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07/15/2015

Winthrop Group Traveled to Bolivia for Entrepreneurship and Microfinance Project

Quick Facts

 Economics Associate Professor Laura Ullrich raised nearly $8,000 from grants and donations so that the 12 business students who accompanied her on the May 17-31 trip could award the money to budding entrepreneurs.
 Those applying for the grants worked through The Novus Foundation and Hub7, which promote entrepreneurship in Bolivia.

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ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA – A group of Winthrop University students led by Economics Associate Professor Laura Ullrich worked on entrepreneurship and a microfinance project during a recent trip to Bolivia and Panama.

Ullrich raised nearly $8,000 from grants and donations so that the 12 business students who accompanied her on the May 17-31 trip could award the money to budding entrepreneurs. 

Those applying for the grants worked through The Novus Foundation and Hub7, which promote entrepreneurship in Bolivia. The size and the number of grants depended on the quality of the application, said Ullrich, who has worked with the project for three years. Bolivia is currently the poorest country in South America.

Some of the Bolivian business people appeared at an event, called Impact Bolivia, in Cochabamba. Similar to the television show “Shark Tank,” each participant gave a two-minute sales presentation about why his or her project was deserving of an investment. Winthrop students then asked each participant tough questions about feasibility and scalability.

The inaugural event drew 138 applicants from all over Bolivia. Three entrepreneurs were chosen to receive grants, as well as 12 weeks of entrepreneurial support from Hub7. The first place award of $2,500 went to Manito, an app through which informal laborers such as painters, plumbers, etc. are matched with those needing workers, particularly safe, well trained, laborers.

Second place, and $1,000, went to Akisito, which has created an app that will map out public transportation in Bolivia, called Trufis. It also alerts riders of the arrival and departure of Trufis and uses new technology to show Bolivian landmarks and to assist tourism efforts.

Third place, and a $500 grant, went to a 3D printer manufacturer named Plasticaba, which creates a 3D printer filament from recycled plastic and manufactures printers. An additional $2,000+ was given for micro loans.

“We see this as a continuing project,” Ullrich said of her group which also checked on previous awardees given loans/grants in 2013. “We are not only providing grants and money for microfinance loans, we are also serving as ambassadors of Winthrop and the U.S. in a place where these types of interactions are not common."

The money to distribute to the entrepreneurs came from Rock Hill businesses Williams and Fudge, Walk2Campus and other individual sponsors.

Students Became Teachers

In Cochabamba, Bolivia, the Winthrop students participated for the second time at the annual National Symposium for Entrepreneurship. Ullrich spoke as one of the keynote speakers for this third annual conference and then the students broke into three groups to teach workshops on opportunity assessment, social media and financing entrepreneurship. For some, this was their first teaching experience and they did it in a country far from home with a translator, Ullrich said.

Another destination was the huge marketplace, called La Cancha, in Cochabamba. Ullrich said there were thousands of stalls where the group shopped and met three potential microfinance clients. One vendor told the group she worked 15-hour days, seven days a week and typically brought her 3-month- old daughter with her to work.

In addition to working with new entrepreneurs, the group spent time in Santa Cruz visiting with successful businesses and universities that began as small ventures. This included a battery manufacturer, two universities, an automotive part manufacturer, a recycling plant and a cattle farm.

The Bolivian visit allowed the Winthrop students – nine M.B.A. candidates, two undergraduate business students and an exercise science major – to see how the very rich and the poor operate in South America. 

Panama Part of Trip

After leaving Bolivia they visited the Panama Canal to see how it operates, as well as visited an offshore trust business, and toured Panama City to experience a more developed corner of Latin America. They also visited some of the exotic locations in Panama seen in the James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace.”

Graduate student Tebow Taquet said the trip made him realize that the two countries were much more developed than what he thought, making him reconsider his vision of the world. “I went there thinking (with humility) I would teach some things to the locals,” said the French student. “I actually learned way more from them. The people we met are extraordinarily full of resources and that is inspiring for my own life.”

Ullrich considers the trip a success because the students grew as business professionals and citizens of the world while truly making a difference in the lives of others. Plus, they showed hundreds of people the spirit and generosity of Winthrop University and the local businesses and individuals that supported the trip. Traveling to Bolivia and Panama will always remain a significant part of the students' and faculty members' lives, she added.

For more information, contact Judy Longshaw, news and media services manager, at longshawj@winthrop.edu or call 803/323-2404.

 


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