Adriana Cisneros was one of the guest speakers at 21212 Demo Day in Rio de Janeiro last week. If you are wondering why, the answer is simple: she is one of the mentors who is helping 21212’s accelerated startups get off the ground.

This is certainly an interesting combination, as early-stage companies are eager to hear from decade-old family owned groups such as the Cisneros Group of Companies. On the other hand, Adriana insists she has also learned a lot from the teams she has been mentoring. We decided to ask her a few questions about her experience.

TNW: Could you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers?

 Adriana Cisneros talks 21212, mentorship, Latin America and education [Interview]

Adriana Cisneros: I am a third-generation family member leading the Cisneros Group of Companies. Our company was founded in Caracas, Venezuela over 80 years ago by my grandfather, Diego and then led by my father, Gustavo. We are a privately held media, entertainment, telecommunications, real estate and consumer products organization with a focus on Latin America and the US Hispanic market.

I also serve as President of our family foundation (the Fundación Cisneros), which is a non-profit organization founded by my parents Gustavo and Patricia to improve education in Latin America and foster global awareness of the regions heritage and its contribution to world culture. I am passionate about the arts, climbing large mountains and travel. I am a member of several boards as well as YPO. I live with my husband and 2 children in New York City but spend most of my time in Latin America.

TNW: How important are Brazil and startups for your company’s strategy?

AC: Brazil is an important market for us as are Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina. Digital space is core to our strategy. I am personally passionate about the accelerator model and about encouraging and advancing entrepreneurs in this space.

We have made great strides with our digital expansion at the Cisneros group. Some recent examples of our foray into these areas with RedMas and our more recent acquisitions of Kontextua, Cuponidad, AdsMovil and others to come in the near future [read our story about Kontextua’s acquisition].

TNW: How did you become one of 21212’s mentors?

AC: Ben White, a founding partner of 21212, is a long time friend. Ben and Marcelo [Sales] brought the opportunity to be a mentor and an investor with 21212 to my attention and I have to say I was excited about it from the start. It has been an amazing partnership and an incredibly enriching experience for me. I am also involved with NXTP Labs out of Argentina [see our previous post].

TNW: Which teams have you been mentoring and what do you like about them? More generally, why do you enjoy being a mentor?

AC: In this last cycle, I mentored Easyaula and WeGoOut.

easyaula logo1 Adriana Cisneros talks 21212, mentorship, Latin America and education [Interview]wegoout logo1 Adriana Cisneros talks 21212, mentorship, Latin America and education [Interview]

I love what I have learned from ALL the teams I mentor. The team members are forward-thinking, driven, engaged and so energetic and positive about their ideas. They have great execution capabilities and strategic vision and know their markets inside and out. I believe seamless and efficient execution will be the key to their success. I learn something every day from the 21212 team and the entrepreneurs we accelerate.

TNW: Why do you think foreigners should pay attention to Latin America and to its startups?

AC: As I often say, this is Latin America’s decade. Latin America is experiencing a historic growth of its middle class. The middle class in the region has grown 26% since 2006 and it is forecast that by 2020 this segment will represent approximately 43% of the population. The middle class traditionally spends its money in areas such as entertainment, education and health so industries both local and foreign need to adapt to these new demands. There is an interesting convergence point where the growing middle class meets with improved access to technology. This is the sweet spot we are focusing on.

While start ups are not new to Latin America, there seems to be renewed energy in Latin America around them right now. We are experiencing a “digital revolution” and I believe that it is an important time for foreigners to get onboard and participate in the expansion and in the region.

I also believe that governments can and should play a more pivotal role in embracing and endorsing start-ups and entrepreneurs. Chile, for example, has done an excellent job in this regard with their Start-Up Chile operation.

In short, this is the first time in our history that our growth rates are stable and our growth is sustainable. It is a pivotal turning point for all of us!

TNW: Access to education is still an issue across the region. Can you explain how Fundación Cisneros is tackling this problem?

 Adriana Cisneros talks 21212, mentorship, Latin America and education [Interview]AC: For over 20 years, my family has been working on solutions to bring better access to education in Latin America. For the past nine years, the Fundación Cisneros has utilized digital technologies for the advancement of education in Latin America by providing teacher training to educators via the web in its program AME (Actualización de Maestros en Educación).

To date more than 1,500 schools have participated in this program, and more than 13,000 teachers have completed the courses successfully. With the emergence of new technologies and the proliferation of mobile first tendencies we are re-evaluating what it means to digital now and how we will adapt ourselves to be able to expand our reach in the region. Udacity, Coursera and The Minerva Project are all great examples of how new technologies can and will change the landscape of education in the future.

Image credit: Camila Balthazar