Tech in Latin America: All the news you shouldn’t miss from the past month

Tech in Latin America: All the news you shouldn’t miss from the past month
Credit: Canadapanda / Shutterstock.com

October was a busy month in Latin America’s tech scene, with a larger number of acquisitions and funding rounds than usual — a welcome respite from the macroeconomic problems in several countries.

Here’s the news you don’t want to miss:

A few got acquired…

Rising star Docker acquired Tutum, a “container-as-a-service” startup that was already part of its ecosystem. As TechCrunch pointed out, this acquisition will help Docker “deliver a more complete package of services for its customers” and help them run the containers they have built.

Tutum’s ties to Latin America go beyond its .co domain name: it is also an alumnus of Start-Up Chile and of Argentine fund NXTP Labs (disclosure: NXTP Labs is an investor in my startup, MonoLibre). As we reported, it later went on to join Techstars and raise a $2.65 million funding round led by RTP Ventures. While the deal price wasn’t disclosed, NXTP described it as “its best exit” to date.

tutum founders_borja_fernando
Brazilian media sales company FTPI Digital acquired social ad network Boo-box, founded by Brazilian entrepreneur Marco Gomes in 2006 to help advertisers reach a younger audience. At the time, Boo-box made headlines for its flair, going on to raise Series A funding from VC firms Intel Capital and Monashees Capital.

FTPI was already its commercial partner and representative in some markets since 2013, and will keep on selling boo-box services following the deal. As for Gomes, who has left the company, he will focus on his new startup, fitness reward scheme Mova Mais (see our previous post).

On-demand selling app and Techstars graduate Gone acquired the assets of  Y Combinator alumnus Yardsale Inc., which had launched a gadget marketplace called FOBO in 2014, and whose founders Ryan Mickle and Ed McManus will now join Gone in advisory roles.

As we reported last September, Gone participated Silicon Valley Bank’s MasterCard’s joint strategic accelerator program, Commerce Innovated. Its Lite version is available across the US, while its concierge service first rolled out in San Francisco and Austin, where users can get a Gone assistant to pick up their items. According to its co-founder, Nicolas Bayerque, the launch of Gone’s concierge service in Boston and New York was also imminent.

yardsale fobo gone

Brazilian mobile marketing firm Pontomobi was acquired by advertising heavyweight Dentsu Aegis Network, giving its first exit to e.Bricks Digital (see our previous story about e.Bricks). The deal doesn’t include Pontomobi’s spin-off Hands, which will stay with e.Bricks. As for Pontomobi, it will now be known as Pontomobi Linked by Isobar.

News emerged in October that Rocket Internet’s cleaning services marketplace Helpling would withdraw from several countries, including Brazil, and lay off some of its staff. Shortly thereafter, competing Brazilian startup Parafuzo announced that it would take over Helpling Brasil’s operations and ensure continuity of its already-scheduled appointments.

Chilean beauty services platform Mibell was acquired by its competitor BePretty, Pulso Social reported. A Start-Up Chile graduate, Be Pretty recently expanded into Colombia and is planning to roll out into other Latin American markets in 2016.

The Carlyle Group and Vinci Partners have reportedly bought Brazilian remote education company Uniasselvi for R$1.1 billion (around $285 million USD). Meanwhile, its previous owner Kroton acquired personalized learning startup Studiare for R$ 4,1 million ($1 million USD), Startupi reported. Created in 1966, Kroton is one of the largest education groups in Brazil, and needed to sell Uniasselvi to comply with anti-trust regulations following its merger with its former competitor Anhanguera.

Chinese manufacturer Lenovo sold back Brazilian electronics firm CCE to the family it had acquired it from only 3 years ago, ZDNet reported. “As part of Lenovo’s efforts to improve the operational efficiency and profitability of its PCs business globally and in Brazil, the company has agreed to sell the CCE brand and factory to its previous owners, the [Sverner family],” the company wrote in a statement quoted by ZDNet.

Russian investment firm LetterOne, owned by Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman, is seeking to invest $4 billion into Brazilian carrier Oi, which it hopes to merge with competitor TIM Participações, owned by Telecom Italia. While Oi agreed to enter exclusive negotiations with LetterOne for the next 7 months, it remains to be seen whether regulators would allow further concentration in the telecommunications sector.

