October 14, 2013
Ricardo Geromel FORBES Contributor
Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs was definitively a genius. Jobs would most likely not have turned into the legend that has inspired a generation if he had not spent so much time in California. The ecosystem in Silicon Valley includes some key factors — including a pool of money that is willing to take risks, a culture that welcomes failure while also attractings entrepreneurs and innovators from all over the world, top universities, and little bureaucracy to open new businesses.
Brazil definitely does not have any place similar to the Silicon Valley and many argue that Santiago, Chile’s capital, is by far Latin American city that pushes entrepreneurship the most. On the other hand, a MIT study indicates that Brazil’s venture capital is “nascent and rapidly evolving” and the IESE ranked Brazil’s VC ecosystem as 36th out of 161 countries. Furthermore, Brazil is not the most welcoming country to foreigners, who represent only 0,2% of Brazil’s population, according to BBC. By comparison, immigrants make 3% of total population worldwide and 1,5% of Latin America. According to Manpower Group Talent Shortage Survey that surveyed over 38,000 employers, Japan is the only country in the world where it is harder to effectively fill a position than Brazil. Finally, The Economist has recently put Brazil on its cover page and affirms that Brazil’s red tape is one of the main factors behind the country’s stagnation.
Despite all of this, Brazil’s richest man, Jorge Paulo Lemann, worth $17.8 billion, together with his longtime billionaire partners and fellow billionaires Marcel Herrmann Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira are making investments to find and foster young talent in Brazil.
Instead of focusing on changing the ecosystem in order to help innovators prosper, the trio believes that by giving young talents the tools they need to succeed, the rest will follow. Their main goal is to accelerate these high potentials instead of changing the ecosystem directly, which would necessarily involve larger investments and closer ties with the government. They channel their way of paying it forward mainly through Foundation Estudar, founded in 1991, which aims to create a network of Brazilian leaders by providing scholarships for young talents to study in top universities worldwide and link them to a pool of mentors and world class talents. In 2012, 6959 people applied for a scholarship and 29 were selected to pursue degrees in universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, King’s College London and others.
A few examples of people who were selected as fellows of Fundação Estudar:
Roger Koppel – Entrepeneur at Ugreen
Roger Koeppl, 25, founded Ugreen with the ambitious goal of disrupting Brazil’s recycling industry. He affirms that more than $3,5 billion is wasted in Brazil with products that could “simply be recycled.” Ugreen works as a cooperative where everyone is an owner and its first project has already been signed with Cushman & Wakefield.
Roger told me that Fundação Estudar focuses on supporting the right people, whatever their projects may be. “Even people who do not have a defined project can be chosen to become part of it.” Koeppl secured funds to attend any courses at any school in the world. He spent a third of it to complete an entrepreneurship summer course at Babson College. “I want to spend the rest of the scholarship in Africa or in India. It is weird to study social business in Boston. Once you leave the classroom, everything works. I believe that in a developing country, I will get hands-on real experience that I will be able to apply and perfect in Brazil.”
Wildiner Estainer Batista – Engineer Student at Unicamp
Wildiner grew up in a tiny city with 3,000 habitants where he worked as a coffee bean picker during his childhood and as a construction worker when he was a teen. He managed to get the 18th best grade in the competitive exam to enroll in Unicamp, one of Brazil’s leading universities, to study engineering. His goal is to get accepted to enroll in Stanford University as an exchange student.
Gabriel Benarrós – Founder of Ingresse
Gabriel received a scholarship from Fundacao Estudar to attend Stanford University and went back to Brazil to found Ingresse, Brazil’s largest platform that promotes and sells tickets to shows and events.
João Castro Neves – Zone President of AMBEV Latin America North
Sponsored by Fundacao Estudar, Neves got his MBA at the University of Illinois and since 2009 has been the zone President of AMBEV, one of the world’s top five consumer products companies with approximately 150,000 employees based in 24 countries worldwide.
Other initiatives supported by the three musketeers are Foundation Brava, founded by Sicupira in 2000, Foundation Ismart, founded by Telles in 1999, and Foundation Lemman, founded in 2002.
There is little doubt that some of the talents accelerated by these foundations will become real change-makers. However, a lot needs to be changed before someone can claim that Brazil has real odds of becoming home to the next Jobs or Zuckerberg. In FORBES last World’s Billionaires List there were 46 Brazilian billionaires. The only one who made the bulk of his fortunes with technology was Eduardo Saverin, who became a billionaire thanks to Facebook but, as you know, the creation of Facebook had nothing to do with Brazil. By comparison, from top 25 richest worldwide, 20% come from the tech sector: Bill Gates, who is the second richest man in the world, Larry Ellison from Oracle, Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com, Larry Page and Sergei Brin Google co-founders.
As Vivek Wadhwa of the Washington Post goes “My prediction is that, by the end of this decade, we will see some Mark Zuckerbergs emerging from the slums of Sao Paulo…” It reinforces the idea that Brazil still is considered to be “the country of the future” as Stefan Zweig first called the nation in 1941. Unless structural change takes place, Brazil will, as the joke goes, always be the country of the future.