One of the largest in Brazil and considered to be the blackest city outside of the African continent, Salvador has stood out because of the initiatives related to entrepreneurship. One of these initiatives is called Vale do Dendê (Dendê Valley) – an accelerator for new businesses; they select startups that operate with creative economics and technology. The project was designed by Paulo Rogério Nunes, along with some partners.
Born in the periphery of Salvador, 38, Paulo Rogério is entrepreneur, advertising and diversity consultant. Throughout his childhood, he always had his parents as a reference and from a very young age, he ventured into projects related to entrepreneurship; such as the production of a newspaper within his community, the production of shows with friends and the sale of graffiti t-shirts. Considered one of the 100 most influential afro-descendants in the world by Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD), a global organization linked to the UN, Paulo has had the opportunity to meet the former president of the United States – Barrack Obama – due to the relevance of his work.
With the motto being “Creativity, Innovation, and Baianity”, Dendê Valley follows the line of other startups in the world, such as those in Silicon Valley in the United States; however, it brings the idea of including and empowering a portion of the historically excluded society. To ATLANTICO, Paulo Rogério speaks of how he started the startup, what kind of work is being done, and what the future challenges are.
ATLANTICO: How did the Dendê Valley come about? Where did the idea come from?
Paulo Rogério: The Dendê Valley is a venture of social impact that emerged in 2016. The objective was to foster innovation, creativity and, above all, give visibility to black entrepreneurship carried out by Afro-descendants. This idea came about through the experiences of Vale’s co-founders, who were connected to the theme. In my particular case, I lived in the USA where I had contact with the topic of media innovation. When I lived there, I understood that various cities around the world were investing in the creative economy and innovation to improve their economy – including African cities like Nairobi in Kenya and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. When I became aware of this, I came to the conclusion that Salvador should go deeper into this topic, and started inviting people who had an interest in it, to discuss and rethink the possibility of an organization. From there, we created Vale do Dendê; it has three lines of action. The business startup supports entrepreneurs who need mentoring and consulting. We also have a school of innovation, entrepreneurship, and practicality – in which we offer courses related to this subject. Furthermore, we a consultancy that supports companies, foundations, and any organization that is capable of understanding the relationship between diversity and innovation.
ATLANTICO: What were the main difficulties faced in this course?
Paulo Rogério: The main difficulty in the creation of Dendê Valley was the initial process of talking with people of the city so they understood what innovation and the world of startups. In addition, it was necessary to present the notion of the creative economy, as the city is very linked to tourism and the population still finds it hard to understand the power if this new economy. The second difficulty was financial, as we know that things are a little more complicated in the northeast of Brazil. The funds and investments are harder to get in that area and we had this role of provoking the national investment ecosystem, causing them to also look at the northeast and specifically Bahia. Dialogue with public and private actors and the third sector are the biggest difficulties we have faced today.
ATLANTICO: Despite being the first capital of Brazil and one of the most populated cities in the country, there is still a lack of initiatives to valorize the entrepreneurial potential of Salvador. What are the reasons for this, in your opinion?
Paulo Rogério: The city of Salvador has a lot of entrepreneurship, but the biggest struggle is the qualification of the entrepreneurs and that is directly connected to the structural racism in our society. There are cities outside Brazil where the majority of the population is black, but who have managed to reverse this reality; like Atlanta, a capital with many black investments. Another reason is the fact that the city is located in the northeast – the most unequal region in the country and the economy is still focused on more traditional and informal industries. That is why we work with the idea that we must provide the right tools for these industries to get out of the informality and grow rapidly because they are creative, they just do not have opportunities.
ATLANTICO: How does the project enable and support entrepreneurs on future investments?
Paulo Rogério: We have edicts for people to sign up. Later, they go through a pre-acceleration, where they participate in some mentoring sessions, lectures to later be selected for acceleration. This normally lasts from two to three months. In the acceleration, the people go through mentoring sessions that consist of training with qualified professionals and highly successful entrepreneurs or liberal professionals willing to talk about a given area of entrepreneurship. We also offer financial, legal and accounting consultancies, so that it is possible to identify possibilities and possible problems. Finally, we meet with potential investors so they can get to know the business, make suggestions and start a partnership. In the past, almost half of the entrepreneurs we support managed to achieve some kind of investment. Therefore, in a way, this yielded good results, taking into consideration the economic situation in Brazil and the structural problems we face. We hope that in the future, more entrepreneurs are able to get investments.
“If we stop to think, a solution created in the periphery of Salvador could spread to the periphery of Fortaleza, Recife, Nairobi or Accra because the difficulties are similar. We have a large market and it is at the base of the pyramid, on the fringes of the periphery, because of all the years of rejection”.
ATLANTICO: What is the impact of this on the transformation of the city of Salvador into a pool of creativity and innovation? What results already exist today?
