There is not much charm in the city of São Paulo. Few green areas flourish in an expensive and crowded city made of concrete. It can be dangerous and violent. Being stuck in traffic is just part of everyday life. Better to accept it. But still, I kind of miss it from time to time. Having lived there for more than 10 years, I guess I miss not only my friends but also the chaos and energy that defines São Paulo.
“São Paulo is a city marked by diversity,” Beatriz Gusmão, organizer of São Paulo Tech Week (or SPTW), tells me. “This diversity makes its DNA, a creative and innovative DNA, geared towards the new. The startup ecosystem in São Paulo is the most consolidated in Latin America, ranking first among the ecosystems of the region, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2015. Besides that, São Paulo is home to the world’s leading technology companies for their Latin America operations.”
It’s true that the city is local home to Google and Facebook and in its second year, SPTW has attracted more than 50,000 people to 210 events organized around the city at the beginning of November. According to Gusmão, the tech week has probably generated more than a billion Reais (about $300m) in new business. And for 2017, the idea is to increase these numbers, reaching an even wider audience.
It is not that there are no competitors to São Paulo around the country. Recife in the northeast, Belo Horizonte in the southeast like São Paulo, and Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil are all big cities developing tech hubs and competing for new business. But maybe it is just not a fair competition. The population of the city of São Paulo is about 11 million people. The metropolitan area, the Greater São Paulo, has a population of almost 20 million inhabitants. Also São Paulo’s GDP (approximately US$254bn, in 2011) is bigger than the GDP of countries such as Greece and Portugal. Due to such economic power, around 65 per cent of foreign companies settled in Brazil maintain their operations in the city.
“The concentration of wealth, the concentration of large companies and big businesses in the city, the existence of 24 hours a day services, and the excellence of its universities are factors that combine to distinguish São Paulo from other Brazilian cities,” suggests Alex Inglês, BT country manager for Brazil.
The British telco announced at the beginning of November the opening of a Contract Design Hub (CDH) in São Paulo to strengthen support for the company’s growing list of customers in the Americas.
“The CDH functions as a support hub for contracted projects in the Americas and brings benefits especially to customers in the United States and Canada, owing to their greater proximity to this hub, in cultural and time zone terms, than to any other BT project hubs,” Inglês tells me.
“It is important to note that the Brazilian CDH is part of a series of investments by BT in Latin America to improve the services we provide to our customers. It is one of the three most recent investments we have made in this area, all in São Paulo.”
The other two investments were the launch in October of a cybersecurity center and, in September, the implementation of a new platform for unified communications services.
“São Paulo has a very dynamic business environment bringing together, for instance, large multinationals and the main financial institutions in Brazil. The city is increasingly establishing itself as the largest economic and financial center in Latin America. On the other hand, it cannot be said that São Paulo offers the best conditions in terms of quality of life,” says Inglês, a Brazilian engineer who used to live in London but was born in Rio de Janeiro.
For Beatriz Gusmão, the city’s problems such as its heavy traffic, are just another source of innovation.
“The city is constantly facing its challenges with technology and a lot of creativity. Mobilab, a laboratory in urban mobility, is an example of this, sheltering startups and researchers in search for innovative solutions to improve the mobility of the city,” she argues.
And I agree with Gusmão. It is not just the size of São Paulo and money that you can find in the city that explains its power. It is also the city’s capacity to reinvent itself, over and over again.
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