Sandra Lima Argo, Liaison America, Bluefield
In June, 2013, Sandra Lima Argo sought assistance from the Southwest Virginia SBDC to develop a new business that would provide international programs to public high schools, colleges, and universities in Virginia. The client had already worked with Bluefield College to develop an international program between the college and her native country of Brazil to promote English as a second language via professional workshops, internships and cultural experiences.
Brazilian families are willing to spend considerable funds to provide higher education for their children. Brazil has a strong elementary and intermediary system, but most students leave the country for higher education. During her 16 years in the Brazilian educational system, Mrs. Argo had developed a strong network of contacts willing to assist with the development of an international educational experience for students.
The client started promoting programs in Brazil for high school students, and the demand brought about opportunities to design three types of programs for Brazilians and Americans: one for high school students, one for teachers, and one for college students.
The client plans to facilitate four programs in 2014, eight programs in 2015 and ten programs per year after 2016. The programs may be themed and may include specific subjects such as math, science, or English as a second language. All programs will include a cultural experience to include local cuisine, events and lifestyle. International students will visit the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.
The client realizes that she is entering an extremely competitive area as there are over 500 companies in Brazil who specialize in developing these types of exchange programs. Her advantage is that she and her family are living in the United States and are better positioned to provide a comprehensive educational and cultural experience at a more competitive cost. She is also better positioned to coordinate a reciprocal program whereby students from the United States visit Brazil for a similar experience.
Following consultation with the Southwest Virginia Community College SBDC office, the client registered her business and participated in the region’s inaugural Entrepreneur Challenge program, a competitive process that granted cash prize awards for entrepreneurs. The program involved seven months of business training, networking and mentorship opportunities. Each participant created a business plan and gave a presentation at “Pitch Night.” Mrs. Argo placed third in the competition and won $1,500 to invest in her business.
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