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10 Minutes With Héctor Álvarez

Meet Héctor Álvarez, founder and president of Metco, a natural sweetener company that shows that entrepreneurship is synonymous with innovation.

This article was translated from our Spanish edition. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Héctor Álvarez de la Cadena, founder and president of Metco ( www.metco.com.mx ), is convinced that entrepreneurship is synonymous with innovation. His company, a producer of low-calorie natural sweeteners, was awarded 6th last year. American Express Corporate Card Award for the Most Innovative Company , and with the 1st. place of the National Prize for Food Technological Innovation.

"We invest 5% of our income in research and development", reveals the entrepreneur.

What is Metco's formula for success?

The objectives based on continuous innovation and the people who are part of the company. One of our goals is to register at least one patent per year. Thus we develop a light sugar for children or a low-calorie syrup for the beverage industry. In addition, we will soon enter the bakery with a high-yield sugar.

We cannot stand still: every day we think of new applications for our products. The secret is not to give up and reward the entire company for achievements.

Why bet on human capital?

One can change one machine for another to give it greater industrial efficiency. But creativity, interest and loyalty of a person are not substituted. As a boss, I have never raised my voice, publicly or privately, to any of my employees. A good leader copes with difficult situations without losing his temper. More than subordinates, my employees are my partners. If Metco innovates, it is because they make it possible.

What is the main challenge of an entrepreneur in Mexico?

The lack of economic resources. Knowing how to finance a project and involve people who believe in it is the most laborious. That is why Mexican businessmen have to collaborate with academia, get closer to researchers and learn about what universities are developing in technological matters, to create a synergy capable of promoting the industrialization and commercialization of national innovation.

Is there support to promote academic innovation in the country?

The National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) works with companies to help them develop innovative products, and to patent and commercialize, through the private sector, university projects that would not otherwise reach the market. In addition, the National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt) links researchers with SMEs, discloses and patents unpublished products in the market and even helps develop emerging businesses.

The possibilities of creating these alliances between companies and researchers are there: if you don't know the subject, there will always be a place where you can be oriented. What matters is that one really has the determination to go further, to bet on the technological creators and scientists of the country.

How does the academy-company relationship benefit the entrepreneur?

Getting in touch with the world of science and technology is synonymous with truly embracing the path to innovation. The great ideas of Mexican scientists and researchers should be exploited and developed by Mexicans themselves. This guarantees originality and exclusivity to the offer of national entrepreneurs, which is well needed.

At Metco we can guarantee that the first low calorie sugar is and was ours; the first product for diabetics, we developed it in our laboratory. We are defined by our confidence in the ideas of our scientists, one of the most untapped creative forces in the country. Our duty is to prevent the brain drain. And if we can make a business out of this and benefit hundreds of families, so much the better.

What new opportunities does the Mexican businessman have today?

-Programs such as México Emprende, from the Ministry of Economy, are designed to solve the problems that entrepreneurs have. There are incubators there to develop projects in their legal aspect, in the commercial issue and in the advertising support part. The program is made up of professionals who are experts in their fields. For example, accountants or engineers intervene, each of them advising on the branch they dominate.

How have these supports worked so far?

The institutions support, but the problem is in the assistance of the entrepreneurs to the programs. There is not a good education in entrepreneurship in Mexico, and this is confirmed by the little approach that there is towards this type of initiatives, which offer a lot, but few take. I am part of México Emprende as part of the board of directors of companies, and I have verified that the future Mexican businessman does not look for the programs. And this does not happen only in this case: I am also vice president of the National Chamber of Biotechnology Companies, and the situation of these institutions does not differ much.

How could this problem be overcome?

Today I spend a lot of time in favor of the development of small and medium-sized companies in our country and that is why I know what problems entrepreneurs face. For my part, I have tried to develop strategies to help generate micro-businesses from Metco, to share the platforms we have and create alliances that, in the long run, benefit everyone. That is something that all entrepreneurs must do: help young people to develop ideas from people who need the experience of those who are already part of the market.

The new generations have a lot to offer even if they don't know exactly how. Driving from a consolidated platform is the first step that must be taken for the future.