Xconomist of the Week: Linda Rottenberg on Global Tech Boom

3/22/12Follow @jpruth

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leapfrog some of the incumbent mobile technology platforms and gaming companies found in the United States and Europe. “[High-impact entrepreneurs] see oligopolies being broken up in the shifting economy,” she says. “They like disruption; they like the instability and see this as an opportunity.”

By comparison, Rottenberg says, America’s up-and-comers tend to crave stability and seem more anxious about the ebb and flow of the global economy. She believes it is time to embrace the enthusiasm among high-growth startups in developing countries that’s increasing as the economy evolves. “We need to think like emerging market entrepreneurs these days,” she says.

This is not to say that every startup in a developing country is going to succeed, let alone drive substantial job creation. Some success and failure trends seen in the U.S. still hold true in emerging markets. “Let’s be honest, five percent of entrepreneurs generate 80 to 90 percent of the growth,” Rottenberg says. “It really is the five percent that move the needle.”

She says Endeavor wants to support that group of high achievers, because such success stories are rarely celebrated in emerging markets. Furthermore, while talent, new ideas, and money can be found in emerging markets, there are few local mentors and role models available. Fear of failure also hinders the growth of startups in these countries, as does a common conception that only entrepreneurs from particular families can make the right business connections. “Once you break those cultural obstacles there is huge opportunity to be found,” Rottenberg says.

Regardless of such challenges, Rottenberg says, there is palpable confidence among entrepreneurs in emerging markets. She believes the momentum in these markets has shifted drastically during the fifteen years since Endeavor began. “We [were] trying to take the magic of Silicon Valley, bottle it up, and spread it across the globe,” she says. Endeavor’s entrepreneurs, Rottenberg says, now believe they will be sources of new innovations that U.S. and Western European companies chase.

Endeavor continues to evolve along with the companies and markets it seeks to support. Last year the organization named Fernando Fabre, managing director of Endeavor Mexico, as its president responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations. Rottenberg also says the organization plans bring its programs and services to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Greece. Endeavor wants to expand its programs to 20 countries by 2015.

It has not been easy gaining support for Endeavor’s cause. In 1997 when Rottenberg co-founded Endeavor with Peter Kellner, her venture capitalist friends compared Silicon Valley to Florence, Italy during the Renaissance, and were reluctant to look elsewhere for investment opportunities. “I was a crazy girl,” she says. “Emerging market entrepreneur seemed to be an oxymoron to most people.”

By 2003 perceptions changed about overseas opportunities and innovation, particularly in India and China she says. These days Rottenberg wants to introduce investors to entrepreneurs building high-growth companies in South Africa, Turkey, and Brazil. “We just brought 25 U.S. investors to Brazil this past week,” she says. “There’s no better way to see these markets than through the eyes of these entrepreneurs.”

All cheerleading aside, more work is necessary to build up local support for these emerging markets. Rottenberg says regulatory and infrastructure changes are needed in developing countries to make it easier for companies to launch. Local investor networks and venture and growth capital firms are also forming in these markets, but would welcome mutual collaboration with individual and institutional investors in the U.S. “These economies still need help,” she says. “These entrepreneurial ecosystems are still young.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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