Oregon, Home Away From Home for YLAI Fellow

International exchanges can be a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors to travel to the U.S. and learn about their fields of interest. But sometimes, those "once in a lifetime" opportunities are just the beginning of a whole new adventure. At least, that's how Gustavo saw his time in Portland last year.



In 2018, Gustavo Rodriguez traveled with 12 fellow visitors on the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative which empowers entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to launch and advance their entrepreneurial ideas and effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities. Gustavo Rodriguez is the founder and CEO of the vintage leather goods company OTRA, short for On the Road Again. His business specializes in handcrafted bags, backpacks, and leather jackets with a commitment to sustainable, high quality materials in Uruguay. 



When Gustavo discovered he was selected for the YLAI exchange, he was elated--he had never been to the United States and knew little about Oregon. 

"As soon as I got accepted, I googled "Portland" and started watching movies about the city. But I didn't really realize what this city was until I came here. When I came to Portland, that's when I realized--This is what I was looking for, and what I was expecting of a city." 

During the YLAI professional exchange Gustavo was paired with Jeremy at BlaqPaks, a local Portland-based outdoor goods brand. For just under a month, Gustavo worked with Jeremy to learn best practices and brainstorm ways in which Gustavo could learn how to scale his business up. The Fellowship turned into a mutually beneficial two-way exchange with Gustavo contributing his expertise to BlaqPaks throughout his Fellowship. 

"This is a city of makers. That's why I like it. Everyone is doing their own stuff in Portland. So for me to be here, it feels like I belong here."


Gustavo and Jeremy promised to keep in touch when Gustavo returned to his home country of Uruguay. 

So eager was he to return to his "home away from home," Gustavo eventually decided to take a leap of faith and use his savings to come back to Portland. Gustavo had faith that the connections he had made nearly a year ago would help him to continue to learn and improve his business. 

"After my experience last year, I fell in love with this city. And I realized that I had to come back. In my country [Uruguay], craftsmanship is disappearing and the market is tight. So in order to grow my business and scale up, I decided I have to go back to Portland and learn more.

So I called my fellowship host Jeremy and he said "Yes! Of course, I'm down to help you."

Just one year after his initial exchange, Gustavo hopped on a plane and came back to the city he fell in love with.


WorldOregon continues to support international visitor alumni through educational efforts to connect them with our Oregon community. Last week WorldOregon staff connected him with several of the community partners, Prosper Portland, Business Oregon, and Greater Portland Inc. These companies had been invited to meet with his fellowship cohort for a Trade, Industry, and Public-Private Partnerships roundtable during YLAI and who could continue his education on topics such as trade, getting into the U.S. market, and scaling up his business as part of his return visit.

"I love Portland. I love the people: all of them are so friendly and so kind. They want to teach you and they don't have any problem with showing you what they are doing or how they do it. I've met a lot of really cool people who are still my friends, including a couple of friends I am now staying with who I met last year." 



Gustavo looks forward to seeing his products one day make their way onto Portland shelves but until then, he is grateful for the opportunity to visit the city he loves and take a chance on his entrepreneurial dreams.

"Because of YLAI I am here. Because of WorldOregon, I am here. It was my opportunity to come to the States and it was great to meet people and now to be here a year later trying to grow my business. So here I am again. Trying to make it in America."

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