Babson Grad Student Means Business for Early-Stage Latin American Entrepreneurs

Luis Buitrago speaks on stage

Luis Buitrago MSEL’22 was 10 years old when he spotted his first business opportunity.

Buitrago’s parents had taken him to a nearby amusement park in his hometown of Cali, Colombia, and he noticed the busy park had only two food carts. Intuitively sensing consumers’ needs and a solution, he discussed a plan with his parents, tapped into his small savings, and purchased a popcorn cart.

“Entrepreneurship has been a lifelong passion for me,” Buitrago said. With help from his parents, he rented a spot in the park, got a permit, purchased supplies, and started selling popcorn on the weekends.

“I’m always looking to spot problems and trying to create business opportunities around them,” Buitrago said. Business was so good that he expanded, hiring his first employee at 10 years old to help him run the cart. Nearly two years into the venture, he sold the business to that employee.

“It was a really cool experience for me, and it taught me so much,” said Buitrago, who is focused on taking advantage of opportunities and squeezing value out of every experience since he started at Babson College. He came to Babson after earning an industrial engineering undergraduate degree in Colombia. “I wanted to learn from the best, and when it comes to entrepreneurship, that’s Babson.”

Forging Ahead

He chose the Master of Science in Management in Entrepreneurial Leadership (MSEL) program because the one-year intensive program focuses on collaboration, experiential learning, and leadership, a key skill Buitrago wanted to expand. “It was the perfect fit for me,” Buitrago said.

The program pushed him out of his comfort zone and made him realize that different perspectives can often improve a project’s final outcome.

Luis Buitrago MSEL’22
Luis Buitrago MSEL’22 embraced the diversity of Babson’s graduate program, including volunteering for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

“It’s not just diversity of culture or nationalities, but diversity in terms of how people approach school or how they approach projects. It was really challenging for me to work in groups with people who were so different from me,” he said. “But, it helped me embrace diversity and realize it can be an advantage.”

Jennifer Tosti-Kharas, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Babson, taught Buitrago in her creative leadership class of 50 MSEL students last fall.

“He’s a star,” Tosti-Kharas said. “He’s a leader in the classroom, he drives the conversation, and is this kind of perfect participator. He’s clearly thinking about and connecting with the material.”

Another eye-opening experience, Buitrago said, was volunteering for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which recently selected Babson as its 2022 Corporate Volunteer of the Year. The organization partners with high schools in the area, asking Babson students to share business advice and provide entrepreneurial guidance with the younger students.

“It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about the reality of these high school students,” Buitrago said. “Being able to talk to them and ask them about their dreams, their plan, and their business ideas was a very rewarding experience.”

Go Bold

Buitrago said he learned another major lesson during his time at Babson—and this one came straight from President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD.

“You’ve got to take the initiative,” Buitrago said. “Babson has a lot of resources, but not all of them are going to come to you.”

Before he came to Babson, Buitrago started a new business seeking to increase the success of early-stage entrepreneurs in Latin America. The company, called El Secreto Para Emprender (ESPE), offers several services to new and more experienced entrepreneurs in Latin America seeking to expand their skills and build their brand.

“My greatest passion is entrepreneurship, and with this company I want to help business owners and entrepreneurs in Latin America create their business and take it to the next level,” Buitrago said.

“My greatest passion is entrepreneurship, and with this company I want to help business owners and entrepreneurs in Latin America create their business and take it to the next level.”
Luis Buitrago MSEL’22, who founded El Secreto Para Emprender

ESPE offers a four-week bootcamp course for early entrepreneurs to learn business basics and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills. More than 300 students have taken that course since the company started in 2020, Buitrago said. ESPE also offers a subscription-based service for more experienced entrepreneurs that connects subscribers with business leaders, monthly thought-leader events and forums where entrepreneurs can connect and problem-solve as they encounter issues with their growing business.

“When I got accepted to Babson, I added President Spinelli to my LinkedIn contacts, and I messaged him saying I’d love to meet with him and tell him about my business. I believe it lines up with Babson’s initiatives,” said Buitrago. “I didn’t expect him to reply.”

He did. And now, Buitrago, who had a promising meeting with Spinelli and other contacts, hopes to continue his work with Babson long after graduation day.

“One of the things I love about Babson is the people. Even though I’ve only been here a year, I’ve met a lot of nice people,” Buitrago said. “Even outside the classroom I’ve made a lot of connections. I’ve made friends that I will keep for the rest of my life.”

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