Cezar Vasquez

Executive Director, SEBRAE, Rio de Janeiro

“We were looking for ways to help Rio businesses scale up rapidly.”

Rio Delegation

At the end of the three-day Driving Economic Growth through Entrepreneurship Ecosystems(DEG) program in May, we sat down to speak with Cezar Vasquez, executive director of SEBRAE, Rio de Janeiro. SEBRAE, the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service, is a nonprofit private entity in Brazil (similar to the USA’s Small Business Association or Mexico’s INADEM) that provides support services to those seeking to start or grow small businesses. SEBRAE pulls from its network of 700 service centers and 5,000 small business experts and consultants to foster entrepreneurship and help small businesses to grow and generate employment opportunities for Brazil.

How would you describe the economy of Rio de Janeiro and the economic opportunities that you are trying to create for Rio?

Many internationals are familiar with our tourism industry in Rio, but we also have a booming oil and gas industry as well as growing automotive and financial sectors. Historically, SEBRAE has worked with entrepreneurs and small business owners in sectors that range from agribusiness to supply chain support for the oil and gas industries. When I heard about the Babson program, Driving Economic Growth (DEG), I thought it represented an opportunity for us to re-evaluate how we identify and support growth companies, which consist of more established small- and medium-sized businesses that are eager to grow upon their already existing customer base.

There are multiple ways that regions try to grow their economies. Why do you see the development of an entrepreneurship ecosystem that supports growth companies as a key strategy for economic growth in Rio?

There are definitely many ways to support businesses and grow economies. Some leaders and officials in Brazil have worked hard to make Rio an attractive city for large international companies like GE and EMC. We also have organizations like mine that work to create ecosystems for early-stage entrepreneurs. However, fewer organizations are working to create ecosystems for entrepreneurs who lead growing companies that are scaling up rapidly, or have the potential to scale rapidly. These are the firms that we believe have the ability to generate the most high-quality jobs in the future for our region.

With this in mind, I reached out to people I know in Rio who are leaders in government, education, and the private sector to discuss how we could more effectively identify and support these promising businesses. A delegation of leaders, a group which included some of the most senior business and public sector leaders in Rio, agreed to travel with me to attend Babson’s DEG program in May 2015.

Would you describe the other stakeholders from Rio who participated in the program with you, and their roles in driving economic growth in the region?

I am very pleased with the diversity of leaders from Rio who made the trip to Babson. We have the Under Secretary of Energy along with the Under Secretary of Science and Technology for the Rio de Janeiro government in attendance. They have been wonderful in advancing discussions around how to work with companies in the oil and gas supply chain. We have the president of Rio Negocios and the director of the Federal University of Rio De Janeiro Science Park who have been wonderful assets when talking about how real estate development can support economic growth. Finally, we have the executive director of Endeavor Brazil and the CEO of VentureOneStartups who have been crucial when planning how to expand and develop a network that supports growth companies. The past few days have been a great opportunity for us to put our heads together and develop an actionable plan for driving growth in Rio.

As you leave Babson at the end of the DEG program, what new ideas or tools are you taking with you back to Rio?

After studying several global cases for driving economic growth and developing entrepreneurship ecosystems, our group contacted the O GLOBO newspaper to encourage them to feature more small and midsize companies with high potential for growth. Currently, most companies that are covered by the press in Rio are large national or international companies. Having just spoken with staff at O GLOBO, they agreed to print more articles that feature smaller high-growth companies. Creating visibility for these companies, will encourage new types of investment and job creation.

In order to connect promising businesses with the press and a range of investors, we discussed the need to improve the way we identify these companies in our communities. At the moment, we plan to combine our existing databases and target companies that show growth in revenue and growth in the number of employees that they hire. As we construct a unified database, we will explore the development of a rating service that can improve how companies access capital and debt restructuring opportunities.

Finally, we will look to apply the “scale up” models discussed in this course to launch a nuanced accelerator program where promising businesses can gain access to the tools needed to grow their business rapidly. We are already excited to return to Brazil so we can begin to reach out to new companies and move forward with our plans.