Business & Economy

With ingenuity, women seeking to take lead in LatAm startups

By Alejandro Prieto

Montevideo, Oct 25 (EFE).- At a time when the ecosystem of emerging companies is experiencing its first big “boom” in Latin America, enterprises headed by women are taking the lead, as demonstrated by Uruguayan firms Apptim and Prometeo, which were selected from among 306 companies in the new Google and Inter-American Development Bank acceleration program.

The “LAC Women Founders Accelerator 2021,” created by Google and the IDB’s “IDB Lab,” has breaking down gender barriers in the sector as its main goal.

That is what Google’s chief for its Startups Accelerator for Latin America, Francisco Solsona, told EFE, describing how the tech giant was surprised to find many startups headed by women in the region.

However, despite their high technical quality, these firms do not have access to the same amount of investment funds as companies headed by men, a problem – he says – that is common in the sector.

“At Endeavor, they published a study and found that just 25 percent of these new digital startups are headed by women or have female co-founders, so there’s a lot that’s lacking in terms of equity, inclusion, diversity,” he said.

Thus, Google selected 20 participants from among 306 startups in 29 Latin American countries to receive special advisory services and training.

The companies that were selected – from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay – are working in diverse sectors such as finance, transportation, e-commerce and mental health.

With techno-financing expanding throughout the world, models like “open banking” are gaining clout in Latin America, where – Solsona said – it’s a “red hot” issue.

Founded in 2018, Prometeo says that it is the biggest open banking platform in Latin America, given that – as co-founder Ximena Aleman, from Uruguay said – it has created “a big information route” that connects financial firms in assorted countries.

Aleman said that the startup, which helps exchange information among financial institutions via application programming interfaces (API), was not only a pioneer in the sector but also capitalized on its advantage and today – providing access to 80 API from 35 institutions in nine countries – views its operations so far with pride.

“It’s very gratifying to see, three years later, that we’re accelerating a trend that finally has arrived, which today is super installed in markets like Mexico and Brazil and is growing in others like Chile and Colombia,” said Aleman, who is eager to present the firm’s achievements at WeXchange Forum’s Demo Day in December.

Another outstanding case is that of Apptim, an emerging company created in 2019 that – according to co-founder and CEO Sofia Palamarchuk, also from Uruguay – for the past 10 years has been working in quality testing mobile applications for Android and iOS and now sees Google’s program as the door to new horizons.

“Not being on the radar of the big companies and coming from an uncommon country, we’ve managed to create a technology that today Google is considering as part of the tools that it can use internally,” she said, adding that the firm had surprised Google.

Palamarchuk emphasized that Apptim is open to an exchange with the North American giant to improve artificial intelligence, automatic learning and marketing, among other things.

In a world where the emerging company ecosystem is growing each day, the success of firms that are linked into the market by new and innovative ideas is not a new thing on the Latin American scene, which Solsona said is going through a “super interesting” period.

“We have new unicorns almost every week coming from all directions, from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico. They’re attracting the attention of many big investment funds like Softbank, locals Kaszek, Monashees and (others from) the United States, he said.

In this regard, he said that, with investment and support, the firms headed by women can also attain unicorn status in two or three years.

Palamarchuk said that the gender barriers in the sector are “a reality” to which she adapted right from the start in classes filled with men, but the key is to overcome the challenges one by one.

“Fortunately, there are many opportunities that are opening up more doors to women and the Google program shows that there is great potential in Latin America,” she said.

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