Technology companies dominate the list of Uruguayan companies and entrepreneurs being supported by Endeavor Uruguay, the local branch of a worldwide non-profit linking entrepreneur to funding and expert advice.
Endeavor’s 11-person Uruguay office has supported over 14,000 Uruguayans through various programs and currently mentors 35 entrepreneurs. It’s tough to get into Endeavor Uruguay’s mentorship program, but once accepted Uruguayan entrepreneurs can get a leg-up on the international connections they crave. That’s important in a country that still lacks the venture capital to help meet its ambitious software export goals.
Endeavor Uruguay interviews about 100 entrepreneurs per year, but few have the mix of high growth potential, extreme dedication, and a thirst to conquer international markets required to become a mentored Endeavor entrepreneur. In fact, Endeavor’s latest annual report shows that out of 6,171 interviews globally during 2010-11 a mere 128 entrepreneurs from 75 different companies were selected.
Board Games to Financial Planning
The organization recently added Daniel Armand-Ugon and Nicolás Batlle, the founders of ConectaGames. The company has launched some 15 Facebook and mobile versions of popular board and card games that draw 3 million users in more than 10 countries, generating 600,000 active users and 25 million page views per month.
While many established gaming companies already digitize their games, “ConectaGames has found a niche market by going country by country and identifying the most culturally popular offerings. In doing so, the company has been able to rely on pre-existing connectivity and interaction amongst people in order to make its games viral,” according to Endeavor.
The 35 Uruguayan Endeavor entrepreneurs and their 20 some odd companies range from tech to retail and professional services. AVIA, founded by a mother and son in 1994, claims to be “the first regional centre of holistic financial planning services in Latin America.” AVIA’s 150 employees support 38,000 independent financial planners and wealth managers in more than 20 countries.
Uruguay’s investment climate, which is focused in Montevideo, is supported by some 39 different organizations.
However, entrepreneurs and officials who recently traveled to Silicon Valley looking for $200 million in venture capital acknowledged that Montevideo’s homegrown Venture Capital (VC) scene is not yet ready to satisfy the Uruguayan tech sector.
“That’s how much the local tech sector needs to rise from its current level of about US$250 million per year in software exports to $1 billion per year by 2020,” said Marcel Mordezki, a PhD and head of the technology business management program at the University ORT who accompanied the entrepreneurs.
Although there is a small contingent of VC funds in Uruguay and regional funds have invested in several Uruguayan companies, many have been successful finding foreign investors.
Endeavor Uruguay connects their entrepreneurs with global mentors. “The idea is that they already want to go international. They have access to people affiliated with Endeavor in other countries and we unite them with mentors from companies like Amazon or Ebay, for example,” said Federica Hampe, head of Marketing and Communications at Endeavor Uruguay.
Uruguay is the 3rd largest software exporter in Latin America behind Brazil and Argentina; on a per-capita basis they are number one according to Pablo Salomon, President of Uruguay’s Chamber of Information Technology (CUTI).
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), “is an annual assessment of the entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes of individuals across a wide range of countries” that is closely watched by Endeavor Uruguay as part of Endeavor’s mission is to strengthen the country’s entrepreneurial culture.
When it comes to “perceived opportunity” in the GEM assessment, Uruguay ranks well below their peers at 52.1 percent; Peru, Chile, and Colombia boast 71.4, 68.2, and 65.0 percent, respectively. On the GEM measure of whether citizens see entrepreneurship as a good career option, Colombia registered 88.6 percent while Chile and Peru came in at 87.4 and 82 percent respectively; meanwhile Uruguay recorded 64.8 percent, a measurement similar to that of Russia.
According to GEM, Uruguayan Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity the share of the 18-64 population who are either a nascent entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business) remained relatively flat from 2006 through 2010. with the index ranging from 11.7 to 12.5, a jump to 16.7 was logged for 2011.