Entrepreneurs In Paradise

Entrepreneurs In Paradise

Seated around the table in the Casco Viejo jazz joint, we were:

A young woman who has just launched her own events firm. Want to throw a party…plan a reception…put on a conference…in Panama? Stephanie’s standing by to help.

To her left, another young woman who has this summer gone into business for herself. She handed in notice at the real estate agency where she’d been working for more than six years…and struck out on her own. Kathia knows the Panama City property market as well as anyone you’re going to meet. She has a solid reputation and a long client list. Why not put her experience and expertise to work for herself?

To my right, a friend who has been running his own reforestation investment company in this country for 15 years. Today, Robert’s United Nature, one of the most respected reforestation outfits in Panama, is making a name for itself worldwide.

Across the table, Lief, one year into his efforts, with partner-friends, as an independent developer.

And me. Building a publishing business from an apartment in Paitilla.

Caution that, realistically speaking, you’re not going to get a job overseas.

But that is not to say you can’t earn a living…and maybe make more money than you ever did 9-to-5’ing it back home.

Plus, who wouldn’t want to work for him- (or her-) self, rather than someone else, if given the chance?

Here’s the chance. Right now, right here in Panama, a would-be entrepreneur with an idea can parlay any real-world experience into a profitable new life.

You don’t need much capital. Stephanie, for example, sees the expanding local events market, has experience with an international firm organizing and hosting conferences, and, as she explained the other night in Casco Viejo, is “young and enthusiastic.”

“I don’t have a lot of money,” she explained, “but I understand this business. And if I don’t take the chance now…when will I?”

Stephanie’s operation is low-overhead but professional. After only a few weeks, she’s got three gigs lined up.

Robert’s operation, on the other hand, is mature and thriving. But I’ve known him since he started out. United Nature wasn’t always as big and as impressive as it is today, of course. But Robert has paid his dues and now is reaping the rewards of being in the right place at the right time.

Lief targeted Panama two years ago. When the people of this country voted to ok the plan for the expansion of the Panama Canal, the writing was on the wall. Lief recognized that, with the investment in a bigger canal, this country was guaranteeing itself a decade at least of solid growth. As he explains, “Panama is a market with legs…solid fundamentals that should carry it onward and upward, U.S. market woes and the ups and downs of other markets in the region notwithstanding.”

Lief began scouting shortly after the Yes vote for the Canal Referendum. He spent 12 months bumping along the dirt roads and hiking up and down the beaches and hills of the region of the country he identified as most directly positioned in this country’s big-picture path of progress. He partnered with one friend…then another…and today, the three developer-friends own more than 500 acres on the beautiful west coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula. They’re meeting with surveyors and architects, land planners and engineers, moving quickly toward launch…and having the time of their lives.

Does the idea of buying 500 acres of coastline in a foreign country seem a little…big?

Here’s a smaller but no less interesting and viable one: Launch an import/export website.

That’s what Jackson, our 8-year-old son, is doing. Here in Panama he’s noticed interesting jewelry, baskets, and other handicrafts that you don’t see other places.

“If I bought some, could I sell them on the Internet?” he asked.

“Yes, in fact, I bet you could,” replied his father.

Lief has purchased the domain name for Trader Jack’s Bazaar. A friend is helping to build the website. I’ve promised to write ad copy. Jack’s sister, Kaitlin, in college in the States, has offered to help with fulfillment (we’ll drop-ship in bulk to her in Annapolis…then she’ll wrap and pack each item in an envelope and send off to the buyer via the U.S. mail). Panama friends are helping to source products.

After visiting his tree plantation in the Darien last week, for example, Robert returned to Panama City with a dozen necklaces, some with seeds and nuts from the rain forest, others with spines, bones, and teeth from the local river fish…plus colorful beads and, in the center of one, a small tusk. Unique and interesting, these necklaces were made by young Kuna Indian girls from the village of Mandugandi. I don’t want to give away Jack’s cost basis, but we figure that he ought to be able to sell them online for as much as four times what Robert paid (and they’ll still be a great bargain for the buyer).

Kathleen Peddicord