BOGOTA Seventeen years ago, Andrés Angulo, a recently graduated doctor, rented an apartment, bought a whiteboard, and began training nurses and medical technicians. His first class was anatomy and he had just two students.
Today, Campoalto, the educational institute he started with two colleagues, has eight campuses across Colombia’s capital, more than 8,000 active students and can boast more than 20,000 alumni. It has become the nation’s largest vocational health training school and has evolved beyond healthcare education to provide classes on auto mechanics, cooking and clothing manufacturing, among others. And soon, it will be operating in Miami.
Campoalto’s rapid rise won it membership to an exclusive but growing club in Colombia: Endeavor. Endeavor is a global non-profit that selects, supports and mentors high-impact entrepreneurs. Launched in 1998, Endeavor now works in 15 countries across Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. And it, too, will soon begin operating in Miami — its first incursion into the United States.
The fact that Campoalto and Endeavor are sweeping into Miami at the same time was coincidence, but it has been opening doors in the South Florida business community, Angulo said.
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“People [in Miami] are calling me because I’m an Endeavor company,” he said. “Endeavor has become my calling card.”
Endeavor Colombia was launched in 2006, after the organization got its start in Argentina and Chile in 1998, expanded to Brazil and Uruguay in 2000, and then pushed into Mexico in 2001. The first Colombian company to join the organization was Grupo Industrial Ideagro, a manufacturer of farm-machinery.
Now, 20 Colombian companies are Endeavor members, and they run the gamut of industries. There’s Bodytech, a gym that’s as ubiquitous in Colombia and Peru as Gold’s Gym is in the United States; Mario Hernandez, a family-run leather-goods business, which is seeking to expand internationally; Refinancia, which helps low income families refinance their bad debt; and Ecoflora, the maker of bio-pesticides and eco-friendly house cleaning products.
“Our focus is on scaling-up companies,” said Adriana Suárez, the executive director of Endeavor Colombia. “We are looking for leaders who can become role models, are willing to give back to the organization and other entrepreneurs, and who have a sustainable business.”
Endeavor companies also have to have a proven business model and sales of between $1 million and $25 million. The requirements make finding eligible companies hard to come by. Of every 100 businesses that Endeavor Colombia interviews, only four make the cut, Suárez said.
Even so, Colombia’s Endeavor companies generate about $277 million a year, represent about 0.13 percent of national GDP, and employ 5,800 workers.
Colombia has a culture of “entrepreneurship of necessity” and ranks high in regional business surveys, said Suárez. But it is actually a laggard when it comes to trying to promote high-impact, job-sustaining enterprises, she said. The government is trying to change that. President Juan Manuel Santos has made innovation one of the centerpieces of his administration and in 2012 inaugurated Innpulsa, a public program that has pumped $51 million into startups.
On a recent weekday, Angulo, 43, offered a tour of a hospital, bristling with medical devices and a fully-equipped operating theater and emergency room. What it doesn’t have is patients. Campoalto purchased the clinic so it could give its students hands on practice in a real-world setting.
“The best way to pretend they were in a real clinic was to buy a clinic,” he said. “No other [Colombian] institution has something like this.”
Campoalto started in 1997 when Angulo and his two associates, Hugo Fernando Novoa and Alvaro Hoffmann, graduated from medical school only to find that there was a dearth of qualified nurses and hospital technicians. They started the school with the idea of making high-quality vocational training available to low-income communities. The majority of Campoalto students come from working class backgrounds, hold tenuous jobs, and can’t afford to pay for school on a semester or even monthly basis. A full 70 percent are women, many of whom are the sole breadwinners of the family.
Campoalto created a pay-as-you-go financing model, and students can drop into classes at any of their eight campuses without prior announcement. Schedules are flexible and also offered on the weekends. The school has a dropout rate of less than 30 percent, and a tuition default rate of less than 3 percent, Angulo said.
But despite the school’s success it was also having growing pains. The three partners were wary of taking on outside investors and kept their brain-child tightly controlled. Their shortfalls in management were beginning to show just as the school was ready to expand, Angulo said.
“We were at an inflexion point,” he said. “We knew we could grow more but we needed to do it with quality. We didn’t want to become a diploma mill.”
In 2010, Campoalto passed Endeavor’s two-year selection process. Becoming a member connected Campoalto to a global network of entrepreneurs, opened the company up to new investors and allowed it to attract a high-caliber board. It also gave Campoalto access to heavy hitters in academia. The Boston Consulting Group helped the company develop a Colombian expansion plan, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management helped with international efforts, including targeting Miami. The school, which will be known as Highfield in the United States, will begin offering nursing courses at its newly-purchased building on 5555 W. Flagler in Coral Gables.
Highfield’s target market in Miami will be Latinos who want to study but might have trouble breaking into the job market due to the lack of English. Highfield will be offering proficiency English courses even as it trains them to be hospital technicians. (Even so, board certification requires the bulk of the courses to be taught in English.)
Healthcare jobs are some of the most-needed and fastest growing in the United States, and Highfield already has alliances with three local medical institutions, although it doesn’t have authorization to talk about those alliances publically yet.
If Endeavor Colombia has anything to teach Miami’s branch of the organization, it’s that finding a high-quality board of directors will be key, Suárez said.
In Colombia, the board of directors include Alejandro Santo Domingo, the managing director of Quadrant Capital Advisors and the son of beer-magnate and Colombia’s second-richest man Julio Santo Domingo; Andres Echavarria, a board member of ceramic titan Corona; and Eduardo Pacheco, the CEO of Colpatria bank.
The high-profile board attracts the high-impact entrepreneurs that Endeavor is on the hunt for, she said.
“Board members not only have to contribute resources but be involved and lead activities,” she said. “A strong board will be key to Miami’s expansion.”
Endeavor Miami received a $2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over five years for its launch, and the organization is in the process of assembling its board and hiring a managing director.
Angulo said Highfield should begin offering courses in Miami in August.
The doctor-turned-educator said the company probably would have made it to Florida without Endeavor, but its association with the organization has sped-up the process and increased its ambitions. When it joined Endeavor in 2010, Campoalto was billing about $2.5 million a year. Now it is billing $6.5 million And after Miami, it hopes to open offices in New York, Houston and Los Angeles.
Endeavor, Angulo said, “has changed our mindset in many aspects.”