozens of restaurants nationwide and branches in several Latin American nations.
Crepes & Waffles is not just a successful business, it is also one that prides itself on its ethical values and corporate social responsibility. Much of this is due to the ethos of its co-founder and President, Beatriz Fernández, who believes that happiness is as important as profit.
The company’s 1,700-strong workforce mostly consists of female heads-of-families, who also receive living subsidies and medical benefits to support them and their dependents.
Fernández’ successful business at Crepes & Waffles is an alternative to traditional models and proves the value of human happiness over mere profit.
3Mayra Tibocha: TusDatos
Mayra Tibocha is an accomplished executive with experience in the commercial sector and a proven track record of achieving sales goals. Based in Bogota, she holds a diploma from the University of La Sabana and helps lead Tusdatos.co.
As Sales Manager, Mayra is responsible for establishing goals and objectives for client acquisition and retention at Tusdatos.co, a Colombian software company that provides identity validation, background verification, and security screening services for both individuals and businesses.
Tusdatos is backed by TheVentureCity, an early stage venture fund with hubs in Miami, Madrid, San Francisco and Sao Paulo.
4Daniela Restrepo: PR Expert
Daniela Restrepo is an energetic and proactive Colombian resident in Pereira, with a background in marketing and social communication. After gaining experience in a wide range of industries such as retail, fashion, marketing, sales, international brand management, and strategy execution, she has developed a great passion for storytelling, strategic thinking, keeping up with the latest trends, and creating campaigns that showcase the personality of brands.
With over 9 years of experience, Restrepo currently works for different technology industries, creating and executing public relations strategies for companies and startups. She also mentors at Founder Institute and contributes articles to publications such as Entrepreneur Magazine and Pulzo, among others.
5Mía Perdomo: CEO at Aequales
Named one of Forbes’ 50 powerful women in Colombia in 2020, Mía Perdomo is a leader in the country’s business world.
She also is at the forefront of Colombia’s feminist movement, leveraging her business savvy to advance gender equality in her home country.
Perdomo co-founded Aequales, a firm that offers solutions to companies that want to close their gender gaps. Through a mixture of data collection, analysis, consulting and technological solutions, Aequales provides firms with the tools they need to diagnose and tackle obstacles to gender equality.
Beyond her role at Aequales, Perdomo also co-created Par Ranking, Latin America’s biggest ranking of corporate gender equality.
Perdomo’s work has been recognised internationally, with the BBC naming her one of 101 people changing the working world.
6Karen Scarpetta: General Manager at WeWork South America
WeWork is one of the most renowned start-ups of recent years and, despite some struggles, it continues to provide co-working space to thousands of members around the world.
Karen Scarpetta was responsible for heading up WeWork’s branch in Colombia when it first launched in 2017. Since 2021, she has been the General Director of WeWork in South America, responsible for expanding operations in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.
The Colombian native studied international business in Australia before working at major firms like Ralph Lauren and Groupon. In her current role at WeWork, Scarpetta is responsible for over 100,000 members in the region.
7Marcela Torres: General Manager for the Andes, Central America and Caribbean at Uber
Another member of Forbes’ list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Colombia, Marcela Torres is considered one of the preeminent CEOs in the country.
After studying industrial engineering at Los Andes University, she received her MBA at IE Business School. Soon after graduating, Torres began a career in strategic consulting at McKinsey & Company, working there for eight years.
In 2018, Torres joined Uber as their Director of Strategy and Planning for the Andes, Central America and Caribbean regions. In July 2020, she was promoted to General Manager of Uber in Colombia.
Although she took over mid-pandemic, an especially turbulent period for Uber, Torres’ leadership saw Uber Colombia out of the crisis. Her innovations include the introduction of Uber Taxi, which allows users to book and pay for regular cabs through the app.
In 2021, Torres’ success in Colombia was rewarded with a promotion to manage the broader region as General Manager.
8Isabella Espinosa: Founder and CEO at Baobab
Baobab is one of Colombia’s most disruptive fashion brands, specializing in ecologically friendly swimwear. The name itself means tree of life, and refers to a specific species that grows in Africa. The connection to the brand? For every swimsuit purchased, Baobab plants a tree in the customer’s name.
Behind this eco-friendly brand is Isabella Espinosa, who founded it in 2016 in the middle of her law degree at Los Andes University. The ambitious CEO has no limits to her aspirations, seeking to expand Baobab to “every corner of the globe”.
This vision seems within reach, with successful Baobab fashion shows in Dubai and Paris stimulating foreign demand for the swimsuits.
9Sofía Vargas and Anyelin Periz: Co-Founders at Epifanía
Epifanía is unique in Colombia, priding itself as being the first 100% LGBTQ+ business in the country. While they are known for selling coffee and craft beer, Epifanía’s mission is to uplift diverse members of the population by providing them with employment opportunities.
Epifanía also oversees social projects that empower members of Colombia’s LGBTQ+ community and works with other businesses to introduce standardized inclusive practices.
