Teaching Future Entrepreneurs in Brazil
FazINOVA is a private business school founded in 2013 by 26-year-old Brazilian entrepreneur Bel Pesce. Ms. Pesce is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, considered the best science university in the US.
Bel is trying to inject Internet energy into the Brazilian economy. FazINOVA (loosely translated as “s/he makes innovation”) was created by Bel as a school to train Brazilians how to start their own businesses.
Many of FazINOVA’s students come from an emergent lower middle class into which millions of poor Brazilians have migrated over the last decade. Brazil’s emerging middle class is eager to tap into the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Thus far, nearly 70,000 students have taken the school’s free online classes. Almost 2,000 others have paid to attend six-month-long courses at FazINOVA’s school in São Paulo.
Only Brazil’s most prestigious universities, those in the federal system, are free, unlike other countries such as Italy and Argentina, which provide a free university education to anyone who finishes high school. Many working class students in Brazil don’t have the skills to pass the rigorous entrance exam for Brazil’s free federal system, nor can they afford to pay for private universities.
Bel Pesce recognized there was a large pool of high school students eager to enter the middle class who needed an alternative form of free education. She saw in today’s Brazil a large potential pool of budding entrepreneurs who don’t quite fit into Brazil’s structured society.
In Silicon Valley, the heart of the technology world in the US, failure is seen as an important part of the learning curve. In Brazil, Bel says, “If you fail, you’re out. We have a huge problem with mindset in Brazil,” she says. “How can you create innovation if you don’t let people take risks? Lots of people worry about the content in our courses,” she says, sizzling with an energy students describe as contagious. “We worry about how we make people feel. If we make people feel empowered, they can do more and more.”
Bel was well known in Brazil even before she founded the school last year. At the age of 17, she persuaded MIT to accept her even though her application was late. She funded her expensive education at MIT by teaching math, building robots, and taking paid internships at Google and Microsoft. Later she worked in Silicon Valley as a product manager at Ooyala, an Internet video company, and then as part of the team that launched the mobile wallet app, Lemon.
Her experiences working for Internet companies in California provided the material for her book, The Girl From The Valley: How Entrepreneurship Can Change Your Life. The amazing success of her book took her by surprise, getting downloaded a million times within months of release. It also sold 53,000 hardcopies and topped Brazil’s bestseller list in 2012.
Bel returned to Brazil from California in 2013 and published two more books, with total downloads of her three books now reaching more than three million. Once Bel realized that Brazilians were passionate about the messages in her books, she decided to open FazINOVA as a way to spread the message of entrepreneurship directly.
After studying at FazINOVA, 44-year-old Ezequiel Borges left his job at a major computer company to launch his own logistics consultancy in Goiânia, a capital city in central Brazil. “I learned to listen more, to be educated, to receive criticism,” he says.
Bel’s timing is perfect for opening a school. Interest in education among the emerging middle class in Brazil is huge. Education is now the 10th-largest sector in the Brazilian economy, generating about U$75 billion annually, U$12.5 billion of that from private institutions like Bel’s.
Bel says Brazil needs to change its long-term attitudes that are holding it back. One of these is a tendency to focus on problems that constrain business — such as labyrinthine bureaucracy and high taxes — rather than solutions.
Bel believes the country is ready for the kinds of changes she advocates, citing as evidence her recent speaking engagement in Campo Grande, a city deep in Brazil’s interior, which was attended by 50 high school students who had travelled about 180 miles on a Friday night to hear her speak. “The kids didn’t blink,” she said. “Brazilians want this.”
Reinaldo Normand, a Silicon Valley-based Brazilian entrepreneur and writer, praises Bel Pesce for encouraging Brazilians to start their own businesses. “She believes in transforming education, which is important to the country, but she has her own way of doing it, with entrepreneurism,” he says.
With Brazil’s economy slowing down and no longer able to simply ride a global commodity boom, this kind of innovative energy may be exactly what the country needs.
[Source: Dom Phillips for the Time magazine website. Edited by CIE]