Entrepreneurship in Latin America is full of good news in 2019. Latin American entrepreneurs have had more opportunities to access financing through venture capital funds and, in general, have found a more favorable framework for their businesses.
The volume of investment in the region has increased from 143 million dollars in 2011 to 1.976 million in 2018, according to data from Statista. Most of that capital is concentrated in the Brazilian market, which grabbed almost 56% of the pie, followed by Chile, Colombia and Argentina.
The increase in investment is bolstered by an element that cannot go unnoticed: the robustness of a middle class with greater purchasing power, which means a growing demand for innovative and quality products and services.
In this context, the potential of regional startups only grows and expectations for next year are also promising. Latin American entrepreneurs can take advantage of that economic framework.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems differ from one country to another, but the recipes are universal. To demonstrate this amazing vitality, PanamericanWorld has chosen five Latin American entrepreneurs who have stood out in 2019 for their boldness, success and recognition.
Related articles: These are our top choices for Latin startups in 2018
Mariana Costa is co-founder and executive director of Laboratoria, a Peruvian social startup that trains low-income young women as web developers and connects them with quality employment opportunities in the technology sector.
Since its launch in Peru in 2014, Laboratoria has expanded to other countries, such as Mexico and Chile, and some of its goals are to continue working to ensure that women are increasingly connected to opportunities to access the labor market.
Mariana had previously worked in social development programs in countries, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Kenya, with organizations such as TechnoServe and the Organization of American States. She holds a Bachelor in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Development from Columbia University in New York.
She gained great prominence when she was chosen in 2016 to participate in a panel of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in California with the then president of the United States Barack Obama and the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
Mariana Costa studied International Business in England. Ten years later, she returned to Peru with her husband, an Ecuadorian engineer, and they created a web development company called Ayu. To form the new company’s work team, they needed to hire both men and women to get ideas from different perspectives.
However, they clashed with reality: only 7% of web developers are women in Peru. This is how Laboratoria emerged, which trains women who could not access quality education primarily due to lack of resources so that they can work as developers through intensive courses where they learn to use the main programming languages.
Blanca Treviño is the founder and president of Softtek, one of the most successful Mexican technology companies in recent years. Her company placed Mexico in the Information Technology sector, a market valued at $292 billion in 2013.
Softtek currently has more than 30 offices around the world. Trevino is considered the most influential Mexican in the world of technology and has been highlighted by Forbes and Fortune for her professional achievements.
Her history dates back to 1982 when together with other partners, she decided to create the company. Since then they have come a long way that has led them to open new markets in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Spain and Venezuela, as well as the United States, a country whose technological market represents two thirds of what exists in the world, and whose results have propelled this Mexican company internationally.
Blanca Treviño believes that the poor presence of women in the technological field is due to the fact that “there is a predisposition to say and believe that women are not good for numbers, although in reality it is not so… and this career choice is not all about numbers either. In technology, you have to be good at logical thinking, not so much at numbers, because you are not an economist or a statesman. There are large technology companies run by women, such as HP. The second most important executive in Facebook is a woman and Yahoo is also led by a woman”, she points out.
Simon Borrero is co-founder and CEO of Rappi, the Colombian startup of delivery services that has become one of the Latin American “unicorns” and a clear example of success in Latin American entrepreneurship. It is an application through which people can buy almost anything they want and have it delivered at home, from household products to restaurant meals, alcohol or sports equipment.
In a recent interview with Semana, Borrero explained that “we have grown very fast. Four years ago we were eight people and now we are more than 3,500. There are almost 200,000 Rappitenderos (delivery persons) in the region and that speed of growth will make you make mistakes. Rappi grows 15 percent per month, while a regular company achieves that figure per year. The funny thing is that in these four years we have not had a moment in which we could say “we made it”. One keeps thinking it is not going to work. For example, one of our investors, Marc Andreessen, says that in companies that are just beginning, one minute you feel that you are on top of the world and then you feel you are about to break….all in one day. And that’s how it is at first.”
