Endeavor – Promoting Entrepreneurship in Middle-Income Nations

March 23, 2009 · Print This Article

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A Non-Profit Profile By Humanity Campaign Writer Ebs Sutton–

Recently, a non-profit organization by the name of Endeavor was profiled in the July issue of The Economist, in an article which gave rave reviews of the group’s commitment to providing not just access to opportunity, but access to the mentoring and investment which turns opportunity into actuality.

When it comes to promoting entrepreneurialism in developing nations, Endeavor believes that a significant part of the problem is not just a lack of access to entrepreneurial possibilities, but a lack of access to the modeling and mentorship which are available in places like the United States. Endeavor seeks to address this need by using successful high-impact entrepreneurs in developing nations to select and mentor budding entrepreneurs in developing nations.

The Purpose of Endeavor

Endeavor is a non-profit organization whose vision is to change communities and countries by promoting entrepreneurship where it is needed most. Using their internal Search and Selection teams as well as panels of successful entrepreneurs from across the globe, candidates for the Endeavor program undergo a rigorous selection process which can take up to 18 months. Endeavor uses six main criteria to evaluate candidates:

  • Entrepreneurial Initiative
  • Business innovation
  • Value and Ethics
  • Role Model Potential
  • Development Impact
  • Fit with Endeavor

Additionally, through the course of this process, each entrepreneur is given valuable feedback and advice, whether or not they are selected. Once entrepreneurs are selected according to the criteria, they are set up with mentors and access to support and advice. Endeavor matches the entrepreneur with selected mentors who can help him or her with specific challenges faced. Some Endeavor Entrepreneurs can have over a dozen mentors.

Interview with Elmira Bayrasli

I had a chance to interview Elmira Bayrasli of Endeavor’s Outreach Team via email. She described the Endeavor process this way:

Generally Endeavor looks for high-impact entrepreneurs who are leading companies that are generating between 500K to 20 million in revenues; and entrepreneurs who have role model potential – who will give back to their emerging market communities and not only inspire, but lead, mentor and support aspiring entrepreneurs. Endeavor Entrepreneurs generally are those who have a business that has great high-impact potential to go to scale – to create jobs, generate revenues and investment opportunities.

The Process

Here is an image showing their selection process from their 2007 annual report:


Many selected entrepreneurs go on to become mentors themselves. Some serve as panelists or as members of local boards of directors.

Before this process even begins, Bayrasli says, Endeavor does its homework:

“Before Endeavor starts to identify and support high-impact entrepreneurs, we spend quite a bit of time building local operations. Endeavor will only launch its ‘mentor capitalist’ model for high-impact entrepreneurship in countries where there is actively backing and engagement from leading business talent and recognized leaders. These individuals form the basis for Endeavor’s local board of directors.”

Here is a graphic that shows the Endeavor “idea to impact” process:


Examples of Success

This year Wences Casares became the first Endeavor Entrepreneur to join Endeavor’s Global Board of Directors. An Argentinean entrepreneur, Casares founded Patagon, an Argentinean online brokerage; Wanako Games, a developer of video games fueled by Latin American creativity; and Lemon Bank, a Brazillian bank designed to help the poor.

Of the roughly ten Endeavor Entrepreneurs profiled on the Entrepreneur website, one in particular stood out to me. Natallie Killasy began a company called Stitch Wise which sews mine safety gear in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. After realizing how many miners were seriously and permanently injured in mining accidents, she customized sewing machines to provide work for disabled miners. The products started as protective rainwear and eventually moved into safety equipment to prevent underground collapses. According to the Endeavor website, “these products are now industry standard and are critical to the industry.”

Some Reader Criticisms

Five out of the eight responses to the article posted on The Economist expressed concern. One concern is that Endeavor is addressing the wrong issues when it comes to entrepreneurialism in developing nations. It is stated main challenges faced are not a lack of well thought out ideas or good business strategy but rather the bureaucracy, corruption, unreliable infrastructure and poor access to loans which plague most emerging economies. Another concern is the Endeavor selection process and its rigorous search for entrepreneurs already brimming with potential. The term “picking winners” appeared twice in reader feedback, seeming to imply that Endeavor has an ulterior selfish motive. If Endeavor strives to “picks winners”, one wonders, are they truly developing an entrepreneurial spirit or just helping an elite few gain their feet?

From my perspective, Endeavor appears to be effectively carrying out its mission and creating lasting positive change in developing nations. Certainly the concerns Economist readers raise regarding the “real” challenges facing entrepreneurs in developing nations are undeniable. I spent 13 years in one of the poorest, most corrupt countries in the world and witnessed the bureaucracy, unreliable infrastructure, and corruption firsthand. However, it takes one look at the Endeavor site to see the statistics supporting their success in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico. Endeavor currently works in 11 countries and hopes to expand its reach to include even more.

Picking Winners

Although it may seem that Endeavor only helps an elite few, “picking winners” could be a necessary part of smart strategy. With all the possible Endeavor Entrepreneurs and limited Endeavor resources, Endeavor has to pick entrepreneurs showing the most likelihood of success. It’s about investing precious time and resources wisely it seems.

At a relatively young 11 years old, Endeavor is a welcome addition to the scene of international sustainable development.This noted, it has so far focused its work in middle-income countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey and not in the most impoverished “developing countries” where arguably they could create more social value. Though certainly not the only organization addressing entrepreneurial needs in developing countries (Technoserve, for example, has a very similar purpose) Endeavor is energetic and effective in fulfilling its purpose.


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