Mr. Bragiel may not have major startup success to his name, but
he's got enough experience and tech-famous friends to export
Silicon Valley's ambassadorial message -- and its money -- to
hungry global entrepreneurs. Some of the people who have joined him
on his trips include Aswhin Navin, co-founder of BitTorrent,
YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, Yelp co-founder Russ Simmons and
MySpace co-founder Aber Whitcomb.
"The attitude between entrepreneurs in some countries is closed
and secretive," said Mr. Bragiel, who along with his brother Dan is
co-founder of I/O Ventures. "It can be counter-intuitive to help
the people you are competing against. But in Silicon Valley, we
believe that if you help someone else, then something good will
come back to you and that's part of the vision and message I
The friends he's made over the years agree. "I think the work
Paul does around the world and his extrovert personality make him a
very peculiar type of entrepreneur of Silicon Valley," said
Reinaldo Normand, a Brazilian startup entrepreneur who helped
organize and went on several of Mr. Bragiel's trips. "He opens the
doors to the rest of the world to learn, share and interact with
the best minds here."
Mr. Bragiel's connections to Silicon Valley go back to his
college days at the University of Illinois, where his classmates
included founders of some of the most important companies online.
Through his startup Meetro, Mr. Bragiel met many venture
capitalists and angel investors in the Valley. "I went to see the
Benchmarks, the Sequoias, the Ray Conways, the Reid Hoffmans all up
and down the Valley -- and I was told 'no' by most of them," Mr.
Bragiel name-dropped. He said he brings all these connections with
him on his trips to share with the men and women who are eager to
try their hand at the startup life.
The trips evolved organically. One day last year, Mr. Bragiel
was having a few beers with his friend Mbwana Alliy, co-founder of
Tanzanian and East Africa travel site YellowMasai. They were
talking about doing a project in Tanzania. A month later, Mr. Alliy
called and said that Jakaya Kikwete, the Tanzanian president,
wanted to meet and discuss helping with the technology scene in the
The Tanzanian government paid for the August trip, during which
Mr. Bragiel and Mr. Alliy made arrangements to set up a startup
incubator in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania. The
incubator will host 47 companies over the next three years. Mr.
Bragiel also arranged mentor trips to the country, getting together
groups of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are willing to share
their expertise. One of the mentor trips took place in December,
when Mr. Simmons -- early lead engineer at PayPal and co-founder of
Yelp -- traveled to meet with students at the University of Dar es
Salaam and other locations.
Tanzania is just starting out, but other countries that already
have a relatively strong internet presence still want some help
from Silicon Valley to get them over the hump of starting a
thriving startup and tech community.
To get to Brazil, Mr. Bragiel contacted Mr. Normand on LinkedIn.
After some planning, Mr. Bragiel and his founder friends in
November traveled to Rio de Janeiro to meet with the mayor, Eduardo
"Paul was the guy to make this happen," said Mr. Normand.
"Without him, we would still be very far from Silicon Valley and
The mayor of Brazil is tech-savvy and has a goal in mind for his
city -- he wants to be technologically ready for the FIFA World Cup
in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016, both of which will take
place in Rio de Janeiro.
On his trip to Brazil, Mr. Bragiel was accompanied by Messrs.
Navin, Karim and Whitcomb (BitTorrent, YouTube, MySpace). "People
were very happy to meet the Silicon Valley folks," Mr. Normand said
of the trip. "They were willing to learn why Silicon Valley is so
powerful today, what is the secret sauce, [what are] the formulas,
and where its mojo comes from. There is a kind of deference to
Silicon Valley in Brazil and people from there are very
Mr. Normand works for StartUp Chile, a Chilean government
initiative to bring venture money into the country. A mentor trip
to Chile is in the works.
Mr. Bragiel said sometimes the entrepreneurs in the countries he
visits just want someone to talk to, someone to listen to them. "A
big difference is meeting someone face-to-face. You meet someone
who built a $100 million company, and when you look at the guy,
he's wearing jeans and a T-shirt. You see he's not much different
from you except he's 10 years older. A lot of times, they don't
need much more than inspiration. I'm happy to bring it to