…and many got funded

Fintech startup Lenddo raised a Series B round of funding from AT Capital and Life.SREDA, with participation from existing investors Omidyar Network, Blumberg Capital and Golden Gate Ventures. Lenddo uses online information to perform credit scoring on aspirant borrowers, broadening access to loans in emerging markets. It has offices in Colombia, India, the Philippines and New York City.

On-demand car service Cabify raised a $12 million Series B round of funding led by Rakuten, with participation from previous backer Seaya Ventures. According to Novobrief, this investment will help the Spanish startup reinforce its position in Latin America, which already accounts for 80 percent of its revenue. While it will increasingly face competition from Uber, it may be helped by its corporate offering, which is reportedly doing well in several markets.

Y Combinator graduate Bluesmart raised a round of funding of $11.5 million from several well-known angel investors and what it describes “a group of institutional investors” which includes Amadeus IT Group, Cota Capital and Western Technology Investment (WTI). As you may remember, Bluesmart previously collected $2.2 million in pre-orders for its smart carry-on, which it recently started shipping. “Hardware plus software companies are capital-intensive so we are happy to have secured the financing necessary to execute our plans,” its founder Diego Saez-Gil commented.

bluesmart carry-on

Former Vostu executives Matias Recchia and Andrés Bernasconi raised a R$12 million investment round of funding led by Riverwood Capital for their new venture, IguanaFix (around $3.11 million USD). The startup operates an online platform for home improvements and car repairs, currently available in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico and boasting some 250,000 registered users as well as 15,000 professionals.

Brazil-based geolocation services provider Geofusion, raised a R$35 million investment round from DGF Investimentos and previous backer Intel Capital (around $9 million USD). It had previously received funding from Fundo Criatec, which exited Geofusion with this new round.

Spanish beauty services marketplace Miora raised a $4 million round led by Seaya Ventures, with participation from Variv Capital and Nazca Ventures. Miora’s CEO Diego Ballesteros had already raised funding from Seaya Ventures and its founding partner Michael Kleindl for his previous companies SinDelantal and SinDelantal Mexico, which were both acquired by Just Eat.

According to Loogic, Miora plans to grow rapidly across Latin America. While it already operates in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru (in addition to Spain), its expansion might compete with those of Rocket Internet’s Vaniday, which launched in Brazil a few months ago.

Brazilian subscription-based laundry service aLavadeira.com announced having raised a $1.6 million Series A round from VC funds CRP Empreendedor and CVentures Primus. The company plans to use this funding to expand beyond the São Paulo metro area and build a new laundry processing facility.

Nuvem Shop raised a round of funding from Kaszek Ventures, which it plans to use to expand regionally and add new features to its e-commerce solution for SMBs. The Argentine startup had previously raised seed funding from Wenceslao Casares, Fabrice Grinda, Alec Oxenford, NXTP Labs and Trindade Investimentos.

Brazilian fintech startup Magnetis raised a R$3 million round of funding (around $779k USD) led by Monashees Capital, with participation from Redpoint e.Ventures, 500 Startups, NH Investmentos and Órama founder Guilherme Horn.

Brazilian 3D printer manufacturer Cliever Tecnologia received R$2 million in funding (around $520k USD) from Criatec 2, the second fund sponsored by Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES). Cliever is based in the tech and science park Tecnopuc, in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

Velum Ventures invested an undisclosed amount into Argentine accounting startup Colppy, which its partners had first met with at Wayra Colombia‘s Demo Day in 2014.

In addition, research software startup Postmetria received seed funding from angel network Anjos do Brasil.

As for Pig.gi, created by two American entrepreneurs to offer free ad-supported Internet and voice services, it received a grant from Medellin’s Ruta N and complementary private funding that will finance its expansion beyond its Mexico-based pilot program.

