FUNDES: Connecting artisans and craft merchants to the most appropriate digitization tools

Innovation Fund Winner

Building a comparison marketplace for traditional merchants to find the most appropriate tools and solutions to digitize their business operations


Why this program?

  • 83% of artisans in Mexico want to learn how to use digital channels for their business.
  • As the majority of artisans and craft merchants still operate outside of digital value chains, this solution aims to connect them to digital tools and peer-led training opportunities that support their digital transformation.
  • This solution will address the most pressing business challenges that artisans and craft merchants in the country are experiencing: low digitization levels, low competitiveness, and poor post-pandemic sales performance because of strong reliance on offline channels.

Program overview

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath caused the Latin American economy to shrink by 6.8%, with more than 2.7 million micro- and small enterprises closing in 2021. Most of the impacted small businesses belong to traditional sectors—such as small merchants and artisans—whose business models and operating practices have remained largely unchanged in the last few decades. 

As part of our Strive Community Innovation Fund, we’re working with FUNDES to connect small artisans and craft merchants in Mexico to digital tools and peer-led bite-sized training opportunities that enables them to build digital confidence and find the most appropriate tools and solutions to digitize their businesses.

The 1.5 million artisans and craft merchants in Mexico make up a key sector for the country, but they face unprecedented business issues. FUNDES user research with these artisans found that they are experiencing poor post-pandemic sales performance, low levels of business digitization (for example, just 5% of respondents had a social media presence), and low levels of competitiveness. Mexican artisans are quitting or switching jobs because their craft is not enough to pay the bills nor achieve financial independence. A broad range of digital solutions are available, yet artisans don’t know about all of them. Practical training can bridge this gap for artisans, especially by leveraging their existing social media behavior to offer support on adopting and using digital tools.

FUNDES has developed Pymental, a gamified e-learning platform and comparator tool that connects traditional entrepreneurs in Latin America with the digital economy. It connects small businesses with the most suitable digital solutions available, so they can grow their business using online payments, business management tools, digital marketing, and e-commerce platforms. 

With the support of the Strive Community Innovation Fund, FUNDES is building on its existing Pymental platform to offer a targeted solution to the underserved artisans and craft merchants: a platform connecting artisans to digital tools and peer-led micro training that keeps learning simple and straightforward while identifying solutions best suited to users with limited digital literacy.  

About FUNDES Catalyst

FUNDES Catalyst is the first impact venture studio that aims to go beyond subsistence entrepreneurship in Latin America. Its portfolio of startups focuses on an underserved and vulnerable segment of users: the millions of micro businesses operating in traditional marketplaces and accounting for the majority of jobs in the region - Merchants, Farmers and Tradesmen.

FUNDES Catalyst designs and launches digital solutions and startups that tackle their root business problems (Market Access, Skills, Financial and Digital Exclusion) and unleash their potential to thrive and change society.

FUNDES Catalyst is part of FUNDES, a development organization created in 1984 to address the economic, social and environmental challenges of Latin America with innovation, entrepreneurship and public-private cooperation. 

FUNDES Catalyst

  • Imagines and designs innovative products & services for micro & small businesses 
  • Applies a repeatable & custom incubation process to refine ideas into fundable impact ventures
  • Hires co-founding entrepreneurs to lead the startup and assist with talent acquisition, service design, marketing & growth, product & tech development, and go-to-market strategy. 
  • Leverages venture philanthropy to fund the prototyping and pre-seed stage of development, while generating immediate impact.

In Latin America, the long-term survival of small artisans depends on their ability to adapt and embrace digitization. Digital illiteracy and asymmetry of information impede them from doing so, and very few existing solutions understand how to work with such users. The Strive Community Innovation Fund and FUNDES’s ambition is to overcome these barriers by developing innovative digital solutions that connect artisans to the digital economy.

Corentin Larue

Director, FUNDES Catalyst

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Implementation partners

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