South America was the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic early this year. Experts are trying to find out why new infections and deaths are falling so fast.
The continent’s second-largest river is drying up amid the biggest drought in 70 years, upending ecosystems, trade and livelihoods.
Osana Salud, which aims to transform the healthcare infrastructure in Latin America, has closed on a $20 million Series A round of funding led by General Catalyst.
The Argentina-based, yet fully remote, startup was founded in 2019 — just a few months before the pandemic. Since launching less than a year ago, Osana says it has secured contracts with health insurance firms and providers that collectively serve more than 6 million patients in the region. For example, it is working with Sanatorio Güemes and PAMI, which has a network of 5 million patients, among others.
Quiet Capital, Preface Ventures, FJ Labs, AforeVC and K50 Ventures also put money in the latest round, which brings Osana’s total raised over its lifetime to $26.5 million. Lee Fixel’s Addition is also an investor.
CEO Andre Lawson told TechCrunch he was inspired to start Osana Salud because an estimated 50% of Latin America does not have access to quality healthcare. So he teamed up with COO Jorge Lopez to found the company to help change that. President Charu Sharma (the only staffer who is U.S.-based) and CTO Hugo Martin joined at a later date.
“Our vision is to enable affordable and accessible healthcare for every person in Latin America by leveraging technology,” Lawson said.
Specifically, Osana Salud is building an API-connected infrastructure to help the region’s healthcare industry offer a patient experience that offers “greater convenience, outcomes and value,” Lawson told TechCrunch. Its initial focus is on building solutions for telehealth, pharmacy and diagnostics.
For example, he said, Osana wants to make it faster and cheaper for healthcare players to build solutions that are “safe, secure and interact well” with other health systems. With that in mind, the company has tapped doctors and engineers to design that infrastructure.
“The goal is to empower the next generation of healthcare providers in building patient-centric solutions with the potential to positively impact the healthcare experiences and outcomes for hundreds of millions of people,” Lawson said.
In the past eight months, Osana has grown from four to about 50 people, and it expects to have over 250 employees in the next year. Despite not quite being two years old, the startup believes it’s already grown to be Latin America’s biggest telehealth company.
Sharma told TechCrunch that despite living in Silicon Valley, she was drawn to the company’s mission and found the potential to “massively transform healthcare for a whole continent” appealing.
“In the U.S. tech ecosystem, we focus on first-world problems a lot, but an emerging market like LatAm gave me the opportunity to make a meaningful impact at a very basic human need level,” she said. “As the saying goes, talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not.”
In fact, as evidence that remote work will never be the same after COVID, neither Sharma nor Martin have met Lawson or Lopez in person.
The new capital will in part go toward accelerating the company’s product roadmap, Lawson said, and helping it expand to Brazil and Mexico, where it has seen “strong inbound interest.” But primarily, it will be used for hiring.
The timing of the company’s inception was good. The pandemic shed light on the fractures of the healthcare system in Latin America, Lawson believes. It also gave the industry the opportunity to show the benefits of a “virtual first” approach, he added. And once people got a taste of it, they wanted more.
As a result, Osana says it has seen a big bump both in the number of clients and in the usage of its technology platform amongst existing ones.
“Furthermore, COVID-19 created urgency for healthcare providers, which resulted in very short sales cycles for us,” Lawson said.
Hemant Taneja of General Catalyst said the startup’s thesis aligns “perfectly” with his firm’s thesis around healthcare. Taneja himself is also a co-founder and executive chairman of San Francisco-based Commure, a venture-backed startup which is also building software infrastructure aimed at transforming the healthcare space.
“The healthcare infrastructure landscape in Latin America is highly fragmented,” he told TechCrunch. Most software vendors are small or medium-sized local vendors, who have not crossed into other Latin American geographies, Taneja pointed out.
“Osana has a variety of solutions for providers, payors and the pharmaceutical industry that are customizable and modular to create truly personalized experiences — regardless of the region in Latin America,” he said. “They can be an important unifier in a really fractured marketplace.”
There has been significant hype around Latin America’s startup success. For good reason, too: Startups have raised $9.3 billion in just the first half of 2021, almost double the amount in all of 2020, and mega-rounds are a growing trend.
But while the industry hails the rise of the region’s ecosystem and its growing fleet of unicorns, Latin America’s startup story has a far longer past. And it’s one we should keep in mind as entrepreneurs and investors around the world forge the region’s future.
People often ask me: How are consumers different in Brazil? How does the Peruvian market behave compared to the United States? These questions don’t really see each country for its inherent value, but instead gear people up to expect the unexpected from a historically economically disadvantaged region.
In fact, the evolution of business shares far more similarities across countries than we might expect. Latin America’s market has evolved over a very long time — as long as Silicon Valley and any other hub. This region has a global outlook, spectacular universities, a diverse population and an army of entrepreneurs.
It’s important for investors outside of Latin America to get involved in fundraising at earlier stages, when founders need extra support from everyone around.
That’s why the unicorns and megadeals should come as no surprise: They’re the natural evolution of the ecosystem, of more capital generating more success after years of hard work.
As Latin America has grown, competition has grown even more intense in the United States. VCs have more money than ever, and it’s getting increasingly expensive to invest in North America. So they’re looking to diversify their investments with high-potential opportunities abroad. Big funds are now dedicating resources to exclusively targeting Latin America, from SoftBank creating a region-specific fund, to Sequoia saying it will pay more attention to the region.
These incoming investors must bring more than money to ensure that entrepreneurship continues to grow in a healthy manner, rather than set it off balance. Investors should bring a local strategy that makes them an asset to Latin America’s startup ecosystem.