Big players

Apple increased the prices of many of its products in several countries due to currency fluctuations, a price rise that was particularly steep in Brazil. For instance, the 32GB model of its newly launched Apple TV retails at R$1.349, around $350 USD. As previously announced, the Apple Watch also hit the shelves in Brazil and Colombia on October 16th, its fifth launch wave.

apple tv brazil

According to Veja’s blog Radar on-line, Twitter will launch Moments in Brazil by the end of the year. If the information is confirmed, this would make Brazil the second country to receive this event-focused feature, which may arguably be the biggest change Twitter made to its service since its invention.

As for Google, it rolled out the newsstand section of Google Play to Android users in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru, where it is known as Google Play Kiosco.

google kiosco_latam
Streaming service Deezer expanded its Talk service, doubling its content by adding 20,000 new podcasts and radio shows and introducing new features such as offline playback (for Premium+ subscribers only). It also announced that Talk would be available in 5 new markets: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Germany and Spain.

Pinterest rolled out several features aimed at improving search for international users, such as localized autocomplete and spellcheck. The search results themselves are also meant to be more relevant, by taking into account the user’s account language, the language used for search, and trending searches in their country.

Visa launched its online payments service Visa Checkout in Brazil, ZDNet reported. This confirms an earlier announcement that it would roll out in several new countries by the end of 2015, following its launch in the US, Canada and Australia.

IBM’s Brazil-based Research Lab opened an open innovation space known as THINKLab, the company announced in a press release. Located in IBM’s São Paulo HQ, it is its first THINKLab in Latin America, and its goal is to help IBM’s corporate clients work directly with its team of researchers on solving specific problems they may face.

Expansions…

HBO plans to roll out HBO Go as a standalone online subscription service in Latin America and the Caribbean, Variety reported. It would first launch in Colombia by the end of 2015. While HBO Go was already available in several of those countries, including Colombia, the difference here is that a cable subscription won’t be required to sign up.

Meanwhile, Netflix increased the price of its HD streaming plan for new subscribers in the US, Canada and Latin America. “As a thank you to existing Netflix members — who aren’t already benefiting from a previous price guarantee — we will maintain their current price for a year,” the company clarified in a statement.

Marketplace for refurbished smartphones Trocafone started operating in Argentina, following its initial launch in Brazil last year with seed funding from NXTP Labs, Wayra and Quasar Ventures (see our previous story on the latter).

properati mexico

Argentine real estate startup Properati opened commercial offices in Mexico City to continue its regional expansion, which had already seen it launch operations in Brazil and Chile. With a team of 40 employees, he property portal boasts a total of 1 million real estate listings, 200,000 of which are in Mexico.

…and new launches

Online security startup Auth0 launched a new service called Passwordless Authentication, Geekwire reported. With offices in the US and Argentina, Auth0 provides identity-as-a-service to developers who need to integrate login options quickly into their apps, and will now be able to do so by using an email, SMS or Apple Touch ID as a replacement for a username and password.

Passwordless access seems to be a growing trend; as we reported, Yahoo recently eliminated passwords from its massively overhauled Yahoo Mail interface, instead using an account key.

Brazilian state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal launched a multi-platform mobile app for the country’s flagship social welfare program, 12-year-old Bolsa Família (“Family Allowance”). The program benefits 13,9 million Brazilian families, some of which will now be able to monitor payments from their phones.

Unsurprisingly in a country such as Brazil, the app launch was met with criticism, as members of the economic elite deemed unacceptable from anyone on welfare to own a mobile phone, let alone a smartphone. In response, the bank pointed out that 82,6 percent of households belonging to Brazil’s 20% poorest tier do own at least one mobile phone, adding that the app could also be used by people who didn’t benefit directly from the program.

bolsa familia google play

Argentine Bitcoin startup BitPagos launched Ripio Exchange, a marketplace to exchange bitcoins and Argentine pesos. As we previously noted, the virtual currency has proven quite popular among Argentines seeking solutions to bypass the hurdles of their country’s currency.

Israeli digital marketing startup Solomoto officially launched in Brazil, with a service aimed at helping SMBs manage their online presence at a low cost. Its director for Latin America is Moovit’s former president Omar Tellez.

