What do you do currently?
I am part of the Swiss group Seedstars, founded with the vision to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. My mission inside the team is to lead the activities of the group in Latin America and Caribbean.
How and when did you get involved with the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Five years ago I went to Brazil for my Bachelor degree and I started to work with entrepreneurship in the low income & discriminated communities. Totally different type of companies that the ones with which we are working at Seedstars. More or less at the same time, I met Alisee de Tonnac, CEO of Seedstars, for an interview I had to do at the magazine of my university in Switzerland. We talked a lot about the job they were starting to do in emerging markets with startups and tech education. I understood with them the potential of impact investment and technology to create positive changes. 18 months later, I joined the team to run our competition for early stage startups, Seedstars World, in 12 countries of Latin America. With this experience, truly started my engagement in the Latin American tech entrepreneurial ecosystem.
How would you describe the ecosystem in Latin America?
Tremendous, a batch of opportunities in an incredibly chaotic environment. There is a great and cheap pool of talents with unequal access to resources (and not talking only about financial resources).
What do you expect in the next 12 months?
2018 was so far a pretty interesting year for the region. In the first trimester, Brazil positioned 3 of its ventures in the unicorn class with 99 Taxis, PagSeguro & Nubank. Last month, Colombia confirmed its position of fast growing ecosystem, with Rappi raising $200M USD and becoming the first unicorn of the country. Mexico became one of the first countries in the world to adopt a fintech law. This proves that Latin America can be the leader of its own transformation. The next 12 months, I would bet that ICOs and/or Crypto activities will increase in the investment landscape of the region (check new investment vehicles BR11, Mango Startups or promising crypto ventures such as Cryptomarket, Foxbit, Bitso, Transfero swiss ag). Who says crypto often says blockchain, the technology as others can be real game changer in emerging markets in terms of financial inclusion, connectivity, exportation & supply chain, bureaucracy efficiency, education access, transparency or also solving one of main issue of developing countries: data scarcity. With an estimated 100 millions devices connected in the region by 2022, IoT is a big opportunity. Mexico launched an Artificial Intelligence Agency and in Colombia, Medellin counts now with an Artificial Intelligence Center. Blockchain, Machine Learning, IoT, AI are no longer exclusive technologies of developed world and have huge potential in Latam. Nevertheless, what we expect and hope above all is that more and more local entrepreneurs will leverage technology to tackle local issues and create positive impact. We hope that success cases like Kubo financiero, Mesfix (SMEs cash flow through crowd factoring), Apli (fighting unemployment), The Not company (malnutrition) will create a multiplier effect and inspire others.
While opportunities are there, we should not forget the countries currently in crisis, such as Venezuela or Nicaragua. Argentina again has faced important depreciation of their currency last semester. How can we leverage technology and entrepreneurship in those situations to minimize the repercussion on those populations in the next 12 months?
What are the main challenges?
I would say there are 3 big challenges. Even if governments have implemented a lot of programs (Corfo, Inadem, Produce Peru, Sebrae) and fostered entrepreneur friendly regulations, we are not there yet. The lack of efficiency of public institutions and corruption are important pains in the whole region, apart from Chile, which is doing better than its peers. Second, the lack of access to education, which I believe is somehow related to the lack of a strong and ethical government mentioned before. Today, the reality is that most of the top entrepreneurs we have met in Latam with Seedstars comes from wealthier families and have gotten the chance to go study or work abroad. If we can leverage technology and new kind of schools to increase access to education and especially foster youth talent, this could have an exponential effect on the growth of the region. Considering institutions are not able to provide education for all, I believe we should decentralize it. We need more edtech startups like Platzi or Duolingo and more support for alternative education programs, such as Laboratoria. In Africa, they have different important training programs for entrepreneurs (for example MEST). In Ivory Coast, we are currently working closely with the local government and the TRECC – Jacobs Foundation through our Seedstars Academy program in order to bridge the educational disparity gap. Finally those initiatives can only have a true impact if we manage to provide connectivity for all and for free. Today over half of the population in Latin America still doesn’t have access to internet.
What change or result would bring the greatest benefits for the ecosystem?
It’s a mix of public and private initiatives. We need stronger institutions investing in education, R&D & infrastructure. Besides, it is important to start fostering private sectors, since 90% of jobs are created by SMEs, including startups. Seedstars aims to support those entrepreneurs who have the potential to create over 200 jobs and therefore generate impact for different households, creating wealth that will usually be reinvested in the country and inspire others to replicate. The other day we laughed because for a long time we were mentioning the Paypal Mafia impact in Latam and since a few months we are seeing the rise of the Rappi or EasyTaxi Mafia. Success breeds success, this is why connecting people and promote entrepreneurship is very important, even more in the early ecosystems in Latam, such as Bolivia, Guatemala or Ecuador.
Describe your typical day
In my current life, I think I have no typical day. That’s probably why I have never been able to explain to my family what I am doing in a way they understand it (lol). Let’s say maybe it could look as so: I wake up for a run in Sao Paulo, I have breakfast in Mexico with one of our partners to discuss the profile of startups we should source and the agenda of the acceleration program we will put in place together, I take a uber to the airport where I have a culture fit HR call to source for talent to join our team, I have a meeting at our Seedspace in Bogota with a couple of startups to learn more about their solutions and finally a happy hour in Lima with our friends and Seedstars family members – just because we should never forget life must be fun! No routine but clear objectives – connecting ecosystems, scaling ventures & investing in most promising ones & this has to be through being ourselves a sustainable and independent company.
Who is your favorite entrepreneur?
I met too many on my road, can’t answer. So, I will take the last one in date that impressed me.
A recent book do you recommend?
I would say Born A Crime, Trevor Noah.
So many… to keep it swiss for this time, I will say My life as a Zuchini from Claude Barras. In term of cinema, Switzerland is rather an early stage industry compared to Argentina, Brazil or Mexico, so I believe excellent move like this one which was nominated at the Golden Globes last year can have a multiplier effect as well!
Smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop?
Laptop, in Mac we trust!
iOS or Android?
Android for the leapfrog they have allowed in emerging markets.
My crush this year was Mobile.
Favorite social network?
Instagram, as we say images are worth a thousand word – it’s even a bit too addictive.
Swiss mountains for ski!!!!
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
We want to expand our network of physical hubs Seedspace in Latin America. We’ve just opened the two first ones in Colombia early this year and are about to launch two others by end of this year in Mexico & Peru. This will allow us to get a better position to become a true launchpad for impact. We aim to develop more and more partnerships with governments, foundations or corporations to increase the opportunities for the region. We are exploring the possibility of alliances to bring programs like Seedstars Academy to the region. In parallel, we aim to support sustainable and promising businesses in Latin America by scaling them and investing. It is important for us to work closely with those entrepreneurs and foster growth, leveraging our expertise of emerging markets, entrepreneurial experience and global community. This is why we create services such as startup-centered packages in our hubs, or our product/market fit and growth programs. We are also here to walk the talk and invest. In the past 18 months, we have invested in our first six startups of Latin America. Let’s double this! Finally, as we are growing fast, we need talents to join our team! So if anyone wants to help us get to our ambitions and is not afraid to get his hands dirty, just reach out!
One word that describes you?
“Chihuahua”. Will understand who can! 😉