In 2013, half of the world’s entrepreneurs were between 25 and 44 years old. That trend continues today, as the 25-44 age group has the highest participation rate in entrepreneurship worldwide.
The problem is that the business world isn’t as accommodating to these young entrepreneurs as these numbers suggest it would be. Young people are often excluded from institutionalized financial services, yet the economies of many of these nations make entrepreneurship a necessity -- the financial reality is that other jobs simply aren’t available.
In Latin America, in particular, 40 percent of young people want to launch startups. And in this region, about two-thirds of them seek entrepreneurship because of opportunity, not necessity. These stats underscore the need for organizations like the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI).
This government-sponsored organization paired with Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a global network for entrepreneurs, to “address the opportunity gap for youth” in the Latin American region. Their initiative included offering training and workshops, building connections, and creating mentorship pairings in an effort to give fledgling entrepreneurs in the region a leg up.
Meeting Them Where They Are Now.
YLAI and EO gathered 250 young entrepreneurs from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America. The effort was viewed as a win-win: Young entrepreneurs were able to gain access to resources they wouldn’t have otherwise, and established businesspeople were helping to drive the next generation of startups to strengthen the global ecosystem.
“This partnership brought access to an incredible pool of young entrepreneurs who have the mindset, motivation, and values shared by members of EO,” said EO Guatemala’s Enrique Montano, EO’s ambassador to YLAI. “It’s an opportunity for our members to reach out a hand and help the next generation of business leaders succeed. Our members deeply believe that supporting early-stage entrepreneurship is critical to elevating the standing of the entire region in the world economy.”
This gathering brought together both those who were starting from scratch and those who had already achieved business success. Entrepreneur Roberto Haeussler from Guatemala attended because he faced challenges growing his poultry business while providing employment to men overcoming alcohol addiction. His efforts, aimed at providing jobs and addressing alcoholism in the area, were hampered by financial access. With more capital, he would purchase a mill for feed for his chickens and surrounding farms, which would create a second stream of revenue.
Without additional capital, he was forced to purchase feed at a higher price; he sought other means of boosting productivity. “YLAI taught me the importance of focusing on my people, not just the business,” he said. “Now I take the time to get to know everyone better and understand what drives them, and productivity is up.”
Moving These Startups Forward.
YLAI and EO aimed to provide personalized training for each entrepreneur in attendance while providing large group forums -- what plagues or fuels growth in one startup likely affects another. The organizations held a Forum training, led by EO Global Chair Brian Brault. Brault instructed the group on using specific communication techniques to lead more effective meetings. That was followed by mentorship conversations with EO members in correlating industries.
This resulted in hundreds of hours’ worth of customized feedback. “Katty Douraghy [an EO LA member] gave me valuable insights about our company’s mission and helped me to shape it better,” explained Brazil’s Luize Araújo, co-founder of Coletivo Motora, a graphic design company aiming to empower women and give them increased visibility. “She helped me to find the best ways to communicate our core values, and we are already seeing the difference.”
Nearly a dozen EO chapters also hosted YLAI attendees in their cities for networking events, which fit with one of the key lessons of the initiative: Building relationships is key to getting things done. St. Lucia’s Michelle Samuel, founder of Sludtera, an organization working to reduce unemployment through training and entrepreneurship, says, “At YLAI I learned that building relationships and connections are actually more valuable than winning money or writing grants.”
The lessons at these networking events were given both ways: “I am glad that EO Charlotte connected with YLAI fellows in our city because it showed that entrepreneurship lives in any part of the world,” said EO Charlotte board member Reinhard von Hennigs. “We had an experience-share session and I found it amazing how similar experiences are in other parts of the world and how lessons from the U.S. or from Latin America could be translated.”
What Comes Next?
YLAI and EO weren’t naïve enough to think that simply hosting a large event and creating connections was enough to change these young startups’ chances of success. But the organizations realized that there was no chance of success if a strong foundation wasn’t created to help these budding startup leaders establish their companies.
“Before engaging in the program, I was a person with lots of dreams about the future I wanted to live in, but really insecure about the path to get there,” Araújo said. “During my time with YLAI, I validated our business model and methodology, matured our mission, vision, and values and reflected on our business culture. YLAI has provided me not only a map but tons of amazing people that I can count on whenever I stumble.”
What About Resources?
Providing resources, including mentors and connections, is one way these organizations will stay in touch with these startups and continue to gauge and assist their progress. Another way is by attracting other businesses and organizations to the opportunities provided to both startups and organizations when they come together.
With half of global entrepreneurship coming from young people, organizations would be smart to make a similar investment. Those who support, challenge, and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurship are the ones who stand to benefit from it as well.