As Miami positions itself as a kind of Silicon Valley for Latin America, the LAB Miami has taken a leading role in bringing the region’s most promising tech companies to an audience of Magic City business leaders and investors.
On Wednesday, LAB Miami Ventures, the development arm for Miami’s first co-working space, will kick off the Future of Logistics summit. Among the start-ups featured are two from Chile, one from London, the rest from the U.S. with their sights on the Americas. The region remains one of the fastest-developing in the world. The full list of companies pitching can be found at LabVentures.co.
Besides a regular start-up competition, the companies will also be part of separate, private pitch events for local executives at DHL and Ryder.
“The interesting thing about logistics is, with the density of corporations in the logistics sector based here, demand [to come to Miami] is coming from everywhere,” said LAB Miami Ventures CEO Tigre Wenrich. “It’s not just Latin America — we had applications from companies from five continents.”
The logistics conference follows FINNOSUMMIT, another LAB Ventures conference in partnership with Finnovista, a financial-technology entrepreneurship group. FINNOSUMMIT featured top Latin American fintech companies, which are sprouting up across the Americas thanks to an increasingly sophisticated cohort of young entrepreneurs. The region’s traditional banking sector has also been slower to innovate.
Twelve Latin American fintech companies participated in FINNOSUMMIT’S start-up showcase, out of a field of 350 applicants.
Culqi, a Peru-based start-up that processes $5.2 million in transactions per month for 180 merchants, won the competition.
“The structure of banks — they’re often too old,” said Amparo Nalvarte, Culqi CEO and co-founder. “[Less than 50 percent] of the region’s population doesn’t use banks because they do not trust the banks. So that’s a huge opportunity for a lot of fintechs solving problems like lending, currency-exchange conversion, and transfers.”
Nalvarte said that while her company is focused on expanding in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America at the moment, she said Visa and other critical players making Miami one of their most important hubs has caused Miami to loom larger for Latin entrepreneurs.
Miami Angels, perhaps the city’s most prominent group of venture capitalists, has not yet taken a stake in a South American company. But Angels President Rebecca Danta said her group is increasingly turning to conferences like the ones that LAB Ventures is organizing to scout for potential deals.
She described Latin America’s changing environment that has allowed a new generation of tech entrepreneurs to flourish.
“We see a resource-constrained environment,” she said. “Great talent and great entrepreneurs often come from a resource-constrained situation — they’re living out their everyday life, and you have to solve problems yourself rather than throwing money at a problem. That’s why we’re seeing great ideas.”
Marco Giberti, who is a Miami-based member of the LAB Ventures board and has personally invested in “four or five” South American start-ups, said that, after about five years of talk, Miami is finally starting to make the case that it is a viable alternative to Silicon Valley for Latin American firms looking to establish a U.S. foothold.
“The growing mentorship and strategic-investment opportunities are an important trigger to decide they’ll be opening here,” he said. “The access to talent, talent retention, our favorable tax situation, now access to capital is getting better — it’s still not ideal, but it’s getting better.
One South American company that Giberti invested in decided to move to Miami from South America three years ago. Recarga is a virtual-wallet company — think Venmo, but which can be used to pay off bills — with its most active user base in Brazil, where there have been 10 million downloads.
Founder and CEO Rodrigo Teijeiro said the decision to move to the Magic City was based on cost (it is, relatively speaking, still cheaper than New York or San Francisco) and geography. Miami itself, he said, is still in its infancy when it comes to providing homegrown resources, like talent and funding.
But the talk of Miami as a base from which companies can thrive is starting to bear fruit, he said.
“It’s still nothing in comparison to San Francisco or New York,” he said, “but you do have the seeds here. Extrapolating 10 years out, I can really see it as a place where there is opportunity for more homegrown tech companies.”