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Young entrepreneurs work and learn in South Bend

| Monday, October 31, 2016

A week before fall break, 14 young entrepreneurs in the Young Leaders from the Americas Initiatives (YLAI) Professional Fellows program arrived in South Bend to spend four weeks in professional exchange with local companies and industries.

The State Department program helps entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean improve businesses in their home countries. Two hundred fifty people in the program are divided among 21 U.S. states. Notre Dame’s Initiative for Global Investment is hosting and supporting the 14 in South Bend. 

“This program is amazing, as we get to know entrepreneurs from our area,” Daniella Garcia, a program fellow, said. “In November all the [250] of us will be together for a conference in Washington D.C. There will also be investors pitching us, and lots of networking, and we are all excited.” 

Garcia is the founder and owner of Elemental, a tech teaching center in Bolivia. YLAI assigned her to a local programming school in South Bend. 

“I’ve learned the methodology in teaching, and I’m helping them with the plan for a summer camp in June,” she said. “In Bolivia, we really need some funds, so South Bend coding school is also teaching me how to get grants from government and nonprofit organizations.”

The 14 entrepreneurs are assigned to different companies in South Bend according to the industry in which they work at home. Karla Pacheco, director of the Cocrea Creative Agency in El Salvador, is working for Pathfinders, a marketing agency.

“I’m learning how big companies like the Pathfinder are organizing their team and work,” she said. “My goal is to organize my team more sufficiently so we can have more clients.”  

It is easier to get ideas accepted in the U.S., said Santiago Yelmini, co-founder of LATIO 6, an entrepreneurship community in Argentina. Yelmini is working on a learning forum that will help entrepreneurs present and implement their ideas more effectively.

“In our own countries, it is harder to start a company to go from an idea to a concrete body, not just because of the social conditions, but because of all the resources regarding education, regulations and access to financial support,” Yelmini said. 

“The struggles of everyone telling us we aren’t going to make it is another big difficulty for us entrepreneurs. People here are more used to seeing new businesses grow,” Pacheco added.

John Paul Arvelo, president of Servicios de Seguridad y Resguardo, said while his society is losing hope, entrepreneurs are trying to solve the country’s issues.

“My initiative is about providing protection services to companies, houses and individual people. I’m trying to build an awareness in people, to teach them how to apply law and save their lives,” Arvelo said.

Germán Santillan Ugarte is the CEO and Founder of Oaxacanita Chocolate, a company which strives for the economic development of the Oaxacan Mixteca by hiring artisan cooks and palm craftsmen and by using local raw materials. He learns how to improve workers’ efficiency by using machines and skills here in South Bend, Ugarte said.

“We all feel very welcomed here at Notre Dame,” Ugarte said. “The day when I arrived, there was a little note saying ‘Welcome home, Germán.’ It turned out that all the stereotypes about Americans are not true because all the professors and students are so nice.”

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