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Business Management

eMerge event showcases Latin American startup talent

On April 18 and 19, Latin America’s technology fledglings will show off their wares and share their plans at eMerge Americas, a business-to-business event in Miami, Florida that hooks up companies with commercial and government leaders from North America, Latin America and Europe.

Companies like e-commerce firm Mercado Libre, software developer Globant of Argentina, and Brazilian services giant Stefanini, have shown that LatAm can produce its own forces to be reckoned with while government-backed projects like Startup Chile/Bolivia/Brasilia (et cetera) have created some entrepreneurial buzz, even attracting new entrants from the US. I spoke by phone to Xavier Gonzalez, CEO eMerge Americas, about progress so far and what happens next for the LatAm tech scene.

First, I asked Gonzalez about the eMerge event…

“It’s an event that’s focused on disrupting technology and connecting Latin America, North America and Europe,” he says. “It brings together big companies and startups, entrepreneurs and governments, especially at the city level.”

Some people suggest that Latin Americans often lack the risk-taking attitude of the big startup countries, preferring to build careers with corporations, but Gonzalez disagrees.

“There’s an inherent entrepreneurial culture in Latin America, by and large,” he says. “There have not been centuries-old businesses [of Europe and the US] and [startup fever] is accelerating very quickly. [LatAm startups] can not only target one country but many with same language, but also North America. [The notion about a lack of appetite for risk] is a bit outdated. There’s a definite shift to ‘make your job’ rather than ‘get a job’. It’s still nascent, but it’s growing.”

Will the Americas pattern follow the fabled example of California’s Silicon Valley?

“Silicon Valley has been developing for years, decades… they’re seeing success after success and their ecosystem means they will continue to have those wins,” Gonzalez concedes, but as LatAm entrepreneurs succeed, he is optimistic that a similar cycle of alumni returning to invest locally will take place.

India thrived on providing outsourced development services while Russia and Israel produced more than their fair share of security companies. Where can Latin America win?

“Mobility,” Gonzalez says. “Latin Americans way over-index on mobile and social media usage, but there’s also e-commerce and fintech.”

But is there a sufficient VC and other investment scene to serve Latin American startups?

“There’s an increasing appetite,” he argues, with 20-40 per cent year-on-year increases in available investment money, especially as US investors seek fresh fields.

Finally, is there an iconic figure or company that young dreamers in the region can look up to and emulate?

Gonzalez names the Mexican telecoms mogul Carlos Slim but hopes there can be more. Infrastructure is improving rapidly, he says, and there is no reason why Latin America can’t take its place on the world technology stage with Miami acting as a corridor that leads startups in the right direction.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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