A Pompano Beach consulting firm is assisting the 50 Brazilian companies to launch U.S. operations, creating jobs in Florida and strengthening ties with the state’s largest trade partner.
Duvekot, which specializes in helping Brazilian companies navigate the U.S. market, won a three-year contract from Brazil’s small business administration Sebrae for the expansion project. It now is working with the businesses it helped choose from 2,409 applicants in Brazil’s southeast Santa Catarina state.
“Basically, it’s a university. By the end of the program, we’ll be graduating these companies, and they’ll be on their own,” said Duvekot president Amilcar Gazaniga Jr. “And if this works out, we hope to do the program with other groups from Santa Catarina, other Brazilian states and other countries too.”
Duvekot has pledged its “business accelerator” program will create at least 60 jobs and raise at least $9 million for the first 50 companies in five years, Gazaniga said.
To reach those goals, it is teaming up with local groups, including Nova Southeastern University and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development group.
The Alliance is thrilled that Duvekot’s “accelerator” will boost Broward’s growing cluster of Brazilian businesses that range from multinationals to retail banks, restaurant chains to corner bakeries.
“Foreign direct investment is really important. That’s how we build wealth in Broward, by importing business,” said Alliance CEO Bob Swindell. “And creating a place where you have people with a commonality of interest working on how to open a business in the U.S. just makes a lot of sense.”
The 50 companies Duvekot is helping are from a coastal state of 7 million residents. Santa Catarina is known for small enterprises and software development and sometimes called Brazil’s Silicon Valley, Gazaniga said.
The consulting firm decided to focus on businesses in four areas: software, high-tech manufacturing, fashion and food – all industries on Florida’s targeted list and eligible for Florida help. Duvekot is offering the companies training, mentoring and networking that will help them launch in a foreign market fast.
The biggest challenge is helping the Brazilians master a different business culture and learn how to sell to an American customer, Gazaniga said.
“In Brazil, you usually have 10 to 15 minutes to explain what you do and how you do it. Here in the U.S., if you have 30 seconds to say how you can add value for the other party, that’s a lot,” said Gazaniga.
Getting straight down to business would be considered rude in Brazil. You build trust with people by chatting about yourself, your family and your company. Business comes later, said Gazaniga.
For Brazilian software engineer Cleber da Cruz, CEO of Priori IT Corp., the help is invaluable.
“It’s like getting a doctorate,” said the 38-year-entrepreneur, who moved to Broward this summer and works from Duvekot’s shared space. Da Cruz figures it would take his team “five times more at a minimum” in time and expense to develop a U.S. business without the “accelerator” project.
In Santa Catarina, Da Cruz helms a 12-year-old company that employs 24 people making software for enterprises. It works with Intel, Microsoft Salesforce and others to sell in Brazil and South America.
In the U.S., his new business aims to offer mobile solutions for sales teams in the field, also working with Salesforce and other partners. Da Cruz said he’s now honing a “simple, direct” message for U.S. buyers and “building relationships with partners here, so we can go to the marketplace together.”
For Gazaniga, the project is a good fit. An industrial engineer from Brazil, he holds two MBAs from top schools in Brazil and the U.S., and he worked for years helping a Brazilian tile maker launch sales in the U.S. The tile company still works with Duvekot, which ships out its samples fast to potential buyers.
For the Santa Catarina project, Duvekot employs about 15 staffers at its South Florida base and in an office in Brazil. It also serves as the U.S. distributor for many of the Brazilian food manufacturers.
So far, just a handful of the 50 startups have sent staff from Brazil to live in Broward to build U.S. sales and hire U.S. staff, Gazaniga said.
Making the move is costly today because of Brazil’s weakened currency, now at a 12-year low against the U.S. dollar. Still, the strong dollar encourages Brazilian companies to sell in the U.S. The dollars earned can stretch further in Brazil, once the companies get their U.S. operations up and running.
Across South Florida, almost 5 percent of private-sector jobs come from foreign-owned companies, according to a study from the Brookings Institution released last year. Those nearly 92,000 jobs include almost 300 from Brazil’s aircraft maker Embraer, which operates its U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.
The 50 Brazilian businesses launching in Pompano Beach offer, among other products, shoes, chocolate, bottled fish, heart-of-palm spread, coffee in capsules, cosmetics and kilns.
Gazaniga aims one day to offer a similar program to help Florida companies start up in Brazil, the country of 200 million people that ranks as the world’s sixth-largest economy. He looks forward to offering help with Brazilian business culture, from the complexities of taxes to how to build trust.
“One of my goals,” said Gazaniga, “is build a bridge for business” linking the U.S. and Brazil.