Aula 2006 ─ Movement: Martin Varsavsky

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The third keynote speech at the Aula 2006 ─ Movement public event will be given by Martin Varsavsky, a well-known Argentine/Spanish entrepeneur. Martin has a BA degree from NYU and an MA in Business Administration from Columbia University (I think that sort of education makes you at least an honorary New Yorker-for-life, Martin!). While still an undergraduate at NYU, Martin started his first business, a real estate development company based in NY. Two years later he founded a biotechnology company named Medicorp Services, which became a pioneer in AIDS testing.


[Photo from David S. Isenberg’s blog shows, from left: Joichi Ito, Aula co-founder Marko Ahtisaari, and Martin Varsavsky.]

More recently, one of Martin’s ventures (, launched in 1999) has become Spain’s second largest Internet content company. But Martin has done a lot more than just start companies. As his bio on his website explains:

Martin Varsavsky is also President and founder of the Varsavsky Foundation, a private, independent grant-making organization dedicated to broadening access to, and improving the quality of education world-wide. It has donated funds primarily to (Argentina) and EducarChile (Chile) , two education portals that aim to democratize and modernize the educational systems in their respective countries. Because of his outstanding contributions to his country of origin, Varsavsky was awarded the title of Ambassador-at-Large of Argentina in 2001 up to 2005.

He is also on the Board of Trustees of the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, and is board member of the Instituto de Empresa and the Peaceworks OneVoice Foundation.

Passionate about current affairs and global issues, Martin Varsavsky has written numerous articles on business and international relations that have been published in several international publications including El Pais and Newsweek. He is also a frequent speaker at conferences around the world, such as the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos…

…he is the recipient of various honors and rewards, among them European Telecommunications Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998, ECTA´s European Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999, Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2000, and Spanish Entrepreneur of the Year by iBest in 2000.

In his spare time, Martin enjoys cycling, piloting, cooking asados and sailing.

Julie Jette of the Harvard Business School had this to say about Martin’s early confidence in a 2001 profile:

It was the roaring 1980s, and Martin Varsavsky was about to receive his MBA from Columbia University—and he still couldn’t get a job. His fruitless job search was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

Varsavsky, the irreverent closing speaker at the “Growth Opportunities in Latin America” conference, has started six successful companies in fifteen years. Entrepreneurship is in his blood, and it became obvious during that job search.

Varsavsky said he would go to interviews only to be tripped up by the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. “I would say, ‘Well, as your boss.'”

Among other things, Martin currently runs FON, a company which is a provider of wireless broadband access to the internet. Ethan Zuckerman describes the enterprise on his blog thus:

My friend Martin Varsavsky, an absurdly successful serial entrepreneur, has started a new venture – FON. FON is an international company based on the idea of sharing broadband connections through wireless routers. The basic theory – if you’re willing to share your own bandwidth, you can become part of a global network of people also willing to share their connections.

You can choose to share either as “Linus” or a “Bill”. As Linus, you’re agreeing to make your bandwith available to anyone. As a Bill, you’re selling bandwidth for 5 euros for 24 hours, and you split the proceeds with FON, allowing you to become a small-scale wireless entrepeneur. If you’re part of the FON network, you get access to a “Bill” access point for free – it’s only “Aliens” – non-foneros – who pay.

The idea is that you become a fonero by sharing your bandwith at home (with FON’s paying customers) and in exchange, you get free access to wifi wherever you go. In other words, the profit comes from the users of FON who are not also donors.

There is an article in Forbes entitled “Young, Rich & Restless” about Martin which you can see here. Another “fonero” and advisor to FON is Joichi Ito, the last keynote speaker at the Aula meeting, whom I will be profiling tomorrow. Check it out then.