What it’s all about

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Following up Sam’s somewhat pessimistic picture of entrepreneurship in Latin America, I want to bring forward a ray of sunlight.

I recently attended Endeavor’s International Selection Panel in Mexico City. Every year Endeavor hosts a panel where the top emerging market entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to Endeavor’s advisory board — big shot CEOs, VCs, etc — in the hopes of getting the “Endeavor Entrepreneur” title and associated benefits. Endeavor looks for entrepreneurs with small companies (~ $5-10 million revenue) with the potential to 1) scale over $100 million and 2) have the role-model potential to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs. Interestingly Endeavor sponsors the entrepreneur, and not the company itself.

Needless to say, the experience was incredible.

I want to describe one entrepreneur who was a double-whammy: Both fitting perfectly into Endeavor’s portfolio and also embodying the ideas presented in CK Prahalad’s Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (a must read for all development fans with a business bent).

Carlos Augusto Ledono, a 31-year old native of Medellin Columbia,  took note of the dreams of the lower and lower-middle class residents of his community  to go on “vacation” — something previously out of reach for them. Wanting to make vacations affordable for all, he started TVG and has since built a company with hundreds of employees. Through private plane charters, clever use of off-season hotel capacity and (importantly) a pay-as-you-go payment model, he is providing a unique service specifically tailored to the needs of the lower class . Clients pay $20-30 per month until they have deposited enough to go on the trip (about $350 total) and deal mainly through door-to-door salespeople. And this is not a charity —  Carlos is making good money and building a formidable business.

TVG shares a couple of properties in common with other case studies in Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid:

– Creatively tailoring a product specifically to the needs of the poor
– Providing a once unavailable service through a local and scalable sales channel
– Not having to sacrifice financial returns to do so

Unlike other examples in Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, I wouldn’t classify this as poverty alleviation. But choice is dignity. And that is something very worthy.

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