Last week in Cordoba, Argentina, I had the privilege of
speaking at the 6th Annual Endeavor Entrepreneurship Conference. The event gathered nearly a
thousand people interested in creating or growing their businesses, and some of
Argentina’s most successful next-generation entrepreneurs were on hand to cheer
them on from the stage.
In North America, such an event would be unexceptional. But
in Argentina, every one of these gatherings represents an important step
forward in the maturation of a more diverse, robust and self-sufficient economy
that the entrepreneurs and their allies in academia and the global NGO
community are striving toward.
Argentina is one of the best-resourced countries in Latin
America. The capital, Buenos Aires, physically and culturally resembles the
great cities of Europe. The literacy rate is close to 100%, and the country is
proud of its history of technological innovation dating back to the early years
of the 20th century, when the U.S. and Argentina were roughly
comparable in per-capita GDP and industrial capabilities.
Despite all that, organizations like the Endeavor Foundation and Young Americas Business Trust are
necessary in Argentina and other promising emerging economies because
entrepreneurship requires an ecosystem and social support–and that is only
slowly developing in a culture haunted by a legacy of economic and political
“Some people here still have a negative opinion of business
in general,” said Martín Migoya, CEO of Globant,
one of the most successful Endeavor-backed enterprises. “They think that if
someone is getting ahead, then they must be cheating or doing something wrong.”
In addition, families of young people with the talent and aptitude for
entrepreneurship are rarely encouraging, preferring that their kids take the
safer path of stable employment.
Endeavor is trying to reverse that dynamic by promoting
companies who combine economic success with a commitment to broader social
prosperity. “We are looking for high-impact entrepreneurs with the potential to
become global leaders in their industry and inspire the next generation with
their story,” said Alejandro Mashad, Executive Director of Endeavor Argentina,
when we spoke at his office in Buenos Aires last week. The Endeavor program is
designed to nurture promising businesses and connect them to the resources they
need to move quickly through the “valley of death”–that crucial stage of
scaling up from 50 to more than 250 employees.
Those that survive the arduous selection process to be named
Endeavor Entrepreneurs benefit from mentoring, networking, and the vast
resources of a global organization invested in their success. “We build bridges
and open doors to connect our entrepreneurs with people, know-how and the world”
Entrepreneurship is gaining traction among traditional
educators as well. Professor Silvia S. de Torres Carbonell runs the Center for
Entrepreneurship at the IAE
Business School, one of the most prestigious programs in Latin America. Her
graduate seminar in entrepreneurship teaches an international group of students
the basics of planning, managing, marketing and growing a new business. The day
I visited her class, the students were presenting their business plans in
industries ranging from retail to fashion design to e-business.
“There is incredible interest in this program,” said
Carbonnell. “Young people are increasingly interested in entrepreneurship as a
career, and they are looking for the skills and discipline they need to
Few people had kind words to say about the government, but
did admit that the administration was making the right kinds of public
statements and tentative steps toward promoting entrepreneurship. Still,
concerns about inflation, political interference, and the “inevitable” next
financial crisis keep optimism in check. Bona fide venture capital is starting
to appear, but it is not a game for the faint of heart, because institutional
safeguards and transparency are still weak relative to other markets.
In the meantime, events like the Endeavor Conference serve
an important function. These events are repeated every year in different cities
of the country. They provide the social glue and esprit-de-corps that unites a
community of potential business leaders still struggling to find their voice.
They also provide a great way for those who have succeeded to reinvest their
knowledge and resources to make the ecosystem stronger, perpetuating a cycle
that they hope will continue to lift all of them higher in the global economy.