Brazil showed off its cultural brilliance, spirit and national pride on a grand stage during the recent Olympic Games in Rio. Despite a prolonged macroeconomic crisis, the world’s ninth largest economy is showing positive signs that it may roar back as an investment magnet and innovation powerhouse — especially driven by fast-growing tech sectors that have continued to deliver growth rates of up to more than 20 percent in the face of overall disappointing GDP data.
Just days after the Olympics closed in Brazil, the country has refocused its efforts to speed past its political scandals that hinder investor confidence in the future of Latin America’s biggest economy. The final decision to impeach former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gave many a sigh of relief from the political power struggle that’s consumed the nation for far too long.
With only two months into President Michel Temer’s term, he’s been a “big hit with investors,” according to a Bloomberg news feature published in late July. The country’s benchmark equity index has risen about 60 percent this year, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that consumer and business confidence seems to have bottomed out.
A Morgan Stanley study released in mid-summer indicates that investor confidence and interest in emerging markets like Brazil is on the rise — especially in the wake of the uncertainty and economic fallout following the Brexit referendum vote. In a story about the study, The BRICS Post reports that the IMF “says confidence in the Brazilian economy is slowly reawakening” and the organization has forecast positive growth for Brazil during 2017.
BayBrazil, a Silicon Valley-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing together the Brazilian-American ecosystem, hosted its annual conference at the Googleplex in Mountain View on September 16. The event attracts entrepreneurs, tech executives, investors, scholars, government representatives and private-sector leaders. Speakers from companies like Alibaba, Alphabet, Instagram/Facebook, Silicon Valley Bank, Stripe and Uber presented, and the conference’s main session theme was: “Navigating uncertainty: Meet Brazilians who are building solid businesses while riding the crisis.”
In spite of the country’s downturn, tech spending in Brazil is rising and entrepreneurship is flourishing. Corporate venture capital growth and a more mature ecosystem is further boosting the prospects for the country’s economic engine to rev back up again, driven by technology sector innovation. Five of the hottest tech sectors in Brazil right now are: agritech meets IoT (now emerging, edtech, fintech, healthtech and marketing tech.
Below are some of the outstanding companies that are being nourished and built in Brazil today, and why the five tech sectors they operate in promise rapid growth and strong investor returns.
Five of Brazil’s tech-sector bright spots and some fast-growth startup stars
Brazil is a major agricultural powerhouse. It helps feed the world. The sector’s shown continued strong growth over the past few years. Brazil ranks among the world’s five largest agricultural producers and exporters.
During the summer, Microsoft and U.S. biotech company Monsanto announced a new partnership to invest in agricultural technology startups in Brazil. Qualcomm is also investing in that fund. Some local VC Funds are getting more specialized in the space, as well.
Brazil startups in the agritech space are pioneering new approaches with commercial IoT sensors, mobile technology, big data and biotech R&D to improve crop yields, increase profits and prove sustainable practices for global retail brands.
Some of the agritech sector’s most promising innovators include:
- AgroSmart: Combines IoT sensors, telemetry and data analysis applied together to improve irrigation control and climate prediction.
- BovControl: Enables data collection and analysis that improves performance on meat, milk and genetics production. Its technology spans mobile, cloud innovation and IoT.
- Horus: Engineers drones for farming that are designed for Brazilian farm sizes.
- Promip: Develops macro organisms for biological control in tropical crops.
The Brazilian government has made improvement of the country’s education system a top priority, and the edtech industry has been booming as a result. Many startups are adapting tools already tested in other countries and designing them to suit Brazil’s cultural norms and needs. A key benefit to improving education is increasing the quality and readiness of the country’s workforce as Brazil’s economy improves and more jobs are created in the process.
Some of the edtech sector’s most promising innovators include:
- AppProva: Develops an online platform for test practice to improve student performance.
- Geekie: Creates adaptive learning solutions used by more than three million students.
- Quero Education: Provides online marketplace that connects students and colleges.
- Passei Direto: Pioneers an academic network to improve students’ education outcomes.
Brazil’s banking and financial services systems have become quite sophisticated, one of the unexpected outcomes from the 500 percent average inflation per year during the 1990s. However, the market is very concentrated. Almost 80 percent of the two trillion dollars in deposits are concentrated in only five banks, two of them state-owned. The sector has been mired in paperwork, regulations and bureaucracy, which has helped lead to expensive credit for consumers and businesses.
For instance, bank loans are a complicated and time-consuming process. Many consumers applying for loans on average pay eight to nine times the interest amount they should because those loans aren’t secured, which is a common practice in the U.S. and other regions.
The emergence of new fintech startups in the country is driving more transparency, speed, automation, mobile access/management and customer self-service to the country’s financial services sector.
Some of the fintech sector’s most promising innovators include:
- BankFacil: Develops a secured loans platform to reduce lending rates.
- Iugu: Markets a mobile payment platform that benefits both consumers and sellers.
- Neon: Provides a digital bank service using mobile devices and apps for millennials.
- NuBank: Promotes a credit card service that can be managed via mobile phones.
Brazil is among the world’s fifth most populous countries and its rapidly growing middle class is demanding even more high-end healthcare. A higher life expectancy and its “baby boomer” population is driving more healthcare demand.
Medical technology is advancing at a rapid pace, making healthtech a leading investment sector. According to a PwC MoneyTree report, VCs invested $12.1 billion in 969 deals in the first quarter of 2016; the software industry received the most investment dollars. The second highest investment amount went to the life sciences sector. A number of Brazilian startups have emerged to address a big healthtech opportunity.
Some of the healthtech sector’s most promising innovators include:
- Dr. Consulta: Combines data analysis and online technology to improve healthcare.
- iClinic: Develops a cloud ERP software solution to benefit doctors and clinics.
- Memed: Provides a digital prescription platform and app for doctors and patients.
Similar to the U.S. market, the opportunity for marketing tech is growing, while adtech’s prospects are still more challenging. As opposed to adtech’s focus on the automation and targeting of advertising across various media channels, a majority of marketing tech startups aim to develop and sell software, data analysis and online platforms — most frequently on a subscription basis (SaaS).
Another emerging niche is a set of innovators focused on gathering more intelligence from IoT sensors and apps in physical locations such as retail stories, hotels, airports and other travel hubs and delivery of custom promotions, geo-location services (such as in-store navigation) and the optimization of more intelligent marketing offers to boost sales.
Some of the marketing tech sector’s most promising innovators include:
- Hotmart: Sells a complete marketing platform to help start a digital business.
- Inloco Media: Develops an indoor geo-location platform without need for beacons.
- Resultados Digitais: Provides an inbound marketing SaaS to generate traffic and leads.
Sharpening creativity and seeking new paths in times of crisis is part of human nature — our survival instinct. In macroeconomic scenarios such as what Brazil has faced in terms of high interest rates, rising inflation and unemployment, there’s an opportunity to innovate and reinvent old industries as new again.
I firmly believe we have never had a period that’s so conducive to invest in online and technology startups, especially in the five tech sectors covered here. Successful innovators in these technology arenas will continue to contribute to the broader growth and economic vitality in Brazil.