Enough clutter. Enough confusion. Enough complications.

04 December 2010


 The 2010 academic year came to a close at the end of November, bringing with it the national entrepreneurship competition.  The Nation Competition is the culmination of the course small business volunteers facilitate during the school year.  Fifth year students, the equivalent of high school seniors in the United States, start in February forming groups that will spend the next ten months choosing a product, writing a business plan and bringing their businesses to life in their communities.  At the end of October they begin to compete at the local level, presenting their products and business plans to a panel of judges.  The winners progress to the regional level and eventually come together in Managua to compete once more and to celebrate their achievement throughout the year.  The Emprendedurismo course seeks to promote confidence and creativity in its students (and teachers).  It has a strong focus on using local resources to meet local needs and solve local problems.  In a business climate where the most common practice (what we like to call the choco-banano effect) is to see success in a neighbor and replicate the same product until all potential for profit has been eroded, Emprendedurismo students learn to add value to the resources available in their communities and innovate on existing products.  They learn to analyze their potential clients and competition, use the cost of producing a product to choose a price, the cost of running the business to decide how many products they need to sell to stay afloat, and how to present their ideas to investors in order to overcome their personal lack of start-up capital.

All that sounds really good, but honestly, it pales in comparison to the self-confidence the students gain during the year.  Personally, my biggest struggle is hearing students say “no puedo” — I can't— and I hear it all the time.  In the second semester of fourth year, the first semester of Emprendedurismo, we spend a lot of time identifying the characteristics of an entrepreneur, a leader, and of each student.  Often, the first time we ask, “Which of the characteristics we just identified do you share with leaders/entrepreneurs?” we get silence and blank papers (And the second time, the third...).  To see groups of students go from staring at their desks to avoid having to answer a question, to standing in front of three distinguished judges in Managua, a city many of them have never even visited, and answering questions on the fly about a product that is their own is a great feeling:

  Judge: So be honest, and this is an important question, did you come up with this product and this process?  Or did you see it somewhere else? 
 Student:  Well, we took the idea from instant potatoes.  Our region produces a lot of beans, and people really like “frijoles molidos” but they take awhile to make, so we  applied a similar process in order to make an instant product that met the needs and tastes of our community.
Do they all get there?  No, of course not.  But hopefully they all learn something.