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Brent Hoberman on the Brazilian opportunity

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One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that making mistakes is just as valuable as succeeding. 

I co-founded lastminute.com with Martha Lane Fox in 1998, mydeco.com in 2007 and made.com in 2010. While I am among those lucky enough to have succeeded in turning my ideas into reality, I also know that setting up a company is by no means easy. I’ve certainly learned more from my failures than my achievements. And if there’s one thing I would tell any aspiring business, it’s that they should not be afraid to have setbacks. 

Be bold, be tenacious and above all, believe wholeheartedly in whatever it is you are bringing to the marketplace. 

For inspiration, look at Brazil. After China, it has the most entrepreneurs among the G20 nations. An estimated one in eight of Brazil’s adult population is an entrepreneur with some 15 per cent of the population owning their own business. In fact, much of the business that occurs in Brazil is done by single businesspeople either selling their homemade goods or providing a service.  

In my role as a UK Business Ambassador for Britain (an appointment made by David Cameron last year), I will be visiting Brazil as part of a UKTI creative industries business delegation, where I, along with three other Business Ambassadors (Lord Marland, Tamara Mellon and Sir John Sorrell) will take part in Brazil Design Week.

Visits like this are incredibly important as they allow us to engage with international companies and demonstrate why the UK is an ideal place to invest and do business.

Conversely, it’s about showing UK firms the many benefits of working with economies like Brazil, where there is enormous potential for business growth. 

Brazil has one of the world’s most rapidly developing economies and a huge and disparate consumer market. There are real opportunities to share our respective skills and talent – from car production to carbon reduction, finance to fashion and medical equipment to the media. 

Take London-based Mangahigh, for example, the online education firm founded by Toby Rowland in 2008. Mangahigh was chosen by Brazil’s technical training authority to provide high quality online mathematics education for tens of millions of school students. It was commissioned to translate its entire service – including 14 maths games and 55,000 maths questions – into Brazil Portuguese and also to provide a local curriculum. The Mangahigh service is now being piloted in the Rio de Janeiro region. 

In fashion, UK designers such as Kat Maconie are flourishing in the Brazilian market. Kat started her designer shoe business with the savings she had built up working in fashion recruitment. With no formal training behind her, she threw herself wholeheartedly into her new venture. Kat recently opened a new showroom in Sao Paulo, where UKTI helped her to promote her range of designer footwear. 

In the media, The Viral Factory (TVF) – a small, independent London-based company specialising in online viral marketing – is working on campaigns for two new Brazilian clients. Being a small company, TVF wanted a to tap into a new market. It chose Brazil for its large population, its high level of online activity and because the country is leading the way in the take up of social media. 

There are so many benefits to going global. Research shows that there is a virtuous cycle between innovation and exporting. Not only does exporting increase the amount of money available to invest in new product or service development, it also prompts firms to invest more time and resource – so increasing the return on such investments. 

Knowing your sector and prospective market is vital, as is the importance of good research. Support is out there. Part of UKTI’s role is to help firms navigate the myriad of issues that come with accessing new markets. In 2009/10 alone, UKTI helped almost 25,000 companies to trade overseas – up from 20,700 the previous year.

I hope my experience will inspire and encourage budding businesses to take a leap of faith and turn their ideas into something real. If I can do it, you can too.

Brent Hoberman is the co-founder of lastminute.com; mydeco.com; made.com and profounderscapital.com. He is also an angel investor and heads the European Founders Forum.

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