People Francesca De Gottardo

Dreaming of Indiana Jones, I Became an Entrepreneur

, by Valentina Gatti
The Master in Marketing and Communication alumna discusses her career – from archaeology to her startup, which combines African fabrics with Italian design

From dreaming of becoming an archaeologist after watching Indiana Jones movies to launching a startup between Italy and Tanzania. This is the path of Francesca De Gottardo, the 39-year-old CEO and co-founder of Endelea, a startup that combines Italian design with African fabrics.

De Gottardo's dream of becoming an archaeologist collided almost immediately with the harsh reality that there were not many job opportunities for archaeology graduates. "Having a degree in that subject amid the economic crisis meant doing unpaid internships. I knew early on that if I wanted to work in the sector, I would have to go through another door," she says.  So, at the suggestion of her manager at Mondadori, she enrolled in the Master in Marketing and Communication (MiMec) program at Bocconi. She was then able to get a full-time job – paid – at a digital agency in Brescia. At the same time, she launched her first entrepreneurial project: Svegliamuseo, a blog dedicated to digital communication for museums. After its resounding success on Facebook, the project was also cited by the then Minister of Culture – Massimo Bray – and has attracted the attention of other museums, with which she has collaborated, including the Smithsonian in Washington, Campari Gallery, Palazzo Grassi and Carriero Foundation. "I was doing what I have always wanted to do, but was getting paid very little. So, I was driven to work even as a social media manager for multiple companies in the evenings and on weekends," De Gottardo recalls. For these reasons, she decided to accept an offer as Furla's social media manager. However, she soon realized that working at the famed fashion house was not really for her. 

So between 2016 and 2017, she left for Zambia for a volunteer experience. Once there, she had a skirt made with beautiful fabric, but a very poor design. "I realized that I needed a job that reflected my values and desire to build bridges. Back in Milan, I met with one of my Furla colleagues – Serena Izzo – with whom I decided to create Endelea in 2017 to create a positive impact in a developing country," says De Gottardo. She returned to Africa to present her idea to the Italian embassy. In August 2017, she launched her startup and resigned from Furla. In 2019 Endelea became an innovative startup, and in 2020 it was accelerated by B4i – the Bocconi University accelerator program. Thanks to the program, De Gottardo learned "how to dialogue with investors and conduct business." Today Endelea boasts two investment rounds and 23 partners, with 17 partners in Tanzania and 15 in Italy. 

"Ninety percent of my work consists of cultural mediation. In my seven years as an entrepreneur, though, I have grown a lot on a personal level, looking at things from a different perspective and living between Africa and Milan," says De Gottardo. In her opinion, owning a business allows you to create "the perfect workplace, where you adopt your own dimension of time, space and human resources." However, there is no shortage of challenges – first and foremost, the bureaucracy and difficulty of understanding the language of business and investment. Then there is the stress – including the physical kind – of running a company between Italy and Tanzania, dealing with important geographical, climatic and cultural differences, as well as sacrificing one's personal life. "I have a fulfilling life, but not an easy one. The business completely drains you, both mentally and emotionally; it is like having a daughter," De Gottardo underscores. She advises young entrepreneurs to "hire a good accountant and pay close attention to your mental equilibrium."


translated by Rosa Palmieri