When the nonprofit organization Endeavor Global says they mentor "high-impact" entrepreneurs around the world, they're not kidding.
Take Yossi Hasson, the charismatic founder of one of South Africa's leaders in hosted email and internet security services. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug since he was a child, after a string of clever startups he cofounded SYNAQ in 2004, which delivers enterprise-level applications based on open source software at a significant savings in comparison to Microsoft competitors. The company has earned the #6 spot on the South Africa FastGrowth 100 Index.
Like the other 61 Endeavor-sponsored entrepreneurs attending the first educational program offered by the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED) in August, Hasson is a successful business owner. But there's always room for improvement. "I wanted more of a foundation in how to scale a global business, and tools to minimize mistakes," said the Israeli-born South African, explaining what brought him many miles from his home to the California coastline.
The weeklong program, held at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, drew on the school's world-class business faculty and networks to help Endeavor entrepreneurs like Hasson build growth companies in a competitive global marketplace. Silicon Valley alumni with expertise in operations also returned to Stanford to coach working groups during the program.
Flipping through a binder chock full of scribbled notes, Hasson neatly itemizes the top three themes that made the biggest impression on him at the Stanford program: how to make decisions and lead more effectively, how to benchmark as a means of creating more effective marketing, and how to understand the context of local markets in order to branch out globally more effectively. "I have at least nine new approaches to marketing that we'll be trying," he says enthusiastically.
At the far north of the African continent, Egyptian entrepreneur Amr Shady has also been an early starter, cofounding the company for which he now serves as CEO, T.A. Telecom, at age 23. The enterprise is one of the most profitable, fastest-growing companies in the Middle East and Africa. Managing operations in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Kenya, Shady is a firmly established leader with more than 12 years of executive experience in the telecommunications industry.
"After having spent a week at Stanford, I have a whole new appreciation for the kind of sales strategy we will need," says Shady. "I've already sent the case studies and materials to my people in operations and sales so that we can start developing a new plan."
Gigliola Aycardi Batista, one of the few women attending the program, co-wrote the business plan for an innovative health club enterprise back in 1997. It was an ingenious no-brainer: integrate medicine, health, and fitness for clients on-site. Today, her company, BodyTech, is lifting up the health club standard across Latin America. The organization's 30 gyms in Colombia employ 1,300 people, and the company is expanding throughout Latin America.
Batista says she was attracted to the program because she knew it would expose her to strategic business issues "in a very concentrated and efficient way. One of the critical things I've learned is that the way we're approaching our entry into different countries needs to be modified. We're having more than just 'human resources' issues — we may need to fundamentally change how we operate to be more respectful of cultural differences."
Mauricio Hoyos of Colombia is cofounder and CEO of a financial services company, Conexred, which allows 8 million customers, mostly Colombians, to electronically pay bills for such things as electricity and telephone services, through 47,000 outlets, mostly mom-and-pop stores.
"Our challenge is going from one type of product to a portfolio without losing control of the money," he says. For example, the company now has a contract with the government to deliver monthly stipends to the elderly.
But, like other entrepreneurs in the Stanford program, Hoyos says, he understands the financial aspects of growing his business better than the organizational behavior side. "Most of the teachers here are psychological teachers, and we need help with that. They say, 'Look, you go through a phase of excitement and then you go through a phase when you are stressed, and humans behave better if you do this, and don't do that.'"
Also based in Latin America, Jaime Cater, another serial entrepreneur, has opened more than 30 different companies throughout his lifetime thus far. He was eager for the Stanford teachings to help him with his goal to make his current venture, Health Digital Systems, to be the one that leaves its mark on the Mexican people. The company provides hospitals, clinics and state insurance providers with open-source software to digitize and share records, providing a much-needed technological upgrade for the country's citizens. Since 2009, revenues have jumped more than 1,200%.
"It's a great opportunity to step back and take a look at my business from different perspectives," Cater says about the Stanford program. "I'm bringing home 30 pages of notes and a completely different vision of how to deal with staff and the core talent in my organization. I'm realizing now that it can't just be about 'my way.'"
By Marguerite Rigoglioso and Kathleen O'Toole