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Young leaders

Operating in a range of industries, junior enterprises are attempting to boost entrepreneurship in Brazil

Sandra Javera

As the importance of entrepreneurship is increasingly acknowledged, junior enterprises are showing their value when it comes to promoting new businesses. Founded as nonprofit organizations and run exclusively by students at public and private higher education institutions, they serve as a complement to practical studies, giving students real-life work experience and offering services to customers at a more accessible cost.

“The skills students gain from real business experience is in line with our purpose of making Brazil a more entrepreneurial country,” says André Bombonati, 21, president of the São Paulo State Federation of Junior Enterprises (FEJESP). According to data from Brasil Júnior, a confederation that represents junior enterprises nationwide, there are 1,140 such organizations in the country, with total revenues of R$44.8 million in 2019. The body estimates that 23,000 students participate, as volunteers, in positions ranging from interns to CEOs. By law, employees of junior enterprises do not receive a salary. “Part of these companies’ revenue is used to fund business infrastructure, employee training programs, and participation in events, and the rest is reserved for use in future enterprises”, he adds.

Conceived in 1967 by students from the École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) business school in Paris, France, the student-run model arrived in Brazil in 1988, when the Getulio Vargas Foundation established the country’s first junior enterprise, known as EJFGV. With 44 projects and revenues of R$675,000 last year alone, the company provides consulting services, including market research, marketing plans, product pricing, and financial organization. “We have roughly 65 employees working across all areas of the company,” says Lucca Ribeiro Ferreira Sampaio, 20, current president of EJFGV and a student on the institution’s business administration course. Competition for positions at the company is fierce. In the last hiring round, which took place in August, 398 students applied and 16 were selected. “The hiring process follows standard Brazilian market practices, with tests followed by group and individual interviews,” explains Sampaio. The company was also responsible for establishing the Movimento Empresa Júnior (Junior Enterprise Movement) in Brazil, which is in charge of establishing and regulating common strategic plans for the network of federated organizations.

Since its inception, the movement has been challenged with expanding the number of junior companies at private educational institutions. “Today, 89% of junior enterprises are connected to public universities,” points out Bombonati, from FEJESP. One explanation for this is that many private colleges act exclusively as educational institutions, as well as the fact that their students often already have jobs alongside their studies. “Because junior enterprises are overseen by departments for continuing education, which are responsible for fostering connections between teaching, research, and social demands, they end up being restricted to institutions dedicated to this goal,” he adds. The rise of distance learning is also stifling the formation of these organizations.

Objectives of junior enterprises

• To share experiences in a cooperative work environment
• To help undergraduate students develop management and leadership skills
• To offer services at a low cost
• To increase competitiveness among small and medium-sized companies

Source Movimento Brasil Júnior/FEJESP

There is an effort to diversify the sectors where these enterprises operate, as well as the courses with which they are associated. “There is an erroneous view that entrepreneurship is exclusively related to business. But entrepreneurship is essential in all fields of knowledge,” says Marcelo Nakagawa, a professor at the Institute of Education and Research (INSPER). Nagakawa highlights its stronger presence in business, economics, and engineering schools, but points out that entrepreneurial experience can expand the professional possibilities of students on all courses. “Relationships with other entrepreneurs gives you a new way of thinking about your career,” he says.

Despite operating in a range of industries, the main service provided by the vast majority of junior enterprises is consulting. For example, the Junior Enterprise in Forestry Consulting (AMCOF), based at the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM) in Manaus, offers advice on forestry issues to rural producers operating in the state. The company’s services include socioenvironmental and topographic analysis, soil studies, environmental education, seedling production, and landscaping. Since it was founded five years ago, the enterprise has specialized in helping people sign up to the Brazilian Rural Environmental Register (SICAR), which is a mandatory requirement for rural properties seeking to comply with environmental regulations. “We gather data on relief, area, and legal reserve or permanent protection areas. We also check for deforestation,” says Willian Oliveira dos Santos, 22, the company’s commercial and marketing director. “Then, we create maps of this information and store it in our system.” With 44 projects completed and revenues of R$20,000 last year, the company has 10 employees and primarily advertises its services on social media.

UFABC Jr., which operates from the Federal University of ABC (UFABC) and provides management and business consulting services, aims to become the largest accelerator formed by students in the region, comprising the cities of Santo André, São Bernardo, and São Caetano, all located in Greater São Paulo. “We survey the characteristics of a company, map its internal communication, how it is organized financially, and how it controls its data, as well as surveying customer perceptions,” explains the enterprise’s 20-year-old president, Catharina Paiola Magnossão. Founded almost a decade ago, UFABC Jr. recorded revenues of R$103,000 from 27 projects and 25 clients in 2019. It employs 21 students who work in its sales, digital marketing, projects, finance, legal, and HR departments. “We proactively prospect new customers—we don’t rely on digital marketing alone to win new contracts,” she explains.

In the astronomy sector, IAG Júnior, which is run at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics, and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo (IAG-USP), found an opportunity to diversify its activities and offer services beyond consulting. Operating since 1997, the company provides science outreach programs for elementary schools involving lectures, workshops, night sky observations, and experience with instrumentation, such as telescopes. “We mostly work with private schools. In addition to having funds set aside for this type of activity, their curriculums are also more flexible,” explains board member João Paulo Alves, 22.

Entrepreneurship networking
Regional and national meetings are frequent among young entrepreneurs, with the aim of bringing together junior enterprises from across Brazil to discuss common goals and exchange experiences. At its 26th edition held in September last year, the National Meeting of Junior Enterprises (ENEJ) united more than 5,000 students from around the country in Gramado, Rio Grande do Sul State.

“These events give us an opportunity to connect and share projects, which allows for a more integrated and finely tuned governance system,” explains Isabel Fazio de Carvalho, 19, vice president of FEA Júnior, a company based at USP’s School of Business and Economics (FEA), which worked on 73 projects in 2019 with revenues of R$830,000. Carvalho is a second-year business administration student, but she was familiar with the movement even before she began her studies. “What inspired me the most was the students’ enthusiasm and the desire to transform Brazil into a more entrepreneurial country,” she says.