Renaissance Men and Women: Do Emerging Markets need Expert- Generalists entrepreneurs?
In January 2019, I spent 4 days in Peru interviewing multiple entrepreneurs and a fund manager for an independent project. My name is Jacob Fohtung and I am a second year MBA candidate at Babson College. Following this experience, I decided to design an independent study course to study emerging markets, under the guidance of Dr. Phillip Kim, an internationally recognized expert on entrepreneurship and Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College. Specifically, my goal was to understand entrepreneurial and investment trends to develop a more informed strategic investment criteria for these markets. In Peru, I spent several days with a multi-sector entrepreneur, Mr. Martin Benavides, who has successfully identified and capitalized the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Peru, specifically the real estate market. As a hard-working entrepreneur and a true leader, he successfully built six different companies, ranging from real-estate to lifestyle magazines. This is a powerful display of someone in an emerging market that has understood the ecosystem and has meaningfully contributed to local economic growth and prosperity.
I began to think about this project after watching a TED Talk by Mr. Sangu Delle, CEO of Golden Palm Investments, an investment and advisory firm in Ghana. In this talk, titled “In Praise of Macro-Yes, Macro-Finance in Africa”, Mr. Delle provides the example of a transformational entrepreneur, Mo Ibrahim, who is the founder of the first telecommunication company in Africa. Mr. Ibrahim went against all odds and was able to build the first telecommunication platform for millions of Africans in the 1980s. Fast forward to 2014, a young Nigerian named Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, along with a few partners, founded Andela, an African company that works at identifying and developing Africa’s greatest asset: the African youth. Andela works specifically at helping educate software developers so to help African companies scale and grow. This year alone, Andela has raised $100 million to continue to train soon-to-be software developers across Africa, backed by large technology firms such as Facebook and Google. Eager to work on new projects, Aboyeji has since left Andela to start a fintech company called Flutterwave,
After spending time in Peru studying recent entrepreneurial trends in emerging markets and watching Sangu’s TED Talk, it is clear to me that betting on a few savvy entrepreneurs working across multiple sectors is the ideal strategy in emerging markets. These types of entrepreneurs have a proven track record of success and, by investing in one entrepreneur, but multiple companies, you are diversifying your portfolio while supporting an entrepreneur you know and believe in. From this analysis, my proposal is that investing in carefully selected serial or multi-sector entrepreneurs in emerging markets such as Taiwan or Peru is strategically smarter for an impact investor wanting to help spur economic development in emerging markets while staying cautious of the level of risk of his investments. Intuitively, this approach might seem high-risk because of the limited number of entrepreneurs within the portfolio we suggest. However, after going to Peru, it appeared clear to me that this is a false impression. The main conclusion of my study is that someone like Benavides is more exposed to the bigger picture of the main challenges that might be connected with being an entrepreneur in an emerging market, while also having the capital and the network both locally as well as internationally, which are both necessary assets for the successful growth and sustainability of companies in such markets.
With this immersive entrepreneurial insight in Peru, I see a lot of economic potential in emerging markets. This can, and will, result in healthy financial returns for investors, entrepreneurs and the communities impacted. My next stops will be in Asia, beginning with South Korea, before moving to Taiwan and Hong Kong. I envision similar entrepreneurial trends and similar conclusions. I urge impact investors to consider emerging markets as a place to safely invest capital using the approach I propose. Investing in emerging markets is a powerful way to generate positive change, not only for the communities of those markets, but for everyone around the globe.
This post was co-authored by Jacob Fohtung and I, Philippe Noël, based on his story. As part of my LinkedIn Campus Editor position representing Harvard, I will try to bring more interesting stories like this one.