Investors should look for younger markets
Most Latin American companies reaching unicorn status and going public now were started around 2012. This is not very different from the timeline of businesses in other markets such as the United States. For instance, e-commerce giant MercadoLibre launched in Argentina around the time eBay was emerging.
What this tells us is that foreign investors would do well to keep a sharp eye on emerging opportunities beyond heavily covered markets like Brazil and Mexico. There is a huge opportunity to do what local investors did in Brazil and Mexico years ago, and play a significant role in the next chapter of countries with blossoming markets like Colombia, Peru or Uruguay.
U.S. investors remain shy
The amount of VC capital being funneled into Latin American startups has surged since 2017, with angel investment close behind. However, much of this investment comes from local and regional investors. Every top university in Brazil has a pool of angels. Investors in the Andean region cover Peru, Chile and Colombia. If today’s ecosystem is flourishing, it’s largely because native investors are lighting the spark.
Meanwhile, U.S. investor presence at the early stages is still low and risk averse. It’s much harder for a pre-seed or seed startup to get foreign investor interest than when they’ve already reached Series A or B. Investors also tend to come in on an ad hoc basis or as outliers brought about by a mutual contact. Foreign investors are the exception, not the rule.
It’s important for investors outside of Latin America to get involved in fundraising at earlier stages, when founders need extra support from everyone around. Investors should be pursuing a long-term strategy that will bring more consistency to the local ecosystem as a whole.
Money is not enough, investors should bring dedicated resources
Your contribution as an investor is largely about the resources you can offer. That’s especially challenging for a foreigner who has less of an understanding of the local industry and lacks a network and people on the ground.
While investors may say their your regular value offering is enough — network and U.S. customers — in truth, this won’t necessarily be of much use. Your hiring network might not be ideal for a Latin American company, and your thorough understanding of the U.S. market might not reflect developments in Latin America.
Remember that the region has a plethora of VC organizations who have worked with local startups over the course of a decade. Latin America is a very welcoming and open market, and local investors and accelerators will happily work with foreign investors, including in deal-sharing opportunities.
It’s crucial to create incentives within the ecosystem, which — like in the United States — largely means matching founders with unique opportunities. In North America, this often happens organically, because people are on the ground and actively engaged with what’s happening in the region, from networking events, to awards, and grants and partnership opportunities.
To create this in Latin America, foreign investors need to dedicate a team and money to their regional commitments. They will have to understand the local industry and be available to mentor founders with diverse perspectives.
In my experience helping EA, Pinterest and Facebook land in Latin America, we always had someone on the ground or working remotely but fully dedicated to the region. We had people focused on localizing the product, and we had research teams studying similarities and differences in user behavior. That’s how corporations land their products; it’s how VCs should land their money.
Only disrupt when it adds value
The idea is for foreign investors to strike a balance locally while creating disruptions when it helps startups look outward rather than attempting to overhaul steady, positive internal growth. That can mean encouraging companies to incorporate in the United States to make it easier for investors from anywhere to invest or preparing the company to go global. Local investors can help investors new to the region understand the balance of things that should or shouldn’t be disrupted.
Don’t be surprised when Latin America’s apparent “boom” starts happening in other emerging markets like Africa and Asia. This isn’t about a secret hack coming in from the outside. It’s just about creating the right environment for local talent to flourish and ensuring it maintains healthy growth.
Last fall, Spotify introduced a new format that combined spoken word commentary with music, allowing creators to reproduce the radio-like experience of listening to a DJ or music journalist who shared their perspective on the tracks they would then play. Today, the company is making the format, which it calls “Music + Talk,” available to global creators through its podcasting software Anchor.
Creators who want to offer this sort of blended audio experience can now do so by using the new “Music” tool in Anchor, which provides access to Spotify’s full catalog of 70 million tracks that they can insert into their spoken-word audio programs. Spotify has said this new type of show will continue to compensate the artist when the track is streamed, the same as it would elsewhere on Spotify’s platform. In addition, users can also interact with the music content within the shows as they would otherwise — by liking the song, viewing more information about the track, saving the song, or sharing it, for example.
The shows themselves, meanwhile, will be available to both free and Premium Spotify listeners. Paying subscribers will hear the full tracks when listening to these shows, but free users will only hear a 30-second preview of the songs, due to licensing rights.
The format is somewhat reminiscent of Pandora’s Stories, which was also a combination of music and podcasting, introduced in 2019. However, in Pandora’s case, the focus had been on allowing artists to add their own commentary to music — like talking about the inspiration for a song — while Spotify is making it possible for anyone to annotate their favorite playlists with audio commentary.
Since launching last year, the product has been tweaked somewhat in response to user feedback, Spotify says. The shows now offer clearer visual distinction between the music and talk segments during an episode, and they include music previews on episode pages.
The ability to create Music + Talk shows was previously available in select markets ahead of this global rollout, including in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
With the expansion, creators in a number of other major markets are now gaining access, including Japan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Alongside the expansion, Spotify’s catalog of Music + Talk original programs will also grow today, as new shows from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, India, Japan, and the Philippines will be added.
Spotify will also begin to more heavily market the feature with the launch of its own Spotify Original called “Music + Talk: Unlocked,” which will offer tips and ideas for creators interested in trying out the format.
Early-stage venture capital fund Newtopia VC launched Monday with $50 million to invest in tech startups based in Latin America.
The fund will invest between $250,000 and $1 million in startups at the seed stage to help them achieve the milestones needed on the path to raising a Series A.
Newtopia is led by five major players in the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem:
- Patricio Jutard, co-founder of MURAL;
- Mariano Mayer, former national secretary for entrepreneurs and SMEs in Argentina and founder of Marea Venture Partners;
- Sacha Spitz, co-founder and partner of Yavu Ventures and former director at the Universidad de San Andrés incubation program;
- Jorge Aguado, former national science, technology and innovation secretary in Argentina;
- Juan Pablo Lafosse, founder and former CEO of Almundo.
