As part of their global studies curriculum during the 2010-2011 school year, students in Kimberly Clarkson’s 6th Grade class at Sidwell Friends Middle School in Washington, D.C. explored ideas related to entrepreneurship. Students participated in and reflected on online simulation activities, researched and discussed mission statements of established businesses, and learned about and experimented with developing basic business concepts, including options for funding and marketing. They learned about real entrepreneurs, ranging from students their own age to adults.
Part of the experience involved coming up with business concepts that interested them. According to Kimberly, some of the business ideas students proposed included: a cattle ranch where the manure is converted into a source of fuel; an internationally funded organization to buy back weapons from African militants and then melt them for other uses; a microcredit that used profits to fund charity organizations; an organization solely focused on providing comfort items (toys, books and games) to homeless children; a play zone where animals in shelters could be brought to have time away from their enclosures; and a charity which provided financial support to families who have lost wage-earning loved ones in the drug-related violence in Mexico. [Editor’s note: what an advanced sixth-grade class!] As a part of their year-end project, students proposed a social or environmental outreach business related to the country on which they had focused their research. As an example, this website was created by one student for her end-of-year proposal.
During the school year, Kimberly contacted Endeavor with a request to put her students in contact with an entrepreneur. The students composed a list of questions and were put in touch with Adolfo Rouillon, an Endeavor Entrepreneur (selected in 2000) and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Argentina for 2011. The students’ questions and Adolfo’s answers are below. The class was thrilled to receive a response from an experienced and internationally recognized entrepreneur, and was inspired to sustain their entrepreneurial spirit in the future.
1. How did you get the idea for the type of business you started? What experience (something that happened or work background) did you have that motivated you to choose it?
My first company was a technology consulting firm. By 2001, we sold it to a big Mexican company called Neoris. We worked with Neoris for five years and by 2006 my business partner and I decided it was time to start a new company again, but we wanted to explore a different industry. We were interested in the food industry, so we started to research what was going on — the trends, challenges and opportunities. In 2007 we started Congelados del Sur was born, as a business which makes frozen food (from pizza to chicken nuggets) in Latin America.
2. Why did you choose this business over another business idea?
We thought there would be good opportunities for growth, as the food business faces serious challenges in the years to come. The combination of global population growth (9 billion people by 2025), a growing middle class (more than 900 million people by 2015), and limited natural resources calls for innovative solutions. Additionally, Latin America has great weather and growing conditions—all of the necessary factors to become a leading supplier of high-quality food products.
3. What or who were your inspirations?
We look to other successful businessmen who build huge companies from scratch, overcoming obstacles and difficulties. One of them is Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the consumer electronics company Panasonic.
4. How did you choose a way to finance your business? With a bank loan, your own money or another alternative?
We started with our own money. After a year we had a business plan and were able to raise venture capital money and funds from private investors. In the beginning, it’s difficult to get bank loans.
5. How would you raise money to start your business if you were to start over?
I would start the business with my savings, and once I had a clear idea how much money I would need and for what, I would write a business plan.
6. How do you know when a business is a good investment and won’t end up bankrupt?
It’s impossible to know. An investor will look at three things: 1) a good management team, with a credible story and track record; 2) a clear business model in a big market; and 3) a billion dollar industry.
7. What are the disadvantages about being an entrepreneur verses having a “regular” job? Obviously there are advantages, but is there another side to the story?
For one thing, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and everything depends on you which is a big responsibility. Also, you give up the certainty of getting paid every week, since there’s no guarantee of a fixed salary at the beginning. And of course there’s other disadvantages, like a temptation to lose focus and needing to work on limited resources.
8. What age were you when you started your first business? How about your first successful business?
I was 17 years old when I started my first venture as a honey producer (harvesting my own honey) and at 19, I stated a clothing business producing t-shirts. At 23, after finishing my university studies in Business Administration, I started Amtec.net, a technology consulting firm that was very successful.
9. Do you make enemies or rivals in your business?
Of course you have competitors — it’s part of the game. But as a final thought, I love being an entrepreneur. It’s not for everyone, but if you have a big idea, there’s nothing more satisfying that making it happen.