Enrique Topolansky is the Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of ORT University. He has supported the foundation of many successful startups, such as PedidosYa (acquired by Delivery Hero), Paganza (fintech), Workifit (job search platform), among others. He has also supported and mentored Wolfy (see case study), a product for lead generation for outbound sales built by Eagerworks co-founders, Santi and Jp. Enrique has over 30 years in the tech industry, and has seen it all when it comes to the Uruguayan startup ecosystem. It‘s always enriching to chat with "Topo" and listen to all the entrepreneurial adventures he has eye witnessed. We thank him once more for this interview!
1. Tell us a bit more about yourself, your role in CIE, and your journey to get where you are now.
Back in the 80‘s I was lucky enough to come across a Texas TI99 / 4A (microcomputer). I don't know if it was the games or the magic of turning the TV at home into a device that seemed intelligent, but either one or the other ignited the spark that led me to who I am today. It was a long journey of search, construction, and growth. I started with friends working at home; there were no academies, we studied together as best as we could. We founded the CUCO (Uruguayan Computing Club), and we used to meet in the mathematics academy of a great professor, Eduardo Giovanni, on Simón Bolívar street. These were the roots, which allowed me to surround myself with great companions who made this growth possible.
One day, through a friend, I heard about an institute (ORT) beginning to teach computer science, and I went there and signed up. That was my first contact with ORT, a place where I found a spirit and a way of teaching with which I felt very identified. With fellow students, we founded a Software Factory, then another, and another. With trial and error, we grew: the entrepreneur was born. During this process, I became involved in ORT, first as a laboratory assistant, then as a teacher. I had the privilege of being part of the founding team of the first technology-based incubator in Uruguay and, I dear to say, in the region. A long road of more than 30 years took me to my place today: I’m now the Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the ORT University. The passion remains intact, and the commitment to help entrepreneurs continues to grow. Thriving becomes the energy that moves me and powers me.
2. What can you tell us about the Uruguayan entrepreneur ecosystem, and what was the impact of Covid?
The Uruguayan technology-based entrepreneur usually has excellent training and a global vision. Being a small country with an entrepreneurial spirit, Uruguay is born with an outgo view, which is a great advantage. COVID certainly impacted us all in different ways. Perhaps, those of us in the technology area who were already used to remote work felt the hit a little less, but without a doubt, it hit us. On one hand, it hit our spirits, and on the other, some projects were stopped, delayed, or canceled. At the same time, new opportunities arose, which, as entrepreneurs, we knew how to take advantage of. Due to our capacity of resilience, I sincerely believe that entrepreneurs were the ones who could best cope with the pandemic. I even dare to say that many, even in this context, grew a lot.
3. What is your perception of Uruguayan talent in the global tech industry?
I feel that the Uruguayan professionals are very well technically trained and have values that allow them to be well inserted in multi-disciplinary and multicultural projects with ease. One characteristic that I highlight is that they are all-round. They are also defined by their ability to find creative solutions and combine existing technologies to surprise their customers.
4. What are the advantages of launching a digital product in Uruguay?
Launching a product in Uruguay, if it is originally designed to go international...I feel that it has the advantage of growing with a firm sense of quality, having first-class professionals, and a small market that allows us to validate, at low cost, gaining feedback and learning in a reasonably controlled environment.
5. How should local entrepreneurs seek opportunities in scaling their business in the US?
It is an aspect in which we still have to work more. Many entrepreneurs find it difficult to travel or to participate in business rounds. This is one of the examples of an area in which the pandemic makes it easier. Before, you had to take a plane to go to business events, and put together an agenda of meetings that were really complex to allocate efficiently. Today, the fact that everyone is online makes it easier to request meetings, connect, or participate in events anywhere in the world.
6. How can education encourage entrepreneurship in the early stages?
I think that encouraging the entrepreneurial culture in the early stages requires a shift of the educational model. It should be oriented to projects, extend the boundaries of the classroom beyond its walls, propose challenges as part of learning, and introduce entrepreneurship from the beginning. It is what will help awaken, even more, the entrepreneurial spirit of young people.
7. Do you have any advice you would like to share with young entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is beautiful, but at the same time, very hard. Much harder than people think, to carry out an enterprise and be successful, you need commitment, hard work, the ability to learn, empathize, and, above all, gather a good team who works for a common purpose.
We totally agree with Enrique‘s final words. It is indeed hard to gather and build a solid team, although we do have to admit it is quite satisfying when you achieve it. Teams can have different shapes and forms, colors and sounds, and fortunately there isn‘t a "one and only" universal formula. If you wish to know how we could be the next ingredient of your own formula, feel free to contact us here.