The group has already invested in startups in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, including Aleph (B2B SaaS for e-commerce), Apperto (social commerce), Choiz (healthtech), Exactly (DeFi), Elevva (e-commerce brands), Inipay (fintech), Leef (sustainability), Wibson (e-privacy) and Yerbo (wellness).
Mayer told TechCrunch that he sees a great moment happening in Latin America around global venture capital firms — like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank —making bets in the region, especially targeting later-stage investments. There are home-grown venture capital firms doing well, too, citing Kazek’s $1 billion funds.
“However, we see a gap in investments in seed and road to Series A,” he added. “We aim to help entrepreneurs in those stages. Newtopia started with conversations during the pandemic, and now we see a big momentum for transformation of traditional sectors and the talent to make businesses out of these opportunities.”
Newtopia is offering both investment and a hands-on mentorship model to guide startups through the initial stages so they can grow regionally or globally. The fund has already amassed a community of more than 70 founders to invest, advise and be venture partners to the portfolio companies.
The Newtopia 10-Week Program works with companies to find product-market fit, achieve initial goals and set a foundation for further growth. The firm opened the call for applicants and will select 10 startups to receive a spot in the program and $100,000 each.
By taking a lead in early-stage investing, it will feed the rest of the venture capital firms that are doing later-stage investing, Mayer said.
He sees investments growing in Latin America every year, estimating there was a record $4 billion spread across the region, turning some companies into unicorns, including Jutard’s Mural, which raised $50 million in July. That has more than validated that there will be more money in coming years, Mayer added.
Jutard said the fund’s founders were all investing or mentoring companies on their own, but the new funding will enable them to structure that assistance to help hundreds of startups rather than a handful.
“Early-stage companies go through an emotional rollercoaster where they feel alone, encounter times when it is hard to sell their product or recruit, so we are focused on building a community of support,” Jutard added.
In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.
Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.
E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.
The holdout: Latin America
Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).
Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.
Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.
In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.
Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.
Operational and technological roadblocks abound
Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.
By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.
And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.
Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.
Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst
Gympass, the exercise and corporate wellness unicorn that originated in Brazil, today announced a $220 million Series E. The company has seen tremendous growth in the last few months, as more and more people are vaccinated and flocking back to the gym.
Gympass is like ClassPass, but on steroids. However, unlike ClassPass’ BTC model, Gympass partners with employers who then pay a flat fee for the platform (an app) which then allows their employees to choose from several wellbeing plans that give them access to myriad in-person gyms and studios, and a directory of health apps, such as Calm. The offerings are broken up into the following categories: physical health, emotional health, nutrition and sleep.
According to the company, in May, Gympass saw a record 4 million monthly check-ins across its network of more than 50,000 global partners. In fact, for some of the partners, usage hit above pre-COVID levels.
Between increased anxiety rates and documented weight gain during the pandemic, it’s clear that people are eager to get active again with the hopes of improving their mental health and their waistlines.
GymPass is the brainchild of Cesar Carvalho, a former McKinsey & Company consultant in Brazil who was always on the road and yearned for a corporate wellness product that would comply with his hectic work schedule.
“Some days I worked from home, other days I worked from the office, and then there was the time I was traveling. I could never go to the gym in one place,” Carvalho told TechCrunch. “I realized that my needs were the same as others,” he said.
He decided to pursue his business idea while he was at Harvard Business School.
“I’m one of those crazy entrepreneurs that drops out of their MBA to start a company, but looking back now, it worked out okay,” he said, later telling TechCrunch that Gympass is now in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, the U.S., Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and the U.K.
Since its launch in São Paulo in 2012, the company achieved product-market fit fairly quickly, and its growth and expansion have been largely organic.
Originally, Gympass was a BTC concept, and one of its first clients was an executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Brazil. He liked the product so much that he eventually said to Carvalho, “Can’t I communicate this to my 5000 employees in all the cities where we have offices in Brazil?” With that question – and offer – Carvalho saw the need to pivot and build a B2B company.
After only three years in Brazil, one of his biggest Brazilian clients asked Carvalho to expand to Mexico, because his company had a large presence there and he wanted to offer Gympass to its employees. And so follows most of the expansion stories.
“We expanded to Spain, because we worked with a Spanish bank in Mexico, and they wanted their employees in Spain to have access to our product,” he said.
This round, which doubles the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion, includes participation from SoftBank, General Atlantic, More Strategic Ventures, Kaszek Ventures and Valor. Carvalho plans to use the money to grow the company in the U.S., expand its offerings, and work on making the tech smarter.
“We want [the app] to be able to recommend the best partners for your complete well-being journey based on your workout patterns, for example: ‘This is the best meditation app for you to use with your workout profile,’” Carvalho said.
President Alberto Fernández tried to connect with the Spanish prime minister by highlighting Argentina’s European heritage. Instead he caused offense across much of Latin America.
Google today announced its plans to build a new subsea cable that will connect the East Coast of the U.S. and Las Toninas, Argentina — with additional landings in Brazil and Uruguay. The idea here is to provide users in South America with improved low-latency access to Google’s portfolio of consumer and cloud services.
The closest Google data center in the region (and its only one in South America) can be found near Santiago, Chile, which is connected to the U.S. West Coast through Google’s Curie cable.
The Firmina cable, named after Brazilian abolitionist and author Maria Firmina dos Reis, will augment Google’s existing cable investments in the region. The Tannat cable, a joint venture between Antel Uruguay and Google, for example, already connects the same locations while the Monet cable connects the U.S. and Brazil, where Google’s Junior cable already connects various parts of the country.
