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Business Management

Endeavor Brings Counsel to Startups in LatAm and Beyond

While there are any number of options for Silicon Valley and Californian companies to get the counsel, mentoring, wisdom and ecosystem support of peers, that network is not so widely available outside the protective bubble of the West Coast technology sector. Endeavor is an organisation that aims to address that yawning chasm, providing advice and inspiration to companies all over the world and with a particular focus on Latin America and other fast-growing areas for entrepreneurs and innovators.

The not-for-profit group was founded in 1997 by Americans Linda Rottenberg and Peter Kellner who, literally on a napkin, sketched out the idea of a support network for entrepreneurs in Argentina and Latin America. The formula was later rolled out to South Africa, Turkey and countries across the Middle East and beyond. The principle: wherever you are in the world you should have the opportunity to change your life and the lives of others.

Today, Endeavor is involved in 20 countries and 570 companies, usually at the stage where there is income but the challenge is to glean extra resources to help scale the organisation. That means training, research, access to capital, networking and other ways to extract full value from initiatives to create high-quality jobs and long-term value. Endeavor is not a VC fund although it does invest occasionally in a small number – fewer than two per cent — of cases.

I spoke by phone to Endeavor president Fernando Fabre about the organisation.

“Endeavor was a case of the right place at the right time for me,” he says, having discovered that the infant Amazon.com had raised more revenues than the entire, 20-year-old microfinance industry in Latin America where Mexico-born Fabre previously was employed. “But later, after the dotcom [bust], nobody was supporting innovation.”

Fabre has spent nine years with Endeavor, seeing many companies and tech hubs emerge around the world. Given its roots in the region, Endeavor is particularly strong in LatAm. It has just expanded into Peru, adding to its local roster of affiliates in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay. That experience has convinced him that no formula can be bottled for fostering entrepreneurialism and innovation.

“If you look at the dynamics that made Silicon Valley successful, it wasn’t top-down, it was accidental,” he says. “You can’t explain Google and Apple without what happened in the semiconductor industry.”

Instead, he argues, success begat success with companies like Fairchild and Intel magnetically attracting engineers, risk-takers, venture capital, legal counsel and the other elements that came together to make a former fruit farming region of the US the spiritual home of information technology.

“Those dynamics are now being replicated in Buenos Aires, Bogota and Istanbul,” he says, as clever people congregate and act as catalysts for new, organic ecosystems. “It’s a lot easier to start a company than ever before. Nobody’s going to replicate the scale of success of Silicon Valley in five years or even 100 years, but there’s opportunity everywhere and it’s also happening by accident.”

Fabre sees literally a world of opportunity and points to South Africa, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand as hotspots. It doesn’t stop there either: he can see Endeavor making a mark in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Poland as well as in the US.

“There are US metropolitan areas without strong entrepreneurial ecosystems like Miami and Detroit. Today, people tend to leave and that’s not good for the local area.”

Using technology is the “fastest and probably the only way” to create jobs and wealth on a large scale, he argues, but attempts to create synthetic, localised versions of Silicon Valley are bound to fail.

“You don’t subsidise an entire ecosystem,” he says. “Governments have spent billions of dollars [trying to clone Silicon Valley] and it hasn’t worked. You need to bridge the gap between being a startup and the point where you define success, whether that’s reaching $100 million in revenues, having 1000 employs or whatever. But that second stage… nobody is doing it. That’s why we’re a non-profit because there’s no way to monetise that.”

 

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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