Mexicans used to call her "la chica loca"-the crazy girl-back around 1997, when she was one of the leaders of an effort to provide mentorship and capital to entrepreneurs in emerging markets. "The idea that there would be any entrepreneurs in emerging markets, in any high-growth capacity, was considered nuts," says Linda Rottenberg.
Now Rottenberg wears the moniker as a badge of honor. That's allowed when the nonprofit you co-founded, Endeavor Global, has helped foster the growth of companies responsible for the creation of 180,000 jobs, with total annual revenues of $5 billion, in some of the world's rising, but still relatively poor, economies.
"Crazy is a compliment and my corollary is, if you are not called crazy, you are probably not thinking big enough," says Rottenberg, who serves as CEO of the New York City-based nonprofit organization.
As for the 708 "Endeavor Entrepreneurs" that the organization has mentored since its founding-a group that includes a tuna-packing company in a region of Mexico wracked with drug violence-Rottenberg notes that many of them were once considered "crazy" themselves. Entrepreneurship, she notes, has not always been viewed as an admirable career path in many emerging markets.
To be accepted into the Endeavor Global program, entrepreneurs need to have more than an idea. From the time an application is made, the selection process takes 12 months to 18 months. Applicants are required to have raised at least $5 million in capital, which means entrepreneurs trying to get into the program typically have been in business for up to five years.
The 708 entrepreneurs in the program were selected from a total of 30,000 applications received by the organization.
"I think these people think big," she says.
Rottenberg and Endeavor Global continue to think big, as well. In November, they founded Endeavor Catalyst, a nonprofit "supporting organization" that aims to directly invest, through private donations, up to $50 million into some of the standout performers in Endeavor's entrepreneurial portfolio.
Up until then, Endeavor had served soley as a middleman, accepting donations that were used to provide entrepreneurs with mentorship and guidance, and to match them up with venture capitalists. The Catalyst program will allow Endeavor to have a more direct role in helping emerging market entrepreneurs succeed, according to officials of the organization.
It is also one of the latest example of the socially conscious thinking that taken hold in both the investing and philanthropic arenas, where the wealthy are looking to put their money to work for a good, self-sustaining cause.