The new cable doesn’t just add capacity but also resilience to Google’s existing network. Specifically, one technical feat that makes this new cable, which consists of 12 fiver pairs, stand out is the system’s ability to power the cable from a single-end power source.
“With submarine cables, data travels as pulses of light inside the cable’s optical fibers,” Google explains. “That light signal is amplified every 100 km with a high-voltage electrical current supplied at landing stations in each country. While shorter cable systems can enjoy the higher availability of power feeding from a single end, recent longer cables with large fiber pair count have made this harder and harder.” To achieve this, the Firmina cable is supplied by a cable with a voltage that is 20% higher than previous cables.
As nations like the United States prepare for a summer of hugs, gatherings and other activities safe for the vaccinated, nations still scrambling for shots are seeing some of their worst outbreaks.
Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.
A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía (Rappi), Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.
Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.
Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.
The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.
As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves.
So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.
“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”
The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts together. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig-economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.
The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.
Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded in May of 2019, and was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of over 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls.
This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s).
Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to over 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.
“Essentially we take unstructured financial data , which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.
The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Barcelona. The company also aims to launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.
Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.”
Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”
Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .
“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “ Oriol, Pablo, and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.”
Long before SoftBank launched its $2 billion Innovation Fund in Latin America, and before Andreessen Horowitz began actively investing in the region, Sao Paulo-based Kaszek has been putting money into promising startups since 2011, helping spawn nine unicorns along the way.
And now, the early-stage VC firm is announcing its largest fund closures to date: Kaszek Ventures V, a $475 million early-stage fund, believed to be the largest vehicle of its kind ever raised in the region, and Kaszek Ventures Opportunity II, a $525 million for later-stage investments.
Over the years, Kaszek has backed 91 companies, which the firm says collectively have raised over $10 billion in capital.
MercadoLibre co-founder Hernán Kazah and the company’s ex-CFO, Nicolas Szekasy, founded Kaszek a decade ago after leaving LatAm’s answer to Amazon. Fun fact: the firm’s name comes from a combination of their two last names: Ka-Szek. Rounding out the team are Nicolas Berman, former VP at MercadoLibre, Santiago Fossatti, Andy Young and Mariana Donangelo.
Kaszek founded its first fund in 2011, raising $95 million, an impressive sum at that time. Funds II and III closed in 2014 and 2017, raising $135 million and $200 million, respectively. By 2019, Kaszek had closed on its fourth fund, raising $375 million and its first Opportunity Fund, reserving $225 million for later-stage investing in existing portfolio companies.
It’s notable that in its fifth fund, Kaszek is reserving more of its new capital to fund later-stage investments – a testament to its faith in its current portfolio. Both funds, according to Kaszek, were “several times oversubscribed” with demand coming globally from university endowments, global foundations, technology funds and several tech entrepreneurs.
Silicon Valley-based Sequoia Capital has been an LP since day one via Sequoia Heritage, its community investment office. Also, Connecticut-based Wesleyan University is an LP with Chief Investment Officer Anne Martin describing the founding team as “internet pioneers.”
In recent years, there has been an explosion of global investor interest in Latin American startups. The region’s startup scene is seeing a surge of fundraises, with new unicorns emerging with increasing regularity. And Kaszek has been at the heart of it all.
“We have been at the epicenter of the technology ecosystem in Latin America since 1999, first with MercadoLibre and now with Kaszek, and have witnessed firsthand the extraordinary evolution that the sector has experienced since its infancy,” said managing partner and co-founder Kazah. “When MercadoLibre started, the internet penetration was less than 3% and it was mostly dial-up connections. Today, more than two decades later, technology secular trends are stronger than ever before as we are experiencing an acceleration towards digitalization.”
Kaszek has not yet backed any companies out of its newest investment vehicles, but plans to put money in 20 to 30 companies out of its early-stage fund, with check sizes ranging from $500,000 to $25 million, according to Kazah. Its Opportunity Fund investments will be more concentrated with the firm likely backing 10 to 15 companies with check sizes ranging from $10 million to $35 million. The firm is industry agnostic, with Kazah saying it considers “any industry where technology is playing a transformational role.”
General partner and co-founder Szekasy says that In the firm’s first funds, Kaszek mostly backed first-time entrepreneurs. But in its last early-stage fund, it began backing more teams led by repeat entrepreneurs or by founders spawned out of some of the region’s more successful startups. As many VC firms do, Kaszek describes its investment strategy as providing more than capital, but also becoming partners with the founders of its portfolio companies. For example, Creditas founder and CEO Sergio Furio describes the firm as “the co-founder I did not have.”
While the firm declined to comment on performance, a source with firsthand knowledge of its metrics over the years tells TechCrunch that it’s quite impressive with MOICS ranging from 19.2 for Fund I, 10.5 for Fund II, 4.9 for Fund III and 2.6 for Fund IV.
The firm’s active portfolio currently consists of 71 companies. Kaszek was one of the earliest investors in Brazilian neobank Nubank, just one of 9 unicorns it has helped build over the years. Other unicorns it’s backed include MadeiraMadeira, PedidosYa, proptech startup QuintoAndar, Gympass, Loggi, Creditas, Kavak and Bitso.
The firm’s investments have largely concentrated in Brazil and Mexico (the two startup hotspots of the region) and Colombia but the firm has also backed startups based in other countries in the region such as DigitalHouse (which was formed in Argentina), NotCo (originally founded in Chile) and Kushki (launched first in Ecuador). It has people on the ground in its home base of Brazil as well as Mexico, the United States, Argentina and Uruguay.
