Bridge for Billions Co-Founder Pablo Santaeufemia Discusses Mentorship Program for Black Entrepreneurs

Bridge for Billions is one of the largest networks of entrepreneurship programs globally, connecting early-stage entrepreneurs with opportunities. Bridge for Billions partnered with Visa to offer mentorships to support Black and African American entrepreneurs in U.S. cities like Atlanta. 

Although this year’s mentorship application period has ended, we’re learning more about the mentorship program and how Bridge for Billions is supporting entrepreneurs worldwide. We’re pleased to welcome Bridge for Billions CEO and Co-Founder, Pablo Santaeufemia.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Pablo, thanks so much for joining us on the show. Tell us, what is Bridge for Billions?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So Bridge for Billions is a network of entrepreneurship programs. We build, design, and implement, entrepreneurship programs with all kinds of organizations from the ecosystem, corporations, foundations, universities, for early-stage entrepreneurs. Those entrepreneurs that are in those initial stages that struggle to grow. And that at the end of the day, they are the ones that generate jobs for the majorities.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And does your organization provide funding, or do you just bring the two parties together?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So we provide the training, the mentoring, and then also training in how to access funding, but we don’t directly provide funding.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay, great. So for the entrepreneurs out there, you are kind of that one-stop-shop that can help them all the way right up to the funding, and then train them on how to get that funding.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And I’m sure that you work with a number of different funding sources out there, VC companies and angel investors and such that can help these entrepreneurs, right?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Exactly. Our name is Bridge for Billions. We try to act as a bridge to solve the needs of the Billions.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. And are there Billions out there right now for entrepreneurs?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
It’s not entrepreneurs, it’s those employees and beneficiaries, clients of the entrepreneurs. We believe that innovation is really everywhere and if right now the entrepreneurship ecosystems only support the small minority of very privileged entrepreneurs, we will never generate the innovations and the solutions for the Billions, and that’s our mission.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. And how long has your organization been around, and what was the motivation in putting it together?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So, it’s been almost six years. I was a master’s student at Carnegie Mellon in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and I launched there. I’m originally from Spain and we always thought we were going to be global, and we are today global.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
But yeah, the goal was to make something that is a luxury, no longer a luxury.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. That’s fantastic. And it’s predominantly for minorities, right?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Well, it’s not only minorities, it’s any entrepreneur that currently doesn’t have access to the traditional support or the necessary support, mentoring, business training. But yes, we definitely have a big focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. And that is a group that really could use your help in a very big way. Right? It seems like it’s the forgotten entrepreneurs out there that need funding to develop their companies and their products. And oftentimes they’re overlooked, aren’t they?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Totally, and actually one of the very strong partnerships that we have with Visa, it’s actually focused on minority entrepreneurs, mostly Black and African American founders, small business owners. That in most cases have launched because of that need, but they didn’t really have the support that they needed to launch. And they’re still running their business with a lot of holes, so it’s very dangerous. And especially in a world post-COVID where you really need to be ready for potentially, even the next crisis.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, there’s no question. So at what stage will you bring an entrepreneur into the program? Is it if they’ve just got a concept, or do they have to be up and running? Do they have to have proof of concept? Tell me that.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So it’s mostly proof of concept onwards, but we don’t help entrepreneurs once they are already selling and they are ready to grow. We’re not really an acceleration program that pushes them for growth.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
We’re exactly in the middle stages. Not an idea, but also not someone that already has that product market fit and they’re ready to start growing and they’re going for their investment run. We are focused on the middle.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
The people that come in to invest with your people, you’re bringing the two together. Are they for the most part angel investors?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Yes, not Visas.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. And is there a certain dollar amount that they will typically invest in for a company? Is it up to a 100,000 or is it-