Selections, awards and VC news

34 companies presented at 500 Startups’ Batch 14 Demo Day, including Uruguay’s Monkeylearn and Brazil’s Pipefy, which had recently raised funding (see our September roundup). In addition, 500 Startups launched a new Miami-based growth-focused program called 500 Miami Distro. Its first participants are Cinepapaya, ClutchPrep, Kairos, MXHero, Ofi, Rocket, Shopeando and Social Tools.

Wired Brand Lab and Nokia unveiled  its ‘Agents of Change’ list, which is part of their year-long #MakeTechHuman initiative. The list features 17 personalities selected for their capacity to “use technology to improve the world and expand human possibility.” At least 2 of them have family ties to Latin America: Emblematic’s CEO Nonny de la Peña and Duolingo’s founder Luis von Ahn (see our previous interview).

The Spanish-language edition of the MIT Technology Review unveiled the 2015 edition of its “Innovators Under 35” list for Argentina and Uruguay. Awardees this year are Valentina Arriagada (Connectus Medical), Gustavo Bessone (Taggify), Jimena González, Ignacio Juárez (Semtive), Patricio Jutard (Mural), Matías Kalwill (Bikestorming), Pablo Orlando (Inipop), Nicolás Pereyra (EDU Editorial), Gino Tubaro (Proyecto LIMBS / Atomic Lab) and Emanuel Vilte (Linguoo).

Entrepreneurship organization Endeavor invited Miami-based startups Everymundo and Yandiki to join its global network. As you may remember, Endeavor started a local chapter in Miami in 2013 with $2 million in committed support from the Knight Foundation . As for Acsendo y Eglobalt, they were welcomed into Endeavor Colombia.

Startup program for Latino entrepreneurs Manos Accelerator selected 5 companies for its 4th batch: Abogadazo from New York City, Aerial Backup from Guadalajara, Amitee from San Francisco, Monkier from Mexico City and People Spread from Palo Alto. Manos is supported by Google for Entrepreneurs.

manos

NXTP Labs selected 12 Latin American startups for its new vertical acceleration program, which focuses on fintech and will culminate in a pitch competition at the FinTech Stage conference in Buenos Aires. In addition, it also announced having raised a $38.5 million fund, surpassing its initial goal of $30 million.

As for VC firm Reach Capital, it raised a $53 fund targeted at edtech startups, the WSJ reported, pointing out that Reach is a spin-off from non-profit New Schools Venture Fund. One of its partners is Argentine entrepreneur Esteban Sosnik, who co-founded gaming startups Atakama Labs and Wanako Games, acquired by Vivendi for $10 million in 2006.

Finally, Ecuador and Chile signed an agreement that will see Ecuador start its first venture capital fund with support from the Chilean Economic Development Agency, CORFO, although further details are still to be confirmed.

In the eye of the law

Uber kept on fighting legal battles in Brazil, where a Rio de Janeiro court had deemed it illegal, only for a driver to be granted a special authorization days later that allowed him (but only him) to keep on driving passengers. This isn’t over, as most Brazilian capital cities are mulling laws to control or outlaw Uber.

In São Paulo, Uber rejected a proposal that could have led to partial regulation under a newly created and fairly restrictive ‘black cab’ category. As The New York Times’ Bits blog, reported, Uber issued a statement [reaffirming] “that it is not a taxi company and therefore does not belong in any category of this type of service.”

Uber also did several marketing operations in Brazil, for instance around World Animal DaySão Paulo’s migrant workers and the country’s National High School Exam, ENEM. Meanwhile, it is reportedly getting ready to land into Uruguay, raising concerns among local taxi companies.

Back in Brazil, the government confirmed that the tech sector might be affected by austerity measures: it has suspended its flagship international tech scholarship program and is reviewing all of its IT contracts, ZDNet reported.

October’s weirdest piece of news came from the remote state of Acre, where the local justice decided that bloggers would need to register themselves at a notary’s office (‘cartório’). More worryingly, it summoned 133 bloggers who had failed to do so, and will now have to ‘regularize’ their situation.

To end this roundup on a more positive note, the state of Minas Gerais announced that it would invest R$1 billion into its Minas Digital program over the next 10 years ($263 million USD), and that its startup acceleration program SEED would resume (see our previous post on its troubles). The announcement was made in Belo Horizonte during Demo Day Minas as part of a week of activities dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation.

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