Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires: Silicon Alley del Sur

Fawn Fitter

Lisa Besserman
Buenos Aires is famously known as the Paris of South America—a hotbed of high culture and high fashion. But its well-educated, multilingual population and low cost of living are also turning it into a hotbed of digital business innovation.

The plethora of development, design, and IT professionals in Buenos Aires—at about a third of the cost of talent in the United States and Europe—doesn’t hurt, says Lisa Besserman, founder of Startup Buenos Aires, an organization that promotes and supports entrepreneurs in Argentina’s capital city.

The city also smashes the language barrier. Almost everyone speaks Spanish and English. Italian is common, and there are large Portuguese-, French-, German-, Arabic-, and Chinese-speaking communities. Then there’s the time zone advantage. Being four hours ahead of Silicon Valley, one hour ahead of New York, and four hours behind London makes the location perfect for conference calls to business partners and clients.

mercadolibre-11-700x393Most of the digital economy action is centered in the neighborhood of Palermo, on the north side of the city, Besserman says. Instead of the grand, turn-of-the-20th-century edifices that make central Buenos Aires so classically striking, Palermo has the bustling bohemian charm of New York’s SoHo. In fact, residents call it “Palermo Soho” for its colorful murals, midcentury buildings with balconies overhanging the tree-lined streets, and a young, hip population of locals and expats drawn to the area’s independent boutiques, trendy restaurants, and bars.

Palermo is also in the middle of a construction boom that makes homes and offices plentiful. And for entrepreneurs who prefer not to base their startups in one of the city’s seemingly infinite number of cafés, the neighborhood is home to a bumper crop of co-working spaces, nearly a dozen within about two square miles.

The city government itself has launched an initiative to invest US$3.5 million in local startup accelerators, with the goal of helping them attract more investors of their own.

The area’s early successes include MercadoLibre, which offers e-commerce services tailored for South American markets. Founded in 1999, it’s now valued at US$5.8 billion on NASDAQ.

wideo.comAnother local breakout, Wideo, was one of 12 startups selected by Argentina’s general directorate of foreign trade to attend TechCrunch Disrupt in Silicon Valley in 2012. The company’s eponymous software, created as an easy-to-use alternative to PowerPoint, lets customers create and share videos and presentations without needing any animation, video editing, or design experience. Wideo has since won US$460,000 in a single round of funding from three early-stage seed funds: 500 Startups, an incubator program founded by PayPal and Google alumni; NXTP Labs, which invests exclusively in Latin American technology companies; and South Ventures, which also focuses on Latin American startups.

The current tech trend in Buenos Aires seems to be a sign of something bigger to come. In early 2015, the city won the 2015 GEC Cities Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Global Entrepreneurship Network to encourage metropolitan areas to become startup hubs. The city government itself has launched an initiative to invest US$3.5 million in local startup accelerators, with the goal of helping them attract more investors of their own. As Besserman says, “As Buenos Aires strengthens its entrepreneurial ecosystem, the stronger the economy will become, thus creating more jobs and opportunities for the city.”

Fawn Fitter

About Fawn Fitter

Fawn Fitter is based in San Francisco, where she writes about the spots where business and technology intersect.