Paulo Rogério: From 2016 to now we have gone through many changes. Firstly, in the perception of people about this new form of entrepreneurship in the city, connecting with the theme of innovation and creativity. This achievement is not only our merit but that of other actors and organizations. It had a big technological impact and the city embraced this subject. Two years ago, we organized Brazil’s largest afro-technological festival in Salvador, an afro-futurist occupation that brought together people from various companies and organizations. Continuing from this kind of action, we have planted a seed and the city has reacted very well. It is going through a big phase of urban transformation, reform of public spaces, investment in subway and mobility; so we think that this conjuncture is favorable for the city to embrace this cause. Regarding the results, last year we have a number of 30,000 people passing by and interacting in our activities in Shopping da Bahia with workshops, lectures, and debates. Almost 50% of our accelerators got some type of investment. We supported 30 startup projects in January and the result of all this is the perception of this dialogue with various private bodies and entrepreneurial companies that now recognize the city as more innovative. We still are not the most innovative in Brazil, but the initial results themselves are very encouraging and show that the city is on the right track.
ATLANTICO: Creating startups is one of the approaches of the accelerator. How do you work it? Is it harder to incentivize the creation of new businesses or leverage existing businesses?
Paulo Rogério: In reality, each has its own profile and challenges. The companies being created now have their startup elements, like technology and large rising power. They can climb quickly, but they have difficulty proving the credibility of the business. Investors are left in suspense when they see an innovative idea, but when it works, it brings a lot of profitability. The more traditional industries have the possibility of proving that they can be profitable quicker. However, they are businesses that are sometimes considered too simple or with little innovation. Therefore, we have the role of showing these people that their business has competitive potential and that they have something that does not exist in other companies. In our perspective, diversity is a competitive differential, so we select companies based on this as well.
ATLANTICO: How important is the empowerment of the peripheries in the training of new entrepreneurs? And why this focus on peripheral regions?
Paulo Rogério: Our partner Hélio Santos usually says that “the peripheries are gold” but they are not seen as a place of potential but of poverty, with low added value. In reality, these spaces have a market, innovations, and creativity and this becomes a potential for us as an accelerator in relation to traditional accelerators. While the traditional accelerators and investors are just looking for investments at the top of the pyramid, we look at the bottom because the rising capability is greater. If we stop to think, a solution created in the periphery of Salvador could spread to the periphery of Fortaleza, Recife, Nairobi or Accra because the difficulties are similar. We have a large market and it is at the base of the pyramid, on the fringes of the periphery, because of all the years of rejection.
ATLANTICO: How do other cities in the world influence Salvador in this process? Do you know an example of a city that has become a major investment center and economic potential from projects such as the Dendê Valley?
Paulo Rogério: I always speak of Cartagena, in Colombia, because it was a city that until recently was one of the most violent in the world and in a decade became very innovative. Cartagena looks a lot like Salvador. We also have the example of Accra in Ghana, which has been attracting African-Americans in the diaspora. We look at these cities and the international scene, take in the information and see how it can inspire us. We cannot copy because it will never be the same; but, we have the idea that every city has something to teach us: Cartagena in relation to tourism, New Orleans in relation to culture and music, Atlanta in relation to Black Money and black empowerment … Therefore, each of these cities inspires us in different ways.
“We have this philosophy that in order to innovate we need diversity and that Africa has a thriving, rich market. Therefore, we need to be connected and thus try to solve the problems of inequality here in Brazil”.
ATLANTICO: Is the project linked to other black empowerment projects in Brazil?
Paulo Rogério: Yes, we have a kind of informal network where we speak with several of these investments, who believe in a new generation of the Afro-Brazilian community that see a way forward in entrepreneurship and business. We cannot forget the other ways because in fact, the problem of the insertion of black people in these spaces is structural, educational, political and social. In this way, we opened dialogues with other initiatives such as Black Money, because we recognize the importance of communicating and of implanting a new perspective towards empowerment – not only aesthetically, but also real economic empowerment.
ATLANTICO: Does the Dendê Valley have any partnership with African countries? Do you have projects being done in Africa or something of the kind?
Paulo Rogério: Formally not yet. But the dialogue is very strong with a number of African initiatives. We are connected with the Silicon Valley in Ethiopia and the Vibranium Valley in Nigeria. We do not have a physical presence yet, but that’s on our radar. We have spoken with Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.
ATLANTICO: What are the next steps and main challenges of the project today?
Paulo Rogério: This year we are opening a unit of the Vale do Dendê school at the subway station in Salvador, a place where more or less 500,000 people pass through daily. We will offer courses in innovation, entrepreneurship, and diversity for this audience. The second step will be to further consolidate the acceleration programs, and we are seeking new partners in this perspective. We have this philosophy that in order to innovate we need diversity and that Africa has a thriving, rich market. Therefore, we need to be connected and thus try to solve the problems of inequality here in Brazil.
Paulo Rogério Nunes holds a degree in Social Communication from Universidade Católica de Salvador and specialized in Politics and Strategy at the State University of Bahia (UNEB) and in Journalism and New Media at the University of Maryland in the USA through the Fulbright scholarship program. In addition to Vale do Dendê, Paulo is also a co-founder and one of the directors, of Instituto Mídia Étnica – the largest media and diversity NGO in Brazil. Furthermore, he is one of the creators of the Correio Nagô news platform. It is the main news portal dedicated to afro-descendant audiences in the northeast and has editorials on human rights, technology and cultural diversity. Through his vast international experience in multicultural markets, Paulo has had contact with executives from groups such as ABC News, Washington Post, Bloomberg and the New York Times.
By Erika Évora