“We have always believed that the strong secular technology trends that we were seeing 20 years ago, evident in the US and a little later in China, were going to happen in Latin America,” Kazah told TechCrunch. “…Everything we predicted back then was going to happen, happened. Maybe it happened later, but it was also much larger and more comprehensive than what we had initially imagined. That is typically what happens with innovations, they take off later than you think, but fly much higher than you ever imagined.”
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Pomelo, a startup building a fintech-as-a-service platform for Latin America, has raised $9 million in a seed round of funding.
The Buenos Aires-based startup’s new infrastructure aims to allow fintechs and embedded finance players to launch virtual accounts and issue prepaid and credit cards via “compliant” onboarding processes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital payments all over the world, and Latin America is no exception. While the majority of transactions are still done in cash, there are still over a billion cards in the region.
Cards have an estimated payments volume of $900 billion per year, and yet 95% of these transactions are being processed by local incumbents, asserts Pomelo. This is a problem the company’s founders experienced firsthand in previous roles, and are eager to solve by creating a new payments infrastructure.
“We know from previous experiences…that building a fintech, and particularly issuing cards, in Latin America is a real nightmare,” said Pomelo co-founder and CEO Gaston Irigoyen. “It takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months to launch a simple prepaid card, and unfortunately companies have to go through the painful experience of repeating the process in every market where they operate.”
Pomelo’s goal is to solve the problem by creating a new generation of financial services infrastructure that allows companies to build a fintech business and launch cards “much faster” throughout Latin America. For now, the three-month-old company is in its infancy — the pre-product phase, which makes it even more notable that the company managed to raise such a large seed round.
This round caught our eye for a few other reasons. For one, the three co-founders of the Buenos Aires-based startup were former executives at Mastercard, Google LatAm, Mercado Pago and Naranja X. CEO Irigoyen was an early employee at Google LatAm. He is also a third-time founder with two exits (one to TripAdvisor) and former CEO of Naranja X, Argentina’s largest neobank, with millions of customers. Juan Fantoni was the former director of fintech at Mastercard, where he signed issuing deals with a number of large companies. And Hernan Corral was the CPO of Naranja X and previously head of digital accounts & cards at Mercado Pago.
Next, the caliber of Pomelo’s investors. U.S.-based Index Ventures and Brazil’s monashees co-led the funding round, which also included participation from QED’s Fontes, Max Levchin’s SciFi, Latitud, Biz Stone’s Future Positive, 20VC, Addition, FJ Labs and a16z’s Angela Strange, as well as the founders of Marqeta, Rappi, Auth0, Kavak, Loft and RecargaPay.
If you’re looking for comparisons to U.S.-based fintechs, Irigoyen said it’s got a little bit of Galileo, Marqeta and Stripe in what it’s building out.
Caio Bolognesi, partner at monashees, said his firm has been very bullish on the financial infrastructure space as a whole. They were drawn to Pomelo in part because its founders had been senior tech executives at leading fintech companies in the region and because many of its portfolio companies had already manifested the need for a better solution in this space.
Index Ventures’ Mark Fiorentino agrees that the company’s founder-market fit was crucial in his firm’s decision to invest.
“They have the DNA of the most well-known payments companies within the LATAM fintech ecosystem… and have lived through the pain points and keyed in on this opportunity through firsthand experience,” he said.
In general, Fiorentino believes that while the need for embedded financial products is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the Latin American market, it’s important to note that the region “is far from a carbon copy” of the U.S. market with different dynamics.
For one, he said, existing solutions in the Latin American market are either “outdated” offerings from legacy financial institutions or “subpar” iterations from U.S. incumbents.
“It takes over 12 months for a business to spin up a plastic or digital card for itself. And because most legacy processors are owned by banks or large financial institutions that have been around for decades, pricing is inflexible and expensive,” Fiorentino told TechCrunch. “And if that wasn’t enough of a headache, stable reliability has been a huge pain point with these issuer processors. Pomelo is building the dev-first, self-serve API solution to address this clear market need.”
Looking ahead, Pomelo plans to use its new capital in part to open offices in São Paulo, Brazil and Mexico City, and hire dozens of people in those cities as well as in its home base of Argentina. The company currently has about 15 employees, 11 of which are engineers. It of course plans to continue building out its offering.
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Bitso, a regulated crypto exchange in Latin America, announced today it has raised $250 million in a Series C round of funding that values the company at $2.2 billion.
Tiger Global and Coatue co-led the round, which also included participation from Paradigm, BOND & Valor Capital Group and existing backers QED, Pantera Capital and Kaszek.
The news caught our attention for several reasons. For one, it comes just four months after the Brazilian startup raised $62 million in a Series B round. Secondly, the company believes the funding makes it the most valuable crypto platform in Latin America. And lastly, it also makes the company one of the most highly valued fintechs in the region.
Last year was a good one for Bitso, which says it processed more than $1.2 billion in international payments — including remittances and payments between companies — during 2020 alone. Bitso says it also has surpassed 2 million users. These two milestones, the company argues, is evidence of the growing use of crypto as an everyday financial tool in the region.
Demand for crypto assets and crypto-enabled financial products have soared in popularity both for individuals and businesses in the region, according to Bitso, which aims to be “the safest, most transparent, and only regulatory compliant platform” in Latin America. The company also says it’s the only player in the region to offer crypto-insurance for its client’s funds.
“The growth of the crypto ecosystem this year has been remarkable. It took Bitso six years to get its first million clients. Now — less than 10 months later — we have reached the 2 million mark,” said Bitso co-founder and CEO Daniel Vogel. But the metrics he is most proud of are that Bitso has also more than doubled the assets on its platform in the last five months and that its transacting volume during the 2021 first quarter exceeded the transaction volume it did in all of 2020.
Bitso was founded in January 2014 and acquired its first customer in April of that year.