Pablo Santaeufemia:
It’s around 100,000.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. Wow. That fantastic. And how did you end up in bringing this to Atlanta?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So we have partnered with Visa as I was saying earlier, and Visa’s priority is to support small business owners in several regions in the US, that are Black and African American. And we’ve always been active nationwide in the US, but actually because of Visa and priorities, we definitely believe that Atlanta was a big hub and a big area of need, especially after COVID.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. And for people that are listening to you have this discussion with me today, how do they get involved? How do they learn more?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So they can go to Bridge for Billions, or they can also go into Google Bridge for Billions Visa, Atlanta Program, and they can apply. The applications are actually open and the program will start. Applications will close in January and the program will start in February, but we do have several programs coming in case it’s not the right time for them.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow. That’s great. And then the decision is made as to who’s going to qualify for the program. And then how many are we talking about that you’ll work with?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So the program’s vary in size, but we’re planning around 50 to 70 entrepreneurs.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. And is it for a specific industry or sector, are you big on tech or…

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So it’s cross sector, but we are very strong on education, tech, agriculture, and then health and tourism. Those are the five sectors that we have the most entrepreneurs.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. Wow. That’s fantastic. And I would imagine you’ve got some real success stories out there, being around six years, right?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Yeah. We’ve had all kinds of stories, and it is something I tend to push because success for us, it’s continue hiking, continue running your business, achieving your dreams. So we have from those entrepreneurs, that raise their Series A, and they go on to become Forbes, they’re Under 30. We have five Forbes, they’re under 30– But we also consider success, that group of founders that launch that business and they’re still running three, four years after, and creating jobs.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Wow. That’s fantastic. And maybe even coming back to you as an investor to help other entrepreneurs?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Yes. And mentors, many of them come back as mentors, which we really like.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow. That’s fantastic. And do you have an office, or do you have a contingency of advisors here in Atlanta?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So do have mentors based in Atlanta.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
But actually across the US. A lot of our mentors, for example, in the US do come from different companies that we work with. But then yes, we do have mentors. We don’t have an office in Atlanta, ourselves.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. And what was the motivation for you as the co-founder and currently the CEO of the organization? This has got to take a lot of your time, right? And a lot of your effort. And so tell us a little bit about your background.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So I come from a low income family in Spain, and actually my life changed when I was 16. I got a first scholarship and I went to a high school in the US and to Brown University, then Carnegie Mellon, and all with full scholarships.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
And I was very aware of the support that I received. And when I started looking at economic mobility, the vehicle that I felt it was the fastest was entrepreneurship, but entrepreneurship ecosystems have huge bottlenecks. And when you see the type of entrepreneurs having access to good support-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
… They tend to be very specific group, very privileged group. And I wanted to solve that. I wanted to use technology as a way to solve this problem, which to me was very important.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. Well, you’re entitled to brag. It’s a phenomenal cause, it’s a great organization. Where do you see this organization? 10 years from now?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So my dream is that entrepreneurship support in those early stages is no longer a luxury. So the same way that information today is democratized like with Wikipedia, for example. I hope that access to business, training, and mentoring to start your own business through Bridge for Billions can be the same. We believe that we can really generate that network of ecosystem builders of actors that believe in supporting entrepreneurs. So that we together can really democratize access to this.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That’s fantastic, and this is something that is very much needed right now, right? I mean, we’re gone through now over the last 18 months, COVID 19 and its impact. What kind of an impact did that have in your efforts?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So our programs, we’re always online or hybrid in person and online.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So when COVID hit, we felt extremely privileged that we could continue our operations without changing anything. However, that didn’t mean that the entrepreneurs we wanted to support had access to the digital tools, and the digital literacy to really benefit from the work that we do. So that’s when we started working with a lot of local actors and then to together joining forces to really get to where we feel we’re needed the most.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. How long have you been involved in the Atlanta market?

Pablo Santaeufemia:
So it’s been less than a year actually. So we’re quite new to Atlanta.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Wow. That’s fantastic. You couldn’t have picked a better market. We’re happy that you’re here. And there’s a lot of people that are watching us have this discussion are going to be going to Bridge for Billions and they’ll be going to that website right now. We’re showing it on the screen. And I’m sure they’re going to be getting their applications ready. So congratulations on all your success. It’s Bridge for Billions. As I said, we’re showing all the information on the screen right now. Pablo, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to visit us here on the show. We very much appreciate it. And best of luck to you. Sounds like you’re doing great work.

Pablo Santaeufemia:
Thank you so much. Pleasure.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thank you.


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