Entrepreneurship: The Impact of
Economic and Political Differences

featuring The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Over the course of spring semester 2023, we had the privilege to work with an incredibly talented group of students from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on a hybrid program focused on shedding light on social entrepreneurship in Brazil. 

As part of the first integral component of the program, we designed and operated a 14-week-long virtual course in which we met twice a week with the students to provide lectures, conduct interactive activities, and introduce a case for them to work on in collaboration with local Brazilian students throughout the semester. The content of these lectures and activities aimed to:

Provide students with background knowledge of key aspects of Brazil’s culture, social makeup, and political landscape;
Equip students with a series of fundamental tools in intercultural communication and international project management;
Introduce students to the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Brazil.

"The ten days that my classmates and I spent in Brazil will truly be an experience I will never forget. While we traveled to the most beautiful sights and learned valuable lessons about social entrepreneurship, my greatest takeaways were the connections I built. From living, enjoying meals, and traveling with my classmates from Illinois, I became close with many people I had never even spoken to before. In Rio, we finally met up with the Brazilian students we had been working with on our projects all semester. My group instantly bonded, and while communication was difficult over Zoom, in person we were able to connect over shared interests, learn more about our cultures, and have an incredible time together."

Jessica Shade

Business student - UIUC

Following these 14 weeks of coursework, students then embarked on their journey to Brazil, where they spent 10 days engaging in a series of different activities, exercises, and visits in order to experience first-hand how startups and businesses are addressing social issues. Students had the chance to explore three different cities across the country–São Paulo, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro–which provided a holistic perspective on the different challenges and opportunities that exist in each of these contexts. 


São Paulo, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)


- Virtual: Feb 1 to May 3, 2023
- On-Site: May 14th to 23th, 2023


Faculty-led Immersion

This program represents one of the longest-running partnerships in campus b’s history. We first designed an experience for students of UIUC’s Gies Scholar Program in 2011–at which time it was known as the Business Honors Program.

The program provides a select group of students in the Gies College of Business with a series of academic and extracurricular activities to enrich their college experience and professional development, including a short-term international immersive experience. Since the inception of this partnership, we have run the program a total of six times, during which time we have been able to grow the scope and reach of the experience. 

This year’s experience would not have been possible without Dr. Mark Smith (Senior Lecturer of Finance), Kaci Abolt (Assistant Director, Undergraduate Admissions & Recruitment), and particularly Christine Gozdziak (Assistant Dean of International Programs), who has been a key champion of our work and this program since its inception.

The Journey:

At the beginning of the spring semester, we launched the virtual component of the program, which consisted of a 14-week course in which the students met twice a week for lectures and activities. The topics covered in these sessions ranged from cross-cultural skill building to business modeling and social venture capital.

While the first four weeks of the course involved just the 47 UIUC students, beginning in week five, we welcomed a group of 18 local Brazilian students to work on a project in small teams with their UIUC peers. Over the course of the subsequent weeks, the eight different groups were tasked with developing a model for a social business to address a pressing issue in Brazil.

"For me, first getting to know Brazilian students from different regions and diverse cultures was enriching. We exchanged ideas, shared experiences, and the distinct accents and perspectives made everything even more fascinating. Additionally, the immersion with international students was incredibly valuable. The days we spent together will be forever etched in my life, and I learned invaluable lessons. I'm truly moved by everything I experienced in this program, and I am immensely grateful for every moment. The Gies Scholars Program has left a profound mark on my life, and I will be forever grateful for this unique opportunity for personal and professional growth. "

Maycon de Lima Toledo

Accounting student - Universidade Paulista

After the online course wrapped up at the end of the semester, the UIUC students then arrived in Brazil in mid-May to begin the in-person component of the program. Beginning in São Paulo, students had the chance to visit Yuool–a b corporation that produces sustainable footwear–where they had the opportunity to hear from the CEO about the founding of the company, current challenges in the footwear market, and best practices in the field of sustainability.

After three days in São Paulo, the students went on to Salvador, where they visited the Dendê Innovation Center, a tech and entrepreneurship hub that provides a supportive ecosystem for startups, tech companies, and creative professionals. After another three days here, students finished out their journey in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian students who had participated in the virtual course were invited to experience this final stretch of the program alongside their UIUC peers. The work they did throughout the semester culminated in a final entrepreneurship workshop, during which they engaged in a series of lectures on the topic before presenting their social business models in a pitch competition style format. 


Gustavo Fuga

Founder & CEO of vc_tb

Gustavo Fuga designed and taught the virtual course that students participated in throughout the spring semester, in addition to having directed them on their group projects. Fuga himself has vast experience in the field of social entrepreneurship, having founded a social impact business called vc_tbpreviously known as 4YOU2 Idiomas–which acts as a language school that works to democratize English language education throughout Brazil. Through his work at vc_tb over the past 11 years, Fuga has gained international recognition in the field, having served as panelist and presenter at conferences and events in Spain, China, and Finland and having been named one of the International Literacy Foundation’s 30 Under 30. 

The Impact:

By mixing in elements of intercultural interaction, real-world case studies, supplemental cultural activities, and an applied project, students came to grasp a series of key pillars that underlie innovation and entrepreneurship:

First, they saw that businesses are necessarily situated in specific contexts and that understanding the economic, political, and social factors that shape these contexts is critical to the success of the business. 

In the case of vc_tb, for instance, it is impossible to understand the success and potential of the business without understanding the socioeconomic mobility that the English language provides in a Brazilian context. 

Second, they learned that startups around the world are addressing universal problems, despite their unique local manifestations. 

In other words, studying how Brazilians are using business as a force of social change provides fertile ground for exploring how these solutions could be adjusted and applied to other countries–such as the U.S. 

And third, students witnessed firsthand how their own personal experiences can offer some of the most profound insights that inform the development of social businesses.

In fact, many of the business plans that students presented at the end of the program were developed based on their own interests and stories–ranging from an app that would expand access to mental health services to a business that would help integrate and empower migrant women. 

Perhaps most critically, however, this program showed students the fundamental role that intercultural communication has in the business world.

When reflecting on the program at the end, nearly all of the students came to the consensus that the most difficult–yet most rewarding–aspect of the program was the group work with their international colleagues. Despite the challenges they faced in navigating complex cultural and linguistic barriers in their respective groups, the fact that they all had to come together around a common goal gave them a sense of purpose, which in turn created a sense of unity amongst them. 

"Being part of the GIES Scholar program as an international relations student was an enriching experience, it allowed me to expand my horizons even further by gaining insights into the field of business and entrepreneurship. One of the highlights of the program to me was the powerful exchange between the participants because we came from diverse backgrounds, cultures and languages and that made us in the dynamic bring different perspectives and experiences, and this is particularly relevant in the context of international relations and intercultural business. I am certain that in my academic and professional life the skills I acquired through theoretical and practical approaches during this journey will come in handy. "

Kelly da Silva Santos

International Relations student - Universidade Federal da Paraíba

Did you enjoy reading about this incredible international education journey? 

Our passion in the academic field has given us the privilege of actively collaborating with more than 80 universities, offering professional and extracurricular experience journeys directly impacting more than 4000 students.

Written by:

Jaret Waters

Campus b Team

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