International entrepreneur visits Ozmen Center

By Rick Winfield

The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship was pleased to welcome Liher Pillado of Mondragon University in the Basque region of Spain for a fascinating talk and discussion on Thursday, Oct. 2. Arranged in conjunction with the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, attendees included faculty and PhD students from both the Basque Studies Department and The College of Business, as well as members of the Reno entrepreneurship community.

From left, Horohito Norhatan, Basque Studies PhD student; Sandie Ott, Center for Basque Studies co-director; Liher Pillado with Mondragon University; Rick Winfield economics PhD student; and  Dave Croasdell, The College of Business faculty, pose for a picture outside the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship on Oct. 2. Photo submitted by Rick Winfield.
From left, Horohito Norhatan, Basque studies PhD student; Sandie Ott, Center for Basque Studies co-director; Liher Pillado with Mondragon University; Rick Winfield economics PhD student; and Dave Croasdell, The College of Business faculty, pose for a picture outside the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship on Oct. 2. Photo submitted by Rick Winfield.

Pillado is a team coach at Mondragon Team Academy (Bidasoa Lab), part of the entrepreneurship program at Mondragon University. His presentation started with an explanation of the Mondragon Corporation, a federation of worker cooperatives based in the Basque region of Spain. Founded in the town of Mondragon in 1956, it is the tenth-largest Spanish company in terms of asset turnover and the leading business group in the Basque country.

At the end of 2013, Mondragon Corporation employed 74,061 people in 257 companies and organizations in four areas of activity: finance, industry, retail and knowledge. As a cooperative, Mondragon Corp. has a unique charter, focusing on creating value for the community as compared to a typical corporation that focuses on creating value for shareholders.

Pillado teaches in a unique undergraduate program at Mondragon University where students, starting in their first year of studies, are placed in cohorts that consistently start projects and companies with the goal of making money. In fact, students cannot graduate from the program unless they are part of a profitable project. Each year, the students travel to different business centers around the world, including other locations in Europe, Silicon Valley in California, and Shanghai China (paying for the trips with the profits from the ventures) to learn about the business culture in other countries. Mixed in with their venture creation projects and travel are traditional business classes, language classes (so they can communicate on their trips), group discussion meetings with mentors, and a requirement to read extensively from a long list of books about business and entrepreneurship.

Mixed in with their venture creation projects and travel are traditional business classes, language classes (so they can communicate on their trips), group discussion meetings with mentors, and a requirement to read extensively from a long list of books about business and entrepreneurship.

While still a young program, every graduate of the program to date has left the program with a job (quite an accomplishment given recent events in Spain). Approximately half the students continue on with ventures created during the program while the other half finds employment with companies they worked for as students.

Mondragon University is currently seeking partners from around the world to recreate this program at different universities. Pillado’s travel schedule has been intense, and the OCE appreciates him taking the time to come to Reno and speak with us. It was an early example of how the OCE’s space in the Ansari Business Building will be used to bring together people from not only from across the UNR campus, but also across the world, to facilitate discussions and collaborations around entrepreneurship.

After the talk, Pillado and several participants toured The Generator, a community makerspace frequently used to build Burning Man art projects.

Rick Winfield is a PhD economics candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno and a graduate assistant at the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached at LinkedIn and maintains a blog called Innovation Hacking.