Main menu

Interview: Entrepreneur Ana Fontes on Women Building Businesses in Brazil

Ana Fontes at My Job Space.

September 11, 2012

“For me, the importance of having more women become entrepreneurs is that we’re constructing a path for our country to be a better country, a more just country.”

With a growing economy, Brazil has an expanding population of entrepreneurs—including more women. Launched by Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs Foundation in 2008, the 10,000 Women program is a $100 million initiative over five years to provide 10,000 underserved women worldwide with business and management education. The program stems from research that found investing in women can impact GDP growth and have a multiplier effect on families, communities, and businesses. In Brazil, 850 women entrepreneurs participated in the program so far, with an estimated 1,100 women expected to graduate over five years. One Brazilian 10,000 Women graduate, Ana Fontes, left her job as an executive to start two new businesses in São Paulo and inspire other women to become entrepreneurs. She began My Job Space, a shared office for entrepreneurs, as well as the website Women Entrepreneurs Social Network. Fontes spoke to AS/COA Online Editorial Associate Rachel Glickhouse about how the 10,000 Women program impacted her life, how her businesses are helping other entrepreneurs, and the importance of businesses run by women in Brazil.

AS/COA Online:  What do My Job Space and the Women Entrepreneurs social network do?

Ana Fontes: My Job Space is a co-working space: a shared office for those who don’t have their own and need somewhere to work. Today in São Paulo we have 60 work spaces for entrepreneurs with a structure that offers everything for them. We offer high-speed internet, a business library, and a place to eat. We also have lectures, workshops, and networking opportunities. We offer a series of ways for entrepreneurs to develop their businesses.

Women Entrepreneurs is an online social network where we publish daily content about entrepreneurship, tips about how to run a business, and advice on innovation. We publish articles for the readers, who can also create a free profile; everything’s free. Users create a profile where they publicize their business, and they can exchange information on the network. Along with the website, we have a Facebook discussion group where people go every day to exchange ideas, to discuss problems, and to ask for help from another entrepreneur. Today the network has 7,500 female entrepreneurs.

AS/COA Online: How did you come up with the idea for these businesses? 

Fontes:  In reality, I came up with both of them together. It was in August 2010, after I participated in the 10,000 Women program. When I first entered the 10,000 Women program, I was working on another project that I no longer have—a ratings site called Elogia Aqui. I sold the business and after I did the program, I created the two new businesses.

We launched the Women Entrepreneurs network and My Job Space together in January 2011, since I had the co-working space and I wanted women to be able to work there. So the initial idea was just for women to use the space. But over time, we changed the idea, and today both women and men work in the space.

I had worked a long time in the corporate world; I was an executive at a multinational company and all of my education and training was to work at a corporation. After the program, I already had my ratings site business which I was developing but I didn’t have any knowledge about entrepreneurship—things like what was happening in the world, a business plan, analyzing an international trend that could be brought to Brazil.

It was then that I came up with the idea for a co-working space because I started researching and saw that in the United States shared offices were growing a lot. I saw that in Europe, there were also several models for shared offices, and that in Brazil, only 4 shared offices existed. Through a tip I got during the 10,000 Women program, I checked out a space online—a co-working space in New York called In Good Company that was just for women. I also researched networks for women in the United States and Europe. I saw that when women have children, they have a very busy life and work a lot, and some were leaving the corporate world and turning to entrepreneurship since it allows for a more flexible schedule. Putting together these variables, I decided to launch a co-working space since I saw this trend would grow in Brazil, which it is. Over the past two years, Brazil went from having 6 co-working spaces to 76.

The Women Entrepreneurs network is also helping these women start businesses. In Brazil, female entrepreneurship has grown a lot—something I’ve researched a great deal. Today in Brazil, 45 percent of small-business entrepreneurs are women. So it was through the program that I learned how to do research of this kind, what to look for, how to identify trends, to make a business plan, to make an organization, and to link the two businesses together.

AS/COA Online: Why did you decide to participate in the 10,000 Women program and what were the results?

Fontes: I already had my business, Elogia Aqui. I saw an ad for the program and I thought it could be very interesting. Despite working in the corporate world, I didn’t have enough information to be an entrepreneur. I thought I needed the support and help since I was making mistakes. I didn’t have a clear business model and my business wasn’t very well structured yet. I thought I could acquire a lot of knowledge and help develop my business.

The most significant results were that my revenue increased a lot since I had two other businesses. I also expanded my staff and today I have more employees. I also have a support network and networking opportunities with the people who did the program with me, which has made an enormous difference in my life. It’s not just for my professional life or my life as an entrepreneur, but also my personal life. I met these people who became my friends and we help and support one another; we meet frequently to talk about the program, about business, and to motivate one another. So for me, the results were increased revenue, the creation of two new businesses, hiring more people, and an impact on my personal life that was absolutely essential to my business.

AS/COA Online: What plans to you have for your business?

Fontes: I want it to grow a lot and I want to position my business as the best in Brazil in its field. I want the Women Entrepreneurs network to be recognized as the largest source of information for women entrepreneurs in Brazil. I want to transform my co-working space into a business incubator to help other small-business entrepreneurs. It’s my desire to continue my business as a center to help other entrepreneurs looking to develop their businesses in Brazil.

AS/COA Online: Why is it important to encourage entrepreneurship in Brazil, especially among women?

Fontes: I believe it’s because when their businesses do well, women have a much greater impact on the network where they live, either for their families, for society, or their communities. Since a woman is normally the one who runs the family, the house, and everything in her home, when she has a business, she doesn’t think of it of being just hers. I don’t think of my business as being just mine. I think of it as a business that will be my daughters’ future and that will enable me to help my parents. If my business does well, it will help other people who I help. I could also help people who work with me to grow because if my business grows, the people who work with me will also be able to grow.

So I think this notion of women in relation to business makes a huge difference and has a huge impact on a country’s development. Brazil is a pretty entrepreneurial country, and if I’m not mistaken Brazil is the third largest country in the world in terms of entrepreneurship. This is growing at an incredible rate, and I believe women end up motivating other women to become entrepreneurs. For me, the importance of having more women become entrepreneurs is that we’re constructing a path for our country to be a better country, a more just country, because women end up having a very ethical relationship with the market. A woman is concerned with people. So if you encourage and support women entrepreneurs, you’ll surely support entrepreneurship and a country’s development as a result of the many things that women do.