Bitso’s mission, put simply, is to build next-generation borderless financial services for consumers and businesses alike. “Cryptocurrencies are the future of finance and Bitso makes the future available today,” the company says.
“Bitso offers products and services for individuals and businesses to use crypto in their everyday life,” Vogel said. “In some parts of the world, crypto is associated with speculation. Bitso’s customers rely on the technology for everyday uses from receiving remittances to engaging in international commerce.”
Bitso says its “global-minded” product offerings fit the needs of local customers in Mexico, Argentina and now Brazil, where it just launched its retail operations. The company plans to use its new capital toward broadening its capabilities and product offering. It also plans to expand its operations in other Latin American countries in the coming months. In January, the Financial Superintendence of Colombia announced Bitso as one of the authorized companies in its Sandbox and crypto pilot program.
Bitso’s upcoming products include a crypto derivatives platform and interest bearing accounts for crypto.
“This is a pivotal moment for the future of finance in Latin America,” Vogel told TechCrunch. “We see a significant amount of traditional financial infrastructure in the region being replaced by crypto. We plan to use this funding to continue that trend by expanding our product offering for individuals and businesses.”
Naturally, Bitso’s investors are bullish on the company’s potential.
QED Investors co-founder and managing partner Nigel Morris admits that in the past he was “a crypto denier.”
“For the longest time, we didn’t see a way crypto fit. It wasn’t clear until recently that the use cases for crypto expanded much beyond speculative trading. There are now a whole series of conventional banking products that we can wrap around it,” Morris told TechCrunch.
Bitso’s mission, he said, is to “make crypto useful” and QED believes the company is succeeding at doing just that.
“Daniel and the entire Bitso team is passionate about taking the mystique out of crypto. Crypto is not going away; it’s going to be here for the future,” Morris said. “By sitting at the intersection of crypto and traditional financial institutions, Bitso has a promise to provide lower-cost, friction-free financial services to entire populations of individuals who otherwise would be excluded — a laudable and unique mission indeed.”
Bitso, he added, is learning from the crypto experience in the U.S. and around the world.
“Not making the same mistakes and leaning into the emerging regulatory landscape has been a competitive advantage to Bitso’s success in Mexico,” Morris said. “As Bitso grows throughout the regions, they certainly have a leg up and might even leapfrog crypto adoption in the U.S.”
“Crypto is rapidly gaining adoption in Latin America,” said Tiger Global Partner Scott Shleifer, in a written statement. “We are excited to partner with Bitso and believe they have the right team and platform to increase share in this growing market.”
Founded in 2014, Bitso has more than 300 employees across 25 different countries. That compares to 116 employees last year at this time. In particular, its growth in Brazil is increasing exponentially.
“We’ve gone from 1 to 26 Bitsonauts already based in Brazil, with many more working from abroad, and plan to 3X our number of hires in Brazil by the end of the year,” Vogel said, who acknowledged that the pandemic really impacted his company via the shift to remote work. “As we expand our reach into new territories, it has become a lot easier to meet staffing needs when the requirements are based on knowledge over geography.”
Bitso’s leadership is mostly based in Mexico, but the company also has offices in Buenos Aires, São Paolo and Gibraltar.
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Merama, a five-month old e-commerce startup focused on Latin America, announced today that it has raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and $100 million in debt.
The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” according to co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle.
“We are receiving significant inbound for a Series B already,” he said.
LatAm firms Valor Capital and Monashees Capital and U.K.-based Balderton Capital co-led the “massively oversubscribed” funding round, which also included participation from Silicon Valley-based TriplePoint Capital and the CEOs of four unicorns in Latin America, including Uala, Loggi, Rappi and Madeira Madeira.
Tyle, Felipe Delgado, Olivier Scialom, Renato Andrade and Guilherme Nosralla started Merama in December 2020 with a vision to be the “largest and best-selling set of brands in Latin America.” The company has dual headquarters in Mexico City and São Paulo.
Merama partners with e-commerce product sellers in Latin America by purchasing a stake in the businesses and working with their teams to help them “exponentially” grow and boost their technology while providing them with nondilutive working capital. CEO Tyle describes the company’s model as “wildly different” from that of Thras.io, Perch and other similar companies such as Valoreo because it does not aggregate dozens of brands.
“We will work with very few brands over time, and only the best, and work with our entire team to scale and expand these few businesses,” Tyle told TechCrunch. “We’re more similar to The Hut Group in the EU.”
Merama expects to sell $100 million across the region this year, more than two times the year before. It is currently focused on Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Already, the company operates “very profitably,” according to Tyle. So the cash raised will go primarily toward partnering with more brands, investing in building its technology platform “to aid in the automation of several facets” of its partners’ brands and in working capital for product innovation and inventory purchases.
The 42-person team is made up of e-commerce leaders from companies such as Amazon, Mercado Libre and Facebook, among others. Tyle knows a thing or two about growing and building new startups, having co-founded Frontier Car Group, which sold to OLX/Naspers for about $700 million in 2019. He is also currently a venture partner at Balderton.
It’s a fact that Latin American e-commerce has boomed, particularly during the pandemic. Mexico was the fastest-growing e-commerce market in 2020 worldwide, yet is still in its infancy, Tyle said. Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.
“Merchants are seeing hypergrowth but still struggle with fundamental problems, which creates a ceiling in their potential,” Tyle told TechCrunch. “For example, they are unable to expand internationally, get reliable and cost-effective working capital and build technology tools to support their own online presence. This is where Merama comes in. We seek to give our partners an unfair advantage. When we decide to work with a team, it is because we believe they will be the de facto category leader and can become a $1 billion business on their own.”
Merama collaborates with e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Mercado Libre, and several executives from both companies have invested in the startup, as well.
