By Jenna Schnuer
Entrepreneur magazine: 2013’s Entrepreneurial Women to Watch
When Linda Rottenberg graduated from Yale Law School in 1993, she knew one thing: She didn’t want to practice law. So off to Argentina she went–to work for Ashoka, an organization that supports social entrepreneurs. Tech entrepreneurship was booming in the U.S. But in Argentina? Rottenberg learned that there wasn’t even a word for entrepreneur there. “Everybody I was meeting who had big talent aspired to a government job,” she says.
There was no venture capital. No role models. No support. That sparked the idea for Endeavor, the New York-based organization Rottenberg launched in 1997 with Peter Kellner, an investor who had witnessed the same lack of advocacy for entrepreneurs during a Harvard Business School trip to China. Endeavor finds what Rottenberg calls “high-impact” entrepreneurs around the world and supports them through intense mentoring–each participant gets his or her own board of advisors–and access to a network of local investors. Rottenberg, who serves as CEO, defines high-impact entrepreneurs as those with “the greatest ability to create jobs, generate revenues and become role models for the next generation.”
The basic idea hasn’t strayed much from Rottenberg’s initial plan. “We had sketched out search, select, support, give back–that the entrepreneurs would start giving back to Endeavor,” she says. “On the big-picture level, it is almost exactly what we had envisioned.”
But the program’s influence is even greater than Rottenberg could have imagined. Since its founding, Endeavor–which has 17 offices around the world and is aiming for 25 by 2015–has worked with 726 entrepreneurs. In 2011 program participants earned $5 billion in revenue and created 200,000 jobs. And they are starting to step up to the give-back portion of the program as well: In 2012 two Endeavor entrepreneurs each gave $1 million to their local offices. “They’re now mentors and angel investors themselves,” Rottenberg says.
That reciprocation is at the heart of Rottenberg’s mission. “The No. 1 factor for catalyzing the [entrepreneurial] ecosystem is successful entrepreneurs investing and mentoring the next generation,” she says. “[It’s] even more important than institutional venture capitalists.”