São Paulo is Brazil’s late bloomer of a megalopolis. Founded in 1554, it remained a more or less sleepy second city, behind Rio de Janeiro, until the late 1800s, when the coffee industry turned São Paulo into an industrial center.
Today, with 12.4 million residents, São Paulo is the financial and business center of Brazil—indeed, of all Latin America. Although the Brazilian economy has notoriously suffered during the last few years, São Paulo’s thriving community of technology entrepreneurs continues to forge ahead.
The 2015 “Startup Ecosystem Report” from e-commerce analytics company Compass deemed São Paulo the third fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the world. Investing platform
AngelList counts more than 1,000 startups in São Paulo, with an average valuation of US$4 million. And the city hosts Latin America’s biggest event for startups: the Annual Conference for Startups and Entrepreneurship (CASE).
São Paulo’s startups are largely clustered around Avenida Paulista, a major thoroughfare and transit hub and one of the highest points in the city. Both Main Street and Wall Street, Avenida Paulista bristles with skyscrapers bearing the names of Brazilian and global financial institutions. It’s also home to the São Paulo Museum of Art, which is as famous for its modern architecture as it is for South America’s leading permanent collection of paintings and sculptures. On side streets, smaller office buildings and restaurants that cater to the lunch crowd give way after a few blocks to residential high-rises scattered among supermarkets, theaters, chain retailers, medical clinics, and one of the country’s largest shopping malls.
The tight-knit startup community includes 20 co-working spaces and nearly a dozen tech accelerators. One of the anchors is Campus São Paulo, a Google-run co-working and community space just two blocks from the Brigadeiro subway station. The space includes an accelerator, which announced its second class of residents in March 2017. Campus São Paulo is also the current home base of IBM- and Visa-sponsored Startup Farm, the largest and most experienced accelerator program in Latin America, which has invested more than $100 million in more than 230 startups.
Startup Farm cultivated São Paulo’s biggest startup success to date: Easy Taxi, which claims to be the most downloaded taxi-hailing app in the world. Launched in April 2012, it enables passengers to contact registered taxi drivers in 420 cities across Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. According to business information clearinghouse Crunchbase, Easy Taxi has received $77 million in funding, the most recent round in February 2016.
By contrast, other São Paulo startups have grown by addressing specifically Brazilian needs, with an eye toward later expansion. Brazil’s financial crisis has inspired fintech innovators like Creditas, a secured loans platform that lets Brazilians borrow at lower rates than the major banks offer. And the Brazilian economy’s heavy reliance on agriculture has created opportunities for companies like AgroSmart, which gathers farming data with Internet of Things sensors and telemetry to make irrigation and crop control more efficient.
Brazil as a whole is still climbing out of its prolonged economic malaise. But with entrepreneurship flourishing and tech spending growing (even the beleaguered Brazilian government has an initiative to provide free online mentorship to startups), the startups of São Paulo are building ladders to help the nation climb. D!
Where to eat:
D.O.M. Haute cuisine with a Brazilian twist
Jun Sakamoto Upscale sushi
Tête à Tête Contemporary seasonal
Where to stay:
Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.