PopUp Business School defies pandemic and civil war to ‘start up’ in Colombia

A British business school for ‘people from all walks of life’ has expanded into Colombia on its mission to help young, would-be entrepreneurs start up businesses in the war-torn country.

The PopUp Business School, founded by Alan Donegan and Simon Paine in 2011, has continued its international expansion with a programme in the city of Bogota, Colombia’s capital city.

It has just completed a free, week-long course teaching young people how to start up, make sales and run businesses, in an initiative funded by the office of the Mayor of Bogota.

“Starting up a business is more or less the same in every country. It all starts with a sale, and anybody can do it, no matter where they come from or who they are. However, we’ve never tested our approach in a place where there’s been so much instability before,” says PopUp founder Alan Donegan.

PopUp Business School’s usual intake includes the long-term unemployed, those on benefits and people who have English as a second language. Its programmes have been backed by the Department of Work and Pensions, major councils such as Brent and Westminster and many housing associations across England and Wales.

However, Donegan admits PopUp’s latest event, which took place this week (November 23- 27) and was sponsored by the Secretaria de Desarrollo of Bogotá, has been its biggest challenge.

“Colombia isn’t the most obvious country to expand into, especially right now. There have been language barriers, issues relating to their civil war and reconstruction and, of course, we are all locked down in the UK and most of Europe. I’ve spent most of the last few weeks on Zoom calls, training and incredible team led by Daniel Angel Castro in Colombia how to help start-ups. I am amazed it’s gone ahead during this pandemic and inspired by Daniel, Fabian and Alfredo’s passion to support people” he says.

Donegan and his co-founder Simon Paine met their Colombian counterparts while they were training international MBA students at Henley Business School.

“One of the students approached us after we had run a course on getting started and said: ‘This is what we need in Colombia.’ They want to find ways for people to rebuild their lives, create futures and solve problems. Really, we were very touched to be asked to help.”

The Colombia mission is not PopUp’s first international expansion, as the company is already active in five other countries, including the UK, US, France, Morocco and New Zealand. But Donegan says, if they can succeed in Colombia during a tumultuous 2020, then its model is undeniable.

“We are on a mission to change the way entrepreneurship is taught across the world. We want to show people you don’t need to write business plans, spend money or take on debt, and that anyone can do it. Colombia is a big moment for us. We want to inspire the world to dig its way out of a tough year using debt free entrepreneurship”

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