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Martha Forero is Creating a More Skilled Workforce While Breaking Barriers
Founded in 2013 out of Bogotá, Colombia, UBITS is working to alleviate the critical skill shortage currently facing Latin America, where more than 50% of firms say they cannot find candidates with the precise skills they need to fulfill open roles.
Martha Helena Forero Sepúlveda and Julián Melo, founders of UBITS. Image courtesy of UBITS.
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6 minute read

Martha Forero is limitless.

Everything she has dreamt she has pursued, and her relentlessness led the way to co-founding UBITS, a B2B online learning platform for reskilling employees. Founded in 2013 out of Bogotá, Colombia, the startup is working to alleviate the critical skill shortage currently facing Latin America, where more than 50% of firms say they cannot find candidates with the precise skills they need to fulfill open roles. UBITS has raised more than $32 million and offers more than 750 courses focusing on soft and technical skills that are broadly used by companies across the region.

How UBITS came to be

Forero has an eclectic personality. Her childhood was met with no boundaries when it came to being curious and exploring, traits which are reflected in her character today.

When Forero was just 24 years old she decided she wanted to create an online university. Oblivious to what that actually entailed, she was quickly met with political bureaucracy, governmental barriers and many parties wanting to get a piece of the cake.

Not one to be easily discouraged, Forero pivoted the idea. She recalls meeting Julian Melo, her co-founder, at a bookstore in Bogotá and connecting on a different level. “We connected on LinkedIn and planned to meet for a coffee a couple of weeks later. Even though we had no acquaintances in common, we shared an incredible desire to build and create a company,” Forero told The Org. She also mentions that Melo is “one of those people you meet that help you get closer and closer to your purpose,” and despite being very different they compliment each other well, which has proven very successful in their partnership.

Soon after meeting, they launched the first version of UBITS — the university of bits — that specialized in customized training. Forero recalls that “naming the company and producing the logo was a quick 30 minute meeting.” They’re not ones to get stuck in the little details and to this day, almost ten years later, the company’s name and brand has remained the same.

Forero emphasizes the importance of making the most of every single day. She gets up early, even on weekends, to take full advantage of life. Forero’s hobbies include an orchard in her backyard, which she escapes to during the day to clear her mind, and multiple pastimes such as riding motorcycles, getting certified as a professional trader and most recently flying planes. Forero has spent more than 100 hours as a copilot.

Y Combinator changed everything

Five years after launching the first version of UBITS, the duo evolved the idea into the virtual learning platform it is today. With this new value proposition, they applied to Y Combinator and were accepted to be part of the Summer 2018 batch.

“YC changed everything for us. We arrived as two Colombians wanting to build a company and emerged as two Colombians who wanted to take on the world,” Forero said. The mindset shift, energy and the attitude around everything being possible was literally a game changer. The culture instilled in Forero and Melo of creating, overcoming and constantly building has stayed with them throughout the years and has helped evolve UBITS and grow exponentially.

How UBITS has grown

During the last three years UBITS has grown its offerings from 30 courses to 750 and now works with more than 100,000 students from the region. UBITS has the support of renowned education institutions such as Stanford, Owl Ventures and Coursera and has been included for several years in HolonIQ’s ranking of Edtech companies to watch in the region.

UBITS has presence in ten countries across LatAm and has active partnerships with more than 300 corporate clients, such as Mercado Libre, GM and Yamaha that are looking to effectively reskill and upskill their team members. The professors UBITS employs to deliver the courses have real-life experience in the areas they are teaching and are recognized authors, executives, coaches and consultants from the region.

The comprehensive dashboard UBITS developed allows employers to access key metrics to understand how their team members are learning and monitor their progress. With an 88% course completion rate, UBITS is extremely effective at educating.

In January, Riverwood Capital invested $25 million in a Series B that UBITS will use to expand beyond Latin America, create a catalog of more advanced products and introduce courses in a new language.

It is just the beginning for UBITS.

Being an entrepreneur

Forero has always been one of the few women in tech compared to the number of men. This was true in her specific YC batch, in which she was the only Latin American woman and only 8% of her batch’s founders were women. She attributes this statistic in part to an auto-limiting mindset women tend to have and encourages them to intentionally free themselves of these mental blocks.

Forero admitted, “it hasn’t been easy to be an entrepreneur in a world designed mostly for men.” Women tend to always question themselves and ask, “is this the right time? Should I be focusing on having a family?” Forero’s advice is to “cut the mental noise and learn to evolve. We are not the same person we were at 25 than we are at 35, and this is key in personal growth. Other women have done it before, so surround yourself with them and when you become one of them, support those who are just beginning,” Forero said.

Entrepreneurship is in Forero’s DNA. Her dream is to continue building her company and other companies in the future. Her biggest lesson so far has been “realizing I could create the life I wanted while doing what I wanted and not pleasing everyone.”

“Doing what you want to do and not what you are supposed to do takes time, and is hard” I refuse to live a life of ‘I wish I could haves.’”

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