Mexican, immigrant: Innovating beyond walls

Hassan Uriostegui @ Silicon Beach.

Being an immigrant with no title of formal education and closing a $5M series A for your startup is not an easy take. Building a team to create a revolutionary product that may enhance millions of peoples life is even harder.

But the road to get there and what makes you stay on that path is what really makes you wonder…

I am Hassan Uriostegui, from Mexico City; found my passion for Computer Science & Arts when I was 11 years old and eventually turned into a self-taught entrepreneur and inventor.

My grand-grand parents escaped from Lebanon and Europe during the second world war and found refugee in Mexico.

Eventually we also had to leave Mexico due to the side effects of a silent war nobody wants to name but that is effectively killing and destroying families as you read. A conflict nobody wants to admit because would convert the vast majority from the millions of undocumented and documented immigrants in what we really are: refugees searching for a second chance of peaceful and meaningful life.

I believe we can make an example of this story as a showcase of the many things that need a fix, from education to immigration, problems that are blocking our brightest and youngest minds, those who are the real future of our globalized world.

Nobody said it was easy…

Let’s go back thirteen years in time to Mexico City 2004. My mentors (Juan Pinacho, senior partner at Deloitte Consulting and Victor del Rosal, senior advisor from The Prince’s Trust UK) recommended me to visit a couple of great business accelerators in the US to continue growing my recently founded startup.

But in an unexpected turn of life, my business visa was rejected.

Although the visit was just to evaluate opportunities I felt my dreams were melting down — I was just a teenager with a very bad luck streak.

Adding to it, my partner’s mother had recently passed away and it had destroyed him. He was a nineteen years old industrial design genius, that has just loose his mother and biggest supporter… so we all understood when he left the company.

But he wasn’t always that way. Two years before we had joined the first technology based incubator in Mexico and it wasn’t any easy to get in. With 17 and 16 years old, we were the youngest participants among a culprit of engineers, scientists and thirty plus “grown ups”, so we had to put a lot of work in our bussines plan to be approved.

Young kids build the future

2004. Genius Kids Building The Future

Once enrolled, in a very short time our “Hypermedia Design Studio” turned into the most innovative and attractive project and in 2003 won a first of its kind national challenge to access financing and free mentoring from Deloitte.

At that time the internet penetration in Mexico was just picking up. It was still a novelty and the speeds were really slow. Thus it made sense that magazines gave away CDs with free version of software, music and videos instead of having them online.

So we came with this technology called the Compact Disc Paper (CDP) a software/hardware innovation allowing any compact disc to “reproduce hypermedia content on any device”, and more over, a services model to “bring magazines to the digital revolution”.

Hypermedia before the internet

This idea of “hypermedia magazines” would make more sense thirteen years later – as we can see on the snapchat discover product and its more than 100 million users –.

Even at that time, we felt CDs were an obsolete technology and envisioned the possibility of a device such as the iPhone: a handheld device to be “all the devices in one”. But such product was a pretty long shot for our environment and we have to content with the idea of augmenting the CD capabilities.

Get ready for some retro specs: the customized CD-room would automatically select the best content for your player: audio for your car, video for your TV and in your computer you would see a rich interactive experience where the “magazine content will come to life”.

— Honestly it was pretty amazing to see those articles coming to life for the first time ever — .

Lucky strikes

We already had the biggest independent magazines publisher as a customer for our web design services and we had built many CDP prototypes for their top media properties: the editorial manager, Verena Bormann, was a visionary leader on charge of this properties and she saw in us something worth to try.

The newspapers and radio journalist were very interested in our story. We got enough coverage that we had to ask our mentors to stop it as it was distracting us too much from our daily work — and the whole deal was an emotional rollercoaster hard to endure for our teenager minds.

Eventually we started running out of money. We used the credit line to build our MVP and the next logical step was to go to Silicon Valley and enroll in an accelerator program.

Kids got no biz

So fast forward to 2004 and I was there in front of the US consul: many newspaper in my hands with the “genius kids” title on them, recommendation letters from top entrepreneurs, bank statements from the company and all the incorporation documents in place. And specially: the dream to innovate beyond our countries’ limitations…

Nothing of it mattered. The visa was rejected and the actual reason would remain uncertain forever. I have come to believe that the officer saw much of a fairy tale in my evidence and just couldn’t believe it was real.

We were ahead of our time: for our environment and our reality.

No matter the good intentions from my mentors I was crushed and falling.

In that failed venture I had lost my partner and best friend, the government was menacing with taking my parents home (that was the collateral for the credit line) and my health was a total mess as a result of the stress and work abuse.

And no matter all the sacrifices and risks taken the visa rejection felt like the final nail in the coffin.

Eventually I collapsed in a panic attack; My parents and specially my grandfather, Marcos Uriostegui (a prominent economist that once advised in the closest circles to the now billionaire Carlos Slim ) helped me out of the mess. Without their intervention it’s uncertain if these words would be here.

And just to see the whole picture: Mexico’s ecosystem (at that time) had a total lack of venture capital investments in technology and building an MVP having as collateral the families’ home was the only way to go.

So the whole failure was pretty hard to swallow for us – as it could be to any other middle class family – .

Part two of three. Continue reading here:

Dealing with a broken world requires magic

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