Daniel Waterhouse, partner at Balderton Capital, says his firm sees “huge potential” in Merama.
“In our two decades scaling businesses in Europe, we have seen firsthand what defines eCommerce category leaders,” he said in a written statement. “What they have already achieved is breathtaking, and it is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Valor Capital founding partner Scott Sobel believes that creating superior products that connect with consumers is the first key challenge D2C companies face.
“That is why we like Merama’s approach to partnering with these established brands and provide them unparalleled support to scale their operations in an efficient way,” he added.
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Kavak, the Mexican startup that’s disrupted the used car market in Mexico and Argentina, today announced its Series D of $485 million, which now values the company at $4 billion. This round more than triples their previous valuation of $1.15 billion, which established them as a unicorn just a couple of months ago in October of 2020. Kavak is now one of the top five highest-valued startups in Latin America.
The round was led by D1 Capital Partners, Founders Fund, Ribbit, and BOND, and brings Kavak’s total capital raised to date to more than $900 million. Kavak recently soft-launched in Brazil, and this new round of funding will be used to build out the Brazilian market and beyond, said Carlos García Ottati, Kavak’s CEO and Co-Founder. The company plans to do a full launch in Brazil in the next 60 days, García said, and we can expect to see Kavak in markets outside Latin America in the next 24 months, he added.
“We were built to solve emerging market problems,” García said.
Kavak, which was founded in 2016, is an online marketplace that aims to bring transparency, security, and access to financing to the used car market. The company also offers its own financing through its fintech arm, Kavak Capital, and counts more than 2,500 employees and 20 logistics and reconditioning hubs in Mexico and Argentina.
“In Latin America, 90% of the [used car] transactions are informal, which leads to a 40% fraud rate,” said García, who experienced these challenges first-hand when he moved to Mexico from Colombia a couple of years ago and bought a used car.
“My budget allowed me to buy a used car, but there was no infrastructure around it. It took me 6 months to buy the car, and then the car had legal and mechanical issues and I lost most of my money,” he said. Kavak buys cars from individuals, refurbishes them, and offers warranties to buyers.
“Instead of buying a new car, they can buy a better car that still has all the warranties. It’s a really aspirational process,” said García. The company, which really amounts to four companies in one given its areas of focus, was built to be comprehensive by design in order to meet the various gaps in the market, García said.
“When you’re building a business here [Latin America], you need to build several businesses because so many things are broken,” he said. That’s why the financing option, for example, has been a key to their success, according to García.
Financing has traditionally been hard to come by in Brazil, and as García said, the used car market lacks infrastructure there, too. That being said, Brazil is Latin America’s fintech hub, and the space has been made leaps and bounds over the last 7-10 years with companies such as Nubank, PagSeguro, Creditas, PicPay, and others leading the way. As a result, credit cards and loans are more widely available today in the region, offering competition for Kavak Capital. While Kavak has localized some of its product for the Brazilian market — namely building out a Portuguese language version of the app and website — García said the markets are very similar.
“In Brazil, you still have the same problems that you have in Mexico, but Brazil is a little more developed, especially in fintech, which is light years ahead of Mexico,” he said.
With the Brazilian product heading to the races, García said they already have plans for other regions, though he declined to name them.
“80% of people in emerging markets don’t have access to a car,” García said of the global market size. “We want to go into big markets where customers are facing similar problems and where Kavak can really change their lives,” he added.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to people everywhere shopping more online and Latin America is no exception.
São Paulo-based Nuvemshop has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. With more people in Latin America getting used to making purchases digitally, the company has experienced a major surge in business over the past year.
Demand for Nuvemshop’s offering was already heating up prior to the pandemic. But over the past 12 months, that demand has skyrocketed as more merchants have been seeking greater control over their brands.
Rather than selling their goods on existing marketplaces (such as Mercado Libre, the Brazilian equivalent of Amazon), many merchants and entrepreneurs are opting to start and grow their own online businesses, according to Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa.
“Most merchants have entered the internet by selling on marketplaces but we are hearing from newer generations of merchants and SMBs that they don’t want to be intermediated anymore,” he said. “They want to connect more directly with consumers and convey their own brand, image and voice.”
The proof is in the numbers.
Nuvemshop has seen the number of merchants on its platform surge to nearly 80,000 across Brazil, Argentina and Mexico compared to 20,000 at the start of 2020. These businesses range from direct-to-consumer (DTC) upstarts to larger brands such as PlayMobil, Billabong and Luigi Bosca. Virtually every KPI tripled in the company in 2020 as the world saw a massive transition to online, and Nuvemshop’s platform was home to 14 million transactions last year, according to Sosa.
“With us, businesses can find a more comprehensive ecosystem around payments, logistics, shipping and catalogue/inventory management,” he said.
Nuvemshop’s rapid growth caught the attention of Silicon Valley-based Accel. Having just raised $30 million in a Series C round in October and achieving profitability in 2020, the Nuvemshop team was not looking for more capital.
But Ethan Choi, a partner at Accel, said his firm saw in Nuvemshop the potential to be the market leader, or the “de facto” e-commerce platform, in Latin America.
“Accel has been investing in e-commerce for a very long time. It’s a very important area for us,” Choi said. “We saw what they were building and all their potential. So we pre-emptively asked them to let us invest.”
Today, Nuvemshop is announcing that it has closed on a $90 million Series D funding led by Accel. ThornTree Capital and returning backers Kaszek, Qualcomm Ventures and others also put money in the round, which brings Nuvemshop’s total funding raised since its 2011 inception to nearly $130 million. The company declined to reveal at what valuation this latest round was raised but it is notable that its Series D is triple the size of its Series C, raised just over six months prior. Sosa said only that there was a “substantial increase” in valuation since its Series C.
