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Global entrepreneurship nonprofit Endeavor coming to Miami

Flawless execution helped propel Argentine Marcos Galperin’s e-auction site, Mercado Libre, above the competition to become a $3.8 billion company. Some 50,000 small businesses now use it to market their wares.

Leila Velez and Heloísa Helena Assis, cousins who grew up in the slums of Rio, started with one product and one salon. Today their company, Beleza Natural, operates 24 salons that bring in $75 million in revenues, employs 1,500 people and has an eye on U.S expansion.

Both were powered, in part, by Endeavor, a global nonprofit that selects, mentors, supports and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs in metropolitan areas of 16 countries — and, soon, in Miami.

Endeavor and its local supporter, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, announced Tuesday that Knight is providing Endeavor with $2 million in grant funding over five years for Endeavor’s first U.S. expansion. Endeavor’s Miami office could ultimately service dozens of local entrepreneurs, but first a local board needs to be assembled, a managing director hired and offices set up.

Beginning late this year, South Florida’s innovators will be able to apply to become Endeavor Entrepreneurs, connecting them to a global network of mentors and advisors who can help grow their ventures. “We think this is a cornerstone of making Miami more of a place where ideas are built,” said Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the Knight Foundation, which has made entrepreneurship a key focus of its Miami program.

The announcement is an important milestone in Miami’s efforts to accelerate an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which has been gaining momentum, said Haggman, who led the effort for Knight, its largest investment in entrepreneurship to date. Accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces have been opening up, including Launch Pad Tech, which is receiving $1.5 million in public funding and opens for its first class next week. Last month, the first ever Innovate MIA week attracted hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and other supporters to a packed schedule of daily events, which included the Americas Venture Capital Conference and Endeavor’s International Selection Panel.

“Miami is almost the perfect seeding ground for Endeavor,” said Peter Kellner, co-founder of Endeavor and now an Endeavor board member, an investor and South Florida resident who began discussing the project with Haggman in the spring. “There are commitments from large institutions like Knight, FIU, UM, there is capital, there are people that are interested in making things happen, there are already clusters of activity like accelerators and incubators. That’s where Endeavor thrives.”

Endeavor selects and works primarily with companies from a wide range of industries that are already earning $500,000 to $15 million in annual revenue and ready for the next stage: explosive growth.

“While the vast majority of small businesses employ two or three people, Endeavor businesses employ an average of 237,” said Endeavor co-founder and CEO Linda Rottenberg.

Launched in 1998 and headquartered in New York City, Endeavor now operates throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Southeast Asia and supports more than 750 entrepreneurs who are chosen in a rigorous selection process.

Those chosen receive access to mentors and a volunteer advisory board of local business leaders as well as access to international networks that include entrepreneurs like Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn; Diego Piacentini, who heads Amazon international; Robert Polet, former CEO of Gucci; and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt Group. There are also programs that provide interns from top business schools and professionals from Ernst & Young to work with Endeavor companies and a new Endeavor Investor Network that includes top venture capital firms.

“The thing that really spoke to us is that how successful Endeavor has been at building vibrant pay-it-forward communities,” said Haggman, adding that the vast majority of Endeavor Entrepreneurs stay involved as advisors, mentors or investors in their communities.

Juan Pablo Cappello, an Endeavor senior advisor, got an inside view of Endeavor 12 years ago, as he was a partner in Patagon, Argentina’s first Internet Service Provider. Wences Casares, Patagon’s CEO, was an Endeavor Entrepreneur.

“We were fewer than 20 employees and within a year and a half we had been sold for $750 million. We had in excess of 400 employees at that point. In the Patagon case, being part of Endeavor was transformative — it put us in touch with a community of entrepreneurs in the same point of their evolution,” said Cappello. A Miami lawyer, serial entrepreneur and investor, Cappello has remained an Endeavor mentor and advisor, as has Casares, an entrepreneur and investor in Silicon Valley.

Fernando Fabre, president of Endeavor and the former chief of Endeavor Mexico, in recent months has met with many South Florida community leaders. The need for an Endeavor became apparent. “I kept asking people, ‘who are the current five most successful entrepreneurs based in Miami?’ ” he said. “They came up with names from 10, 15, 20 years ago.”

Fabre said Endeavor considered several cities, including Atlanta and Detroit, but Miami kept bubbling up and seemed like a natural for Endeavor’s first U.S. center. Miami’s connections to Latin America and its track record with building other types of ecosystems, such as in the arts, helped the city’s case.

Endeavor has not set a date for a launch. “The first thing we have to do is put together just an outstanding local board of directors; they are the make or break of the organization. When they are totally committed as they are in places like Turkey and Brazil and Jordan, we shoot the moon,” Kellner said.

“The ecosystem is already starting to take off in Miami. We know we’re not the only player and that’s great,” added Rottenberg. “It’s on the verge of exploding and we’re excited to be a part of that.”