Sofía Vargas and Anyelin Periz co-founded Epifanía in 2020 and attribute their success to their digital media savvy. The two work closely together, with Periz as CEO and Vargas as Commercial Director.
As two lesbians, Vargas and Periz sought to build a business that could correct the inequalities that they have faced in their lives, and generate profound changes in the way Colombia views the LGBTQ+ community.
10Natalia Andrea Pinilla Rivera: Head of Hardware and Manufacturing at KiwiBot
Pinilla Rivera epitomizes the hard work and innovation of women in STEM, leading hardware and manufacturing for one of Colombia’s most promising new startups.
After studying Industrial Design at the Industrial University of Santander, she proceeded to specialize in Furniture Design at the University of Buenos Aires.
At KiwiBot, Pinilla Rivera leads a team that works to design robots that can deliver goods directly to consumers’ homes. It has already completed over 200,000 successful deliveries in the U.S.
Her work was recently recognised in the prestigious Women that Build awards, in which Pinilla Rivera won the ‘Rising Star’ category. The recognition distinguished her from a field of over 100,000 women across the Americas who were nominated in the awards.
11Daniela Gutiérrez Tamayo: Source Meridian
Daniela Gutiérrez Tamayo is a certified Project Manager and Product Owner with over a decade of experience in software development, with a focus on medical data. Daniela is part of the original team that formed Source Meridian.
Gutiérrez is one of the key drivers in maintaining and growing the commercial relationship with Purplelab, one of their main clients, which is achieved through continuous improvement of product and processes, efficient deliveries, and participation with collaborators in decision-making.
12Laura Ramos Siabato: Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Creditop
Creditop is a shining example of Colombia’s bullish Fintech industry. Founded in 2020, the company set out to streamline the process of applying for credit in Colombia.
Positioning itself as a Trivago for loans, Creditop offers client-facing solutions for mortgages as well as vehicle and investment loans. In its brief history, the firm has handled over 100,000 credit requests worth more than seven billion COP, and works in close alliance with seven major banks.
As founder and CSO, Laura Ramos Siabato represents the innovation and entrepreneurship of Colombian women that is indispensable to the growth of Fintech in the country. Having only finished her masters at the Universidad de Los Andes in 2019, she faced the pandemic-era instability head on by starting Creditop in 2020. Her resilience and strategic mind have led it to become a major player in Colombia’s Fintech market.
13Cindy Cruz: Founder and CEO at Abacrop
Cindy Cruz’ story is one of perseverance and unlikely success. Beginning as a farmer, she recognized the need for digitization to increase the productivity of her finca and to better organize and manage production. However, much of this technology entailed significant costs as it was geared towards large-scale farms in the United States.
After Covid intensified the pressure on Cruz to modernize her farm, she contracted the help of a technology expert to develop a tool that would be useful for small and medium farmers like herself.
The result was Abacrop, a modern solution to help farmers to manage and process their data and administrative affairs. After meeting others who could use the technology, Cruz decided to make the service available to others for a subscription fee.
More than just an idea, Abacrop is the product of Cruz’ innovation and recognition of the need to modernize and represents the value of home-grown solutions for small-scale Colombian businesses that may not be able to afford expensive foreign technologies.
14Yuliana Gil Gallón: Global Shapers Medellin
Yuliana Gil Gallón is a highly motivated and continuously learning professional who excels in active listening, patience, proactivity, empathy, and teamwork. With a strong interest in research and interdisciplinary work, she is methodical and creative in her approach to work, and thanks to her training, possesses excellent analytical and argumentative skills.
She currently leads the Global Shapers in Medellin from the World Economic Forum, a community of young leaders committed to positive social change through projects that have a local impact. In this role, Yuliana has developed leadership skills and has had the opportunity to work collaboratively with people from different cultural and professional backgrounds, enriching her experience and strengthening her ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment.
15Nina Rodriguez-Quirós: Founder at Buzzzy
Since the pandemic, the gig-economy has exploded around the world and is projected to reach a value of $445bn USD this year. Colombia is no exception to this boom, with major foreign companies like Uber and national start-ups like Rappi competing in the market for ride-sharing and deliveries, respectively.
New home-grown firms too have carved out their stake in the gig-economy. A leader in the field is Buzzzy, a marketplace for freelancers to offer their services. Founded by Nina Rodríguez-Quirós and Antonio López, the company provides a solution to employers and freelancers who often waste precious time searching for talent.
Buzzzy sells their users on a unique algorithm that “bridges [their] business and project needs.” By facilitating the search for freelancers, they aim to tackle one of the few structural rigidities of the gig-economy and streamline talent acquisition. The app also favors growing numbers of digital nomads and other freelancers who are better able to find employment.
Abacrop, Evocare and Buzzzy are all alumni of Parallel18’s accelerator program. P18 is a renowned international startup entity that supports innovative local companies through continuous mentorship and support.
This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company