Written by Andrew Seale
It’s not hard to see the similarities between Latin America’s startup scene today and Toronto’s not so long ago. While there’s no shortage of talent and there’s obviously, an effervescence rippling up around startups in place like Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and Chile – reservations remain amongst the investment community.
“The Latin American startup scene has the same drive and excitement (and) I've seen a lot of initiatives that offer shared space to startups over there, similar to what we see here with accelerators, and (also) funding from government and institutions,” says Dariush Zomorrodi, chief innovation officer at Toronto-based entrepreneurial organization Blanc Labs devoted to creating next generation digital products for enterprises and, occasionally, new ventures. “But institutional investment is still done in bricks-and-mortar businesses delivering the old economy way – there's a lot of movement that's happening but they’ve still got a few years to go.”
Blanc Labs has had a finger on the pulse of the Latin American market since it’s first product BlancRide –a carpooling app devised by University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa professor Hamid Akbari and a Venezuelan tech team piloted the app both in Toronto and Maracaibo, Venezuela.
They followed it up with Nekso, a mobile taxi-hailing platform with separate apps for drivers and passengers to help manage the fleets and pricing decisions which they also piloted in Maracaibo. Since then Nekso has expanded to 20 different cities across four countries, including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
Blanc Labs has further entrenched in the region – opening an office in Bogota, Colombia as well as four research and development centres between Toronto and Latin America.
In addition to developing new ventures like BlancRide and Nekso, Blanc Labs has pivoted their model, growing to nearly 200 people in just two years and focusing on providing innovative digital assets globally for large enterprises both in transportation and the fintech sphere.
Yet Toronto stays home.
“We make a lot of our strategic decisions in Toronto – we are not distributing out leadership around the world, all that is done over here, we are just expanding outreach for talent globally,” says Zomorrodi.
And, of course, exporting some of the best practices and experiences of the Toronto ecosystem while they’re at it.
“Last week I was down in Latin America talking to government organizations which support the entry of foreign investment in the country,” says Zomorrodi adding that fintech groups in Colombia have expressed interest in learning how Canadians companies – specifically financially-geared startups in Toronto – have built out the eco system.
“(They want to know) how we do things here, how we innovate, make money, build products, market and validate,” says Zomorrodi. “We play a good role over there in sharing our thought leadership (and mentoring) startups – this thought leadership is a key export for Toronto.”