Nuvemshop is banking on the fact that the density of SMBs in Latin America is higher in most Latin American countries compared to the U.S. On top of that, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.
“In Brazil, it grew 40% last year but is still underpenetrated, representing less than 10% of retail sales. In Latin America as a whole, penetration is somewhere between 5 and 10%,” Sosa said.
Last year, the company transitioned from a closed product to a platform that is open to everyone from third parties, developers, agencies and other SaaS vendors. Through Nuvemshop’s APIs, all those third parties can connect their apps into Nuvemshop’s platform.
“Our platform becomes much more powerful, vendors are generating more revenue and merchants have more options,” Sosa told TechCrunch. “So everyone wins.” Currently, Nuvemshop has about 150 applications publishing on its ecosystem, which he projects will more than triple over the next 12 to 18 months.
As for comparisons to Shopify, Sosa said the company doesn’t necessarily make them but believes they are “fair.”
To Choi, there are many similarities.
“We saw Amazon get to really big scale in the U.S.. Merchants also found tools to build their own presence. This birthed Shopify, which today is worth $160 billion. Both companies saw their market caps quadruple during the pandemic,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the same dynamics in LatAm…Our bet here is that this company and business has all the same dynamics and the same really powerful tailwinds.”
For Accel partner Andrew Braccia, Nuvemshop has a clear first mover advantage.
“Over the past decade, direct-to-consumer has become one of the most important drivers of entrepreneurship globally,” he said. “Latin America is no exception to this trend, and we believe that Nuvemshop has the level of sophistication and ability to understand all that change and fuel the continued transformation of commerce from offline to online.”
Looking ahead, Sosa expects Nuvemshop will use its new capital to significantly invest in: continuing to open its APIs; payments processing and financial services; “everything related to logistics and logistics management” and attracting smaller merchants. It also plans to expand into other markets such as Colombia, Chile and Peru over the next 18-24 months. Nuvemshop currently operates in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
“While the countries share the same secular trends and product experience, they have very different market dynamics,” Sosa said. “This requires an on the ground local knowledge to make it all work. Separate markets require distinct knowledge. That makes this a more complicated opportunity, but one that enables a long-term competitive advantage.”
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Mercado Libre, one of the largest e-commerce and financial services company from Latin America by market cap, has selected the startup and Y Combinator alumni Pachama as its strategic partner in developing projects to restore ecosystems in Latin America.
The selection of Pachama is part of a program initiated by Mercado Libre, Latin America’s answer to Amazon, which is called Regenera America. The $8 million that Mercado Libre is investing will be in two reforestation projects: the “Mantiqueira Conservation Project”, organized under the auspices of The Nature Conservancy and the “Corridors of Live Project”, designed and implemented by the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas.
Both projects will focus on the reforestation of over three thosuand hectares, through natural regeneration and planting over 1 million trees, restoring biodiversity corridors and protecting hydrological basins in the Atlantic Forest region of Brazil, the two companies said in a statement.
Pachama will provide satellite and machine learning technologies to verify and monitor the carbon sequestration produced by the sweeping reforestation efforts in a deal which leapfrogs Mercado Libre ahead of Microsoft as the young startup’s largest customer.
Software tools provided by Pachama will also increase the efficiency and transparency of the actual reforestation efforts on the ground, the companies said in a joint statement.
The deal between the two companies, and Mercado Libre’s big buy was announced earlier today at a press conference in Argentina and the agreement marks the first time Mercado Libre has tapped money from a recently issued $400 million Sustainability Bond that was designed to finance projects of what the e-commerce giant called “triple impact” in the Latin American region. The bond was issued by JP Morgan and BNP Paribas.
“We’re taking our first steps. We have always tried to do things the hard way and go to the core of problems. We have had a very interesting debate internally about when is the right time to start buying carbon offsets and carbon credits but we also realize that the … getting up and running of projects that generate carbon credits in Latin America was potentially even more of a challenging situation and more of a longterm solution,” said Mercado Libre chief financial officer Pedro Arnt.
“This is a building block of a longer term strategy thinking through not just what we can do for the next two or three years,” Arnt said.
The Regenera America project has four pieces, Arnt said: measuring and reporting emissions internally for the company; buying clean energy for the company’s operations; providing electric vehicles for its own fleet and assisting its last mile and logistics partners in electrifying their own transportation; and the development of reforestation efforts across Latin America.
“This is setting up an example for more traditional industries across Latin America,” said Diego Saez-Gil, the co-founder and chief executive of Pachama. MercadoLibre is the largest company by market cap in Latin America and serves as a standard bearer for the forward thinking businesses in the region, he said. “Latin America is one of the biggest holders of biodiversity and carbon stocks in the world, and should be playing a more active role in climate mitigation.”
It’s a big step for Pachama as well. The deal marks the first time the young company has involved itself in project origination and provide a new revenue stream to compliment its existing lines of business.
“We are incredibly excited to start helping new reforestation projects get off the ground that have the capabilities to plant millions of trees and remove millions tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. If we are to solve climate change we need more projects like these to start as soon as possible,” said Saez-Gil in a statement. “We are confident that technologies such as AI and satellite imagery are key to scaling these efforts with high integrity, efficiency and transparency. Partnering with world-class organizations such as Mercado Libre, The Nature Conservancy and IPE for our first projects represents an incredible opportunity for us.”
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Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.
In another shift, app usage in the U.S. surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours on their mobile device.
The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.
The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.
For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.
Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.
And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.
The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.
Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.
From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.
Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.
With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.
Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.
Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.
TikTok had a big year, too.
The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.
Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.
YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.
Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.
Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.
Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.
Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.
The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.
Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.
The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).
Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.
TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.
The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.
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