The company created four years ago in Bogotá maintains its headquarters in the Colombian capital, but more than half of its sales are generated in Mexico City. This explains why big Latin American cities, characterized by their large size (with the resulting problem of traffic, pollution and, in some cases, insecurity) are the perfect market for delivery services.
Wisy has become the first startup in Panama that has managed to enter the select group of “unicorns“, technology companies that have reached a value of one billion dollars.
The company founded by Min and Ricardo Chen and Orlando Reyes in 2016 have revolutionized the field of market research through a formula, baptized “gamification”, which involves users in an active and fun way in different campaigns and objectives. One of the main goals is to collect data and boost user behavior.
The story of Wisy is, above all, the story of the Chen siblings, the children of a Chinese immigrant, an electrical and electronic engineer, who arrived in Panama and settled in the Amador Guerrero district. The two siblings began to go to school without knowing a word of Spanish.
Those were hard times that they managed to overcome with a lot of effort, Min recalls. She ended up being part of one of the first promotions of computer engineers to graduate from the University of Panama.
After working in several companies and staying in Silicon Valley for a while, Min Chen returned to her country in 2006 and founded Alcenit Corporation, an advisory company on technology and innovation management issues for medium and large-sized organizations.
In 2016, Chen founded RedOxigen with her brother Ricardo, a technology solutions company that placed Panama on the map of Latin American startups, thanks to the creation of Interfase, the first augmented reality game in Panama, which connects businesses with players and works as a digital positioning channel for large and medium-sized enterprises.
The power of his influence as an aspirational leader was captured in a book he entitled La estupidez colectiva (the Collective Stupidity), described as the first work on startups in the coffee producing country. It is a manifesto in which he “bursts the bubble” of all those idealistic entrepreneurs who believe that there will be no problems or obstacles along the way.
Today it is a best-selling business book in Colombia, a bestseller in that genre, which begins by dismantling the belief that our business idea is unique and unrepeatable.
Before creating Fitpal, Julian Torres carried a lot of failures on his shoulders. The first one came when he was just a university student. His dream of becoming a rock singer turned into a nightmare when band’s singles didn’t make it to radio stations or captured public attention.
Then, with a couple of friends he ventured into city tours through Bogotá, but the complexities of his university career forced him to abandon this project. Then he tried a restaurant, which would close a couple of months later because he “did not know the market, which is both demanding and time-consuming”.
Today, at the head of Fitpal and other digital models, such as Checklemon (administrative software) and En terapia.co (online psychology services), he travels several countries with his book Collective Stupidity and takes his message to different organizations through conferences, in which he exposes his business successes and failures, contextualized with a detailed research regarding the digital era.
The Argentine company that created and launched him into the market is Etermax, whose head, founder and visible leader of a team of dozens of people is
Maximo Cavazzani is the founder of Etermax, the Argentine company that created and launched Preguntados Apalabrados, two of the most popular video games in all of Latin America.
The trivia video game was released at the end of 2013 in a version for iOS, Android and Windows mobiles. The game is a competition between two people to see which one is the first to correctly answer a series of questions divided into six categories: Art, Science, Sports, Entertainment, Geography and History. One can compete against unknown people chosen at random or challenge specific users.
Its growth in Latin America was exponential, reaching 180,000 daily downloads. It is currently the application with the biggest number of downloads worldwide with more than 50 million. The game is so popular that in 2014, Susana Giménez incorporated it as one more section of her television program, one of the most watched and famed on the continent.
Máximo Cavazzani was an amateur computer programmer in his teens. He later graduated in software engineering at the Technological Institute of Buenos Aires. When he was still a university student he developed iStockManager, the first free stock trading application.
It was an immediate success and it was bought by the American broker agency TD Ameritrade, which enabled him it to invest in the development of new projects that have placed him at the head of the video game industry throughout the region.