Startups Like to Tango


Can a startup ecosystem grow in an adverse environment? Developments in a far corner of the world show that much can be achieved just about anywhere.

Today Argentina seems an extreme test track for startups. It has a sluggish economy based on natural resources. It is far from global markets and innovation centers. It presents some of the worse levels of inflationcountry riskmarket efficiency and economic freedom in the world.

In the midst of this toxic soup, the porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) are building below the radar a startup rainforest. Earlier this month their city won the Cities Challenge of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress organized by the Kauffman Foundation.

Buenos Aires is the birthplace of three internet companies worth over a billion dollars: MercadoLibre, OLX and Despegar. MercadoLibre is the only Internet company from Latin America listed in NASDAQ. With over 100 million users and a valuation of US$6 billion, it is the leading e-commerce platform in the region. OLX is the Craigslist of emerging markets, serving over 100 countries in 40 languages, publishing in India more classifieds than all local printed media. Despegar is the leading online travel player in Latam. It is present in 21 countries, has 4,500 employees, served 25 million travelers in 2013 and is rumored to be an IPO candidate.

A startup ecosystem is flourishing, inspired by the success of these and other players and with the support of their founders. It features hundreds of startups concentrated on consumer internet, mobile, social media and gaming. There is also activity in artificial intelligence, biotech, nano-satellites, smart devices and renewable energy. For example, Satellogic already put three nano-satellites in space, and recently raised around US$20 million to build a constellation of imaging satellites. Aivo is developing virtual artificial intelligence cus service agents, serving over one million people and growing 20 percent every month.

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