Gearing up with Julián a bicycle mechanic with an ambitious vision

How edtech helps entrepreneurs in Latin America learn the skills they need to grow their businesses

Authors: Santiago Mora and Maria Belen Garrett

On a typical Sunday, thousands of bicyclists take to the streets of Bogotá for La Ciclovía, the world’s first “open streets” event. Bicyclists, runners, skaters, and pedestrians have free access to 75 miles of city streets, and they spend the morning exercising and visiting vendors selling snacks and drinks along the route. The 50-year-old event is the most visible demonstration of a growing trend towards bicycling for transportation, fun, and exercise across Colombia. Who keeps these bikes in working order? 

Julián is a bicyclist, self-taught bike mechanic, and seasoned entrepreneur with a small storefront in the capital city. While running an “empanada” shop, he noticed more and more people taking to two wheels.

“Right now, we are experiencing a shift in habits around mobility, caring for the environment, caring for health, caring for the mind. So, the bicycle has had an impressive boom here in Bogotá,” he says. In particular, he noted an increasing number of delivery people traveling by bicycles — and that their bikes were often in need of repair.

He transitioned his storefront to a workshop to serve them. And over time, he shifted from attracting individual riders to a new strategy of partnering with businesses to provide maintenance and safety training to groups of employees. It’s efficient, scalable, and innovative for a bicycle mechanic. Achieving Julián’s vision requires a new way of thinking about the business, and new tactics to bring those ideas to life.

Julián uses the education platform Ovante to gain the financial, digital, and business skills he needs to expand his shop. Ovante is an Edtech platform founded by Accion and supported by FedEx. It offers ten programs that microentrepreneurs like Julián can use to build their skills and grow their businesses. Julián has completed four Ovante courses so far, mostly about marketing and budgeting. This knowledge has enabled him to turn his passion into a successful business.

Edtech creates well-rounded entrepreneurs

Julián has great technical skills as a bicycle mechanic. But he knew from his experience in the “empanada” shop that he needed to learn a broader set of skills to succeed as an entrepreneur. 

“The truth is, I don't know how to develop myself more personally to be able to provide greater leadership,” he says. “I would like to first train myself to do things to be able to offer to other people. And I would like to get a lot of training in communication because digital marketing is the future.” In addition to marketing, Julián needed support to improve his financial and budget management and understand what kinds of responsible financial services could benefit his business.

Julián is far from alone. Colombia is a hub for entrepreneurship in Latin America, which is itself a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, more than one in four Colombian adults was starting or running a new business in 2022. To date, Ovante has reached over 40,000 microentrepreneurs in Colombia, helping owners of both new and existing small businesses gain the skills they need to strengthen their businesses.

Putting new skills into practice

Ovante focuses on capacity building via a behavior change approach, using a gamified format incentivizing users to put the skills they learn into practice.

Through Ovante, Julián learned to organize his finances, which helped him understand what his business needs and how to access responsible financial services. He still uses the templates provided in the platform to budget. And he recalls proudly when he qualified for a loan from a financial institution instead of informal, more predatory arrangements from local loan sharks. Good financial management can bring small enterprises like his into the formal financial system, helping them qualify for responsible financial services that will help them grow.

Julián has also used the skills he learned through Ovante to become active in online marketplaces and built his own website. He primarily promotes his business via social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. “I am very focused on social networks and in everything digital,” he says. He learned some of these digital marketing skills through Ovante, and expanded on them by taking free marketing management courses offered by the Colombian government. 

Julián is happy with his experience with Ovante. In fact, he is keen to take more advanced courses and continue learning. Like bicycle culture in Bogotá, Julián’s business is thriving. He works with his wife and two employees and has three partnerships with bike-based or bike-friendly businesses around the city. He hopes to increase this number to 10. He sees bicycles as good for traffic, pollution, health, and stress reduction, and wants to reach more people.

“I’m very focused on solutions in alternative transportation, with bicycle solutions being my niche,” he says.

“It’s a good niche,” he adds.

Read more about how we’re using edtech to help ambitious entrepreneurs build the skills they need to expand their businesses.