Over the last few years I have developed a passion for not only traditional entrepreneurship, but also social entrepreneurship. The concept of using entrepreneurship as a means of resolving a prominent social or environmental issue is something that has always been on my radar. In Brazil, a country with over 200 million people and various social issues, I knew that I would have an opportunity to dive deeper into social entrepreneurship and learn about how it relates to crowdfunding.
At this point, almost everyone is familiar with Kiva and the system of microcredit that entrepreneurs in low-income communities can utilize to start local businesses. In Brazil, however, Kiva has not been able to launch due to various regulations. But there is a host of very innovative and entrepreneurial organizations in Brazil that are leading the charge to help the country become a leader in social entrepreneurship and social business.
One such organization is Alianca Empreendedora, an organization dedicated to catalysing and supporting entrepreneurs in low-income communities here in Brazil. Alianca has a team of over 50 people and works with various different communities, partners and businesses to help these entrepreneurs get off the ground. One such initiative that was launched in recent years was the Impulso platform, which works in a similar fashion to Kiva, to allow Brazilian entrepreneurs to receive microcredit. Up until very recently, it was very difficult for these entrepreneurs to get their hands on microcredit through the banks.
Yesterday, I got up bright and early to meet with Alianca’s Marketing team down at their office in Curitiba. I was told that I would have the opportunity to tag along with the group to meet one or two entrepreneurs who received financing through the Impulso portal. So at 7 am, Impulso’s Director of Marketing , Luisa, an Intern from Colombia, Felipe, and I set out for a town on the outskirts of Curitiba to meet some of Brazil’s up and coming entrepreneurs.
Felipe, myself, and Luisa
The first place we stopped was at a granola assembly plant where Adilson, an entrepreneur who recently received financing through the Impulso platform, is hard at work creating a tasty line of granola bars and cereals. Adilson, works with his wife (pictured below) and a team of other people in a small factory where they handmake each batch of artesenal bars and cereals. All natural, no preservatives, no sugar and loaded with good stuff, Adilson and his team are building a Brazilian brand of granola that would more than satisfy the tastebuds of anyone with a soft spot for a good granola bar (I put myself in that camp). 🙂
Adilson, explaining the granola process
Since receiving the microcredit to buy supplies, Adilson and his team have been hard at work to get their granola out to several retailers throughout the Curitiba area. Now they have their eyes set on expansion into the Rio and Sao Paulo markets.
Yesterday, I also had a chance to meet with Helena, another entrepreneur who received microcredit through the Impulso platform, in her home in a town just outside of Curitiba. Helena makes a beautiful line of handmade bags and other artsenal crafts. During my visit, I had a chance to see her products and hear her story, which demonstrated to me the importance of initiatives like Impulso.
Helena and I, in her house
After an amazing day, me and the Impulso crew returned to the Alianca office, which is in an old, super-cool house right in the centre of the city. There, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with the President of Alianca, Lina Useche, and expand more on themes related to youth entrepreneurship, microcredit and crowdfunding.
This is Alianca’s office … I want an office like this 🙂
During the course of our conversation, we talked about the potential that the crowdfunding model brings to a microcredit to a platform like Impulso. Everyone agreed that the model has a lot of potential to help an organization like Alianca increase its ability to help entrepreneurs in low-income communities get access to badly-needed capital. Through my conversation with Lina it became apparent to me that the potential amongst Brazil’s youth to create a whole new wave of both social and traditional entrepreneurship is huge!
After an unbelievably fun day yesterday with Alianca, today I had an opportunity to learn about another phenomenal social initiative, called Solidarium, through my meeting with the company’s CEO, Tiago Dalvi. Solidarium, which was spun out from Alianca a few years back, acts as a bridge between Brazil’s low-income artisans (there are 8 million artisans in Brazil, 2 million who live on less than $2.00 per day) and the (soon to be) global marketplace. Solidarium started off as an intermediary to help these artisans sell their products to the Brazilian marketplace through various big-name retailers (ex. Wal Mart). The company has since evolved its business model to allow Brazilians to buy products directly from the artisans through their online portal. Starting in April, anyone from around the world will be able to buy artesanal crafts from Brazil through the Solidarium portal! Get that credit card ready 🙂
Solidarium was one of 26 Unreasonable Fellows at last years Unreasonable Institue in Boulder, Colorado (click here to learn more about the Unreasonable Institute). Tiago successfully pitched the company (his pitch is embedded above) to a host of investors during the finale of the Unreasonable Institute and is now ready to take the company to the next level. Solidarium was named Brazil’s most innovative social business by a prominent Brazilian magazine in 2011, but 2012 has the potential to be an even more exciting year for the company.
Me and the Solidarium crew!
All in all, it was an absolutely phenomenal last couple of days for me here in Curitiba. I can now see that there is a strong application between social initiatives like Impulso and Soldarium, and crowdfunding. At the end of the day, any initiative to help entrepreneurs in any community get access to the capital they need is a good one, and I think that crowdfunding will be a prominent piece in the social-entrepreneurship/social-business ecosystem in the not-so-distant future.
And that’s my time in Curitiba. Next stop Sao Paulo.