Latinas in Tech: Entrepreneurial Innovation Throughout the Americas
In the past few years, increased political stability has encouraged an explosion of female entrepreneurial activities in Latin America, famous for male chauvinism. While the business sector holds some expectations for people in their 20s regardless of gender, once workers enter their 30s they see a tendency towards traditional gender stereotypes. But some women entrepreneurs are thriving anyway, capitalizing on recent structural and legislative changes.
Tech growth in Latin America may be reliant on talent, but governments are trying to create an environment that encourages the startup culture. A new law in Argentina has made it much easier for businesses to launch: the Entrepreneurs’ Law streamlines the process of application and approval. Brazil has been one of the seats of global digital growth for several years now, and its recent recovery from economic recession only puts it in a favorable position than ever, with São Paulo in the spotlight as the most developed startup scene in the country. Peru fast moving economic growth does not reflect an equivalent tech economy, but the Ministry of Production announced plans last year to increase innovation ten-fold in the next decade.
From food delivery to employment AI in Mexico
Serial entrepreneur Vera Makarov co-founded Apli in 2016, a worker-employer matching platform based in Mexico that services Latin America. Apli aims to fit the 20 most common jobs with suitable candidates in less than 24 hours, finding staff that can be contracted for a day, or tested over a period of 1 to 2 weeks. The platform acts through a chat bot that works via mobile messaging services to communicate with job seekers. The conversation gives the bot data to assign a profile with online tests, and assigns profiles to job opportunities with a matching algorithm. The bot is available to employers, who can ask questions, and have their positions filled within minutes, as co-CEO and COO Marakov describes in her Harvard Business School presentation.
After her earlier delivery startup HelloFood was acquired by Just Eat, Marakov pivoted to staffing concerns. She took inspiration from her previous project, where she became aware of the high rates of absenteeism in restaurants that would cause hundreds of orders to be cancelled every day. This problem is widespread in the area, Marakov notes in a Forbes interview: “in Mexico, one billion days of work are missed each year due to turnover and absenteeism. In Latin America, that number goes up to 5 billion.” But on the other hand, people have a difficult time finding work: “at the same time, more than 20 million people in Mexico and 100 million people in Latin America are underemployed.”
Veteran startup coordination in Argentina
Buenos Aires-based Marta Cruz is President of ARCAP, The Argentine Association of Private Equity, Venture and Seed Capital, as well as Co-founder and CEO of NXTPLabs, an active investment fund and acceleration program. Cruz has had projects in several different sectors over the years after obtaining Business degrees from the University of Buenos Aires and IAC. She has been active in the digital sector since 2004, when she created a digital service company that connected MRM McCann Argentina with the overseas market.
Cruz co-founded NXTPLabs in 2011 to create local support to the community of entrepreneurs. NXTPLabs operates in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay, and have invested in 174 companies so far. Part of their core mission is to enable female business leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean. ARCAP is a non-profit organization relaunched in 2016 that promotes private equity industry growth in Argentina, with an emphasis on “companies with high economic, social and environmental impact that can generate high quality employment in the country.” In addition to promoting growth, they produce studies on industry news and local economy.
Pop musician turned mental health activist
A little closer to home here in the US, Brazilian African-American LaNeah Menzie AKA pop star Starshell launched her own social project Birthday Girl World. From a 2012 single to Kickstarter-launched merchandise to a web platform, Birthday Girl World is a project that is meant to provide space to talk about mental health and suicide. The celebrity’s own sister committed suicide as a teenager, and Menzie created the song based on the idea of self-love and to start a conversation on the stigmatized topic. She wanted to build a space where young people could learn about emotional health and self-care. In her TechCrunch interview, Menzies says the site is “part of a larger mission that revolves around celebrating women and promoting mental health and wellness.”
The site has resources for its visitors as well as content that educates and encourages communication about mental health. “The content side is our strongest side. Part of the content we offer are purposeful practices… helping you find your purpose; helping you live your best life,” says Menzies. “On top of that, we donate a portion of our proceeds to suicide prevention and mental health.” She also has partnered with the JED Foundation, a suicide and emotional health network for teens and young adults.
Throughout the Americas, women are pushing the boundaries of entrepreneurship. Whether that means creating communities, employment opportunities or investor networks, there is a huge potential in Latin America and the Latin American diaspora. While female business leaders have much to contend with when they defy gender norms in any part of the world, Latin America has seen an increase in women leadership in the past years, and with efforts to promote gender equality, it is now poised with tremendous talent resources to build success from.