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Friday, July 22, 2011

View from Brazil: Challenges and Opportunities for Accelerating Social Businesses

By Rob Parkinson

Editor's Note: The following post was first published in NextBillion Brasil. The original version, in Portuguese, can be found here

Cooperation with different stakeholders and support for the people behind the businesses. Those were the main recommendations of the 'Challenges and opportunities for accelerators and incubators' panel held on June 29 by Fundación AVINA, Ashoka and the Walmart Institute

The panel began with the presentation of three representative organizations of their corresponding areas: Artemisia, a pioneering organization for social businesses in Brazil; CESAR , an incubator that has already supported the creation of 40 businesses based upon new technologies; and New Ventures Mexico, which offers advisory and access to capital for new businesses who seek to promote social and/or environmental impact. Potencia Ventures' Vivianne Naigeborin, moderated the event, along with an afterward Q&A session for participants in the assembly.

The difficulty to find businesses, along with the diverse strategies used to create a pipeline, was a recurring topic of the discussion. A prominent strategy was the collaboration with other stakeholders in the business entrepreneurs' ecosystem. Renato Kiyama, social business acceleration manager at Artemisia, seeks start-ups in the health, education, housing and financial services sectors. Kiyama mentioned the partnership with ANDE Polo Brazil to carry out meetings between diverse specialists involved with a specific sector. Guilherme Cavalcanti, CEO at CESAR PAR, explained he spends part of his time supporting, as a pipelining strategy, entrepreneurs that are still not in CESAR's network. Vivianne Naigeborin, panel moderator, highlighted New Ventures Mexico's association with stakeholders in all stages of the creation of a business, before and after in the value chain.

Despite only seven years operation, New Ventures Mexico has already become a symbol in its country in that respect. Rodrigo Villar, founder and director, was invited to the panel to share this experience. "Our mission is to help shape businesses that may become examples and inspire more people to become entrepreneurs," he explained. NV Mexico, along with its sister organization in Brazil, carries out an annual contest to identify and support businesses that may potentially become these examples. It created the 'green pages' portal, which includes a business directory, a tool that helps attract businesses to enter the organization's network.

Juliano Seabra, director of Endeavor Brazil, added that the creation of networks of nominators has been the most successful approach used by the organization to seek out interesting businesses.

Another conclusion of the discussion was the importance of the people behind the businesses, as well as the role of accelerators to support them. Kayama explained: "We pay close attention to the teams that are leading these businesses."

"At a very preliminary phase, models aren't usually ready to allow business growth. We help improve the model, which often ends up significantly changing the business. That's why we demand high commitment to social impact, so that this aspect is never abandoned in pursuit of business growth." Cavalcanti mentioned the difficulty of entrepreneurs to approach the media.

"The media is not very interested in this topic in Brazil," he said. "We must offer plenty of support to entrepreneurs when they speak."

He also brought two interesting observations about the profile of entrepreneurs. First of all: "The large majority of our entrepreneurs are men. They tend to favor established models. Women are usually more open to change." Then he added, "When businesses are designed only by engineers, they usually don't work!"

He was joking, of course, but the implications are quite serious. Naigeborin was quick to say: "Brazil is already behind in entrepreneurship of technological businesses. This becomes more evident with businesses who seek social or environmental impact."

Asked Anna Romanelli, member of the Inclusive Markets Team at AVINA: "How can we identify more businesses in other regions of Brazil and in smaller cities?" 

Kiyama suggested collaboration with awards, networks and other existing initiatives, which bear capillarity. He also pointed out that there are interesting cases in which the business itself does not perceive itself as a social business and, thus, it might not seek organizations specialized in supporting that type of business. Cavalcanti added that there are very interesting businesses, which have already shown results and still operate informally. "We may try to help entrepreneurs to formalize these businesses," he suggested.

In this regard, Villar shared an experience in New Ventures Mexico in the support of businesses in several cities at the same time. He explained they had a pilot with a person based on another city, an approach that, in his opinion, has not been very successful due to the difficulties this person was facing to connect to the network in Mexico City. Now, he prefers to be present only in the capital and send people from time to time to other cities, a strategy he considers more effective and less costly.

Still, there are few accelerators in Brazil with experience in social impact or environmental business support. Thus, there is a need for more opportunities like this for pioneering organizations to share their lessons. Along with efforts to mobilize more people to undertake such a business, we can generate even more businesses that are successful in order to impact the lives of more Brazilians.

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  • Managing Partners

    William Davidson Institute
  • Sponsoring Partner

    Citi Foundation
  • Content Partners

    Ashoka
  • Content Partners

    IADB
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