Each year, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) coordinates programs with the U.S. Department of State that bring hundreds of international visitors–professionals, students and government leaders–to the Cleveland area. It’s all part of the organization’s mission to foster global awareness of Northeast Ohio as a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship.

This year, CCWA has also partnered with the U.S. Department of State and Meridian International Center to host the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI)  as one of 24 “City Hubs” across the country. The program invited 250 entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States for a four-week fellowship with local companies, where they not only strengthened their capacity to launch and advance their own entrepreneurial ideas, but also offered their own unique perspectives on success in business to their hosts.

From October 9th to November 5th, 10 YLAI fellows called Cleveland home and served as “entrepreneurs-in-residence” for host companies spanning a variety of industries. Among the host organizations, were ECDI’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) and the Cleveland Heath-Tech Corridor.

“Participating in the YLAI program has been a wonderful experience for the Women’s Business Center of Northern Ohio,” said Jan Conrad, Director of ECDI Women’s Business Center, who hosted Janese Henderson, Founder and CEO of Gifted Hands Touching Lives, an organization in Antigua and Barbuda dedicated to empowering women and young people through education and professional training. “The experience has facilitated an appreciation for our Western Hemisphere neighbors, and added a new perspective on the amount of support services for entrepreneurs in greater Cleveland.”

Michael Lalich, Project Manager at Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor hosted Carolina Anton, Founder and COO of MedNet Medical Technology Cluster, the first medical-technology cluster in Argentina which brings together public and private sector organizations to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and policies for healthcare.

“Globally connected cities are more economically successful and culturally vibrant,” said Lalich. “Carolina brought a fresh and unique perspective to the work that we do and helped us examine how we are perceived by international businesses and entrepreneurs.”

By working with their hosts, YLAI Professional Fellows were also able to gain valuable professional development skills, creating action plans to be implemented upon their return to their home countries. Furthermore, they were given the opportunity to build networks, linkages and lasting partnerships to attract U.S. investment and support for their entrepreneurial ventures.

“For me, the YLAI program has been a great experience in my personal and professional life,” said Juan Carlos Ferero Oliveros, Fellow at Cleveland Clinic Innovations (CCI), and Founder and CEO of Chile-based ChitoCure, a company dedicated to improving the quality of life in patients suffering from diabetic foot ulcers, pressure ulcers and chronic skin lesions. “I shared experiences with people of different countries, cultures and companies, all of which enriched my skills and capabilities to be a leader in the future.”

In third week of the program, all YLAI fellows participated in a pitch competition, which Oliveros won. He now hopes to use that experience to make a difference when he returns home.

“My work at CCI helped me to win the pitch competition, especially in the understanding of market, competitors and projections of my business,” he added. “I expect to teach my knowledge to other entrepreneurs and improve the biotech environment in Chile when I return to the country.”

Oliveros’s pitch deck was submitted for consideration for the YLAI national pitch competition at the program’s culminating summit in Washington, D.C., which took place November 6th – 8th.  This three-day conference gave fellows an opportunity to learn from and network with top U.S. government officials as well as global public, private and nonprofit leaders. Although Oliveros was ultimately not selected to compete in the national pitch competition, he said that delivering his pitch in Cleveland offered him invaluable experience.

Upon completion of their fellowship, YLAI fellows will be eligible for grants to fund startup or scaling activities, grants to attend conferences and a chance to welcome a fellowship host to their country to share expertise and expand the host’s understanding of the entrepreneurship climate in YLAI Professional Fellows’ home countries.

“With YLAI, we are looking forward to seeing how the program shapes these entrepreneurs’ ideas and thoughts about their business, illuminates new avenues for growth and development and forges cross-border connections between bright minds in Cleveland, Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Katie Ferman, Program Officer at Cleveland Council on World Affairs.

To learn more about the program, or to get involved with YLAI, visit their website or contact Program Officer Katie Ferman at kferman@ccwa.org.

To learn more about the Cleveland Council on World Affair’s work in Cleveland and across the globe, visit their website.

Gloria Ware
Gloria leads JumpStart’s strategic efforts to create inclusive, high-impact entrepreneurial ecosystems. She brings a wealth of finance and business development expertise to the organization, along with a passion for community engagement.