Digital start-ups are gaining steam in Latin America. In the past five years, more than 200 private equity and venture capital funds raised over $34 billion in Latin America, and programs like Start-up Brasil and Start-up Peru are providing funding and mentorship to help companies grow. On the sidelines of a Young Professionals of the Americas event, AS/COA Online’s Rachel Glickhouse spoke to two Latin American entrepreneurs about the advantages and challenges of starting digital ventures in the region.
Diego Saez Gil, from Argentina, was inspired to create his company WeHostels after he recognized a need for a travel app. He did his Masters in Spain, when he backpacked through Europe. Smartphones were gaining popularity at the time, but he noted the lack of good apps to find affordable accommodations. Later, Saez Gil went on to do an internship in New York and became involved in the start-up scene. He decided to create WeHostels, a mobile app for young travelers that connects them to small, independent properties. While Latin Americans have much to offer, entrepreneurs need more access to capital, said Saez Gil. “But more important than capital is to really understand how the game is played,” he added, noting that mentorship is critical. On the plus side, the region has lots of potential, he said, while technology breaks down past geographical limits. “From anywhere in the world, you can launch a product or service and reach millions of people.”
Andres Blank, from Venezuela, co-founded Pixable, a photo app, as well as Caliber, a platform to connect professionals. He created his first company while pursuing his MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after seeing that students wanted to publish photos in a single place after group trips. His newest venture is similar to the Tinder dating app, but connects professionals for networking purposes. Blank noted that his path to becoming an entrepreneur depended on meeting people who started their own companies, while in Latin America, success stories are more isolated. However, the region doesn’t lack for talent. “I think that Latin Americans are very creative and have their own way of creating things. Slowly but surely there will be innovative stuff developed there,” he said.
Hear more from Saez Gil and Blank at the YPA panel, on topics ranging betting on Bitcoin to culture differences between the United States and Latin America: