Finnosummit 2016: Latin American fintech community getting stronger

Last week, I was in Mexico DF for the Finnosummit event which today has become a reference for the Latin American Fintech ecosystem. André Fontao and Fermin Bueno from Finnovista and hosts of the event praised the empowerment of the fintech community gathering 500 attendants at the Centro Cultural Roberto Cantoral.

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Alta Ventures – The right team

 

The morning started strong with the participation of Alta Ventures, Currency Group, Abra and Visa remembering us that we are in a process of hyperinnovation and new technologies in payments, digital currencies and APIs have to be considered to be in the front of the industry and there is no more excuse to not innovate. But what are doing fintechs to be in the front of the innovation race?

Sometimes innovation is not only high advanced technology. Innovation is to put the user in the core of all the process, and that is what Prestadero and Konfio did, providing credit respectively to people and small companies in Mexico. But of course, technology cannot be forgotten and Kuspit presented the new solutions of robot advisors to introduce Mexican population to the investment culture. Miguel Herrera from Quona Capital highlighted that fintech is a key actor for financial inclusion, if not almost a synonym, because they can reach a population that big institutions preferred to ignore and can have impact beyond unbanked people. Financial inclusion is also financial education and that’s why an investment robot advisor solution can also be part of the financial inclusion process.    

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Konfio from Mexico

 

The afternoon started with a provocation to the big organizations. Juan Mazzini from Celent presented the inevitable work of the banks to reach the fintechs and a necessity to understand them to not be left behind. Banks cannot escape anymore and need to adapt themselves with accelerator programs, incubators and innovation spaces. As he mentioned some years ago, to have an innovation area was a privilege for some companies today it is a requirement to survive. In Brazil, to illustrate the relationship  between bank and fintechs, we tend to use the gorilla and the bees, Juan preferred to depict it as “it only needed a Jedi to destroy the Death star”.

Later in the afternoon, BBVA and the Mexican banks BanRegio and Gentera stated the search of cooperation with fintechs hence they launched innovation programs and defined exclusive spaces where startups and bank can work together. International speakers and investors had confirmed the growth of fintechs and the need of innovation and cooperation in both parts when it is possible.

The last key note of the day was led by QED investors where Bill Cillufo pointed out the main reasons to invest in Latam: it is early in the cycle, it is not easy to do business, global trends are real, some ideas have already been tested elsewhere and there is evidence of case of success. Latam represents a great opportunity and cannot be missed.

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QED Investors – Why to invest in Latam?

 

Finally, this event cannot be complete without the final of BBVA Open Talent for Latin America. 17 startups (Mexico, Colombia, Peru , Brazil, Ecuador and Chile) selected from all Latin America presented their pitch in front of the audience along the day. The two winners of the night were Alegra (accounting software and invoicing for small companies) from Colombia and Kobra (a network that brings transparency to the banks and collectors during the collection process) from Mexico. Both will participate of an immersion program during two weeks in Spain and Mexico meeting international BBVA teams.

It was a pleasure to be part of the Finnosummit Mexico and discover more about other Fintech communities that are growing and need to be known in Latin America. I certainly praise for more events where we can gather the Latin American Fintech community to learn more from each other and create more opportunities. Thanks Finnovista for that! 

Finally, I would like to congratulate Planejei and Pop Recarga, Brazilian fintechs, for their participation in the competition. In Brazil, some people tend to say that Brazilian fintechs lack of global vision but after seeing your performance within the latam or rather global community, guys, you are in the right path.

 

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Open BBVA Talent Winners: Alegra from Colombia and Kobra from Mexico

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Blockchain Hackaton…a point to start

I think that the inflexion moment was the Davos conference of January 2016. The WEF had the delightful task to open the eyes of most of international bank leaders about a technology that can disrupt the financial services sector and beyond. The rocket took off after this event and since, most of international banks have created a blockchain department in their organizations to search more about this technology that disturbs banks and insurers.

Personally, I still believe that I am a beginner about blockchain and still need to investigate more about the technology… I mean “Blockchain revolution” book is on the top of my literary shopping list.

But as we need to start small, this is an opportunity to write about an event that happened some weeks ago in Sao Paulo, the first international Blockchain Hackaton. The event was organized by the Blockchain Center with the support of Ewally, Accenture and Bradesco. Let’s start, what is the Blockchain Center? Some months ago, the fintech community of Sao Paulo opened a space where startups using blockchain technology and bitcoins can work together, where events related to blockchain can be organized and where anybody who is interested in the technology can go to.

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Robert Schwenteker – Blockchain University

 

Robert Schwentker, head of the Blockchain University in L.A, was present to mentor during the event. He has already organized and participated in several blockchain hackatons around the world and this was his first time in Latin America.

During a day and a half, developers and business people worked on solutions that use this technology and can bring money. To start the journey, several key actors of the Brazilian blockchain and bitcoin community made some presentations to immerge the audience into the blockchain world. Robert Schwentker presented a high level understanding of blockchain, how it is disrupting our current world and some possible solutions that can emerge from this technology.

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Joao Paulo Oliveira and Elias Rodrigues – Foxbit

 

Then Foxbit, the biggest bitcoin broker in Brazil took the stage to present its business and sharing some programming features from its platform with the developers.

IBM had also shared its knowledge about blockchain and went further on the programming tools to provide some guidance. Then Rippex, the gateway of Ripple in Brazil gave some examples of the use of blockchain in financial transactions. For your information, Ripple is the famous startup that uses financial technology to facilitate international payments in real time. Why I am saying “famous” because Santander is one of its clients and has become the gold weapon to disrupt the international remittance market. Finally, the last presentation of the day was performed by OriginalMy. Edilson Osorio, its founder, is quite a reference of blockchain in the country and one of the first ones to use the technology beyond the banking industry. He did a clever comparison of blockchain and Pokemon Go to understand the use of the technology and provided programming tips to the audience. Why to complicate when it can be as easy as capturing a pokemon.

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Edilson Osorio – OriginalMy

 

Then, the moment of ideas came out. Several people in the audience suggested a list of initiatives (from solutions for the medical sector to financial inclusion) and Robert S. helped to moderate the creative moment. I said “creative” moment because when you have to start to put that on reality, challenges are harder and we need to reshape the initial project. The three teams that arrived to the final were: a crowdfunding using blockchain, a certification system of diplomas using the technology and a voting system for building management. The final winner was “CertMe”, a solution that authenticate university diplomas on blockchain.

During this journey, I want to highlight some important points:

  • Several developers that attended did not know programming in blockchain and had to learn in the moment.
  • 98% of the participants were men
  • I met a faculty girl student at the hackaton. She participated to dig more on blockchain because she heard that mastering this technology will warranty her a job within the big banks for the coming years.
  • The final solutions presented were not disruptive rather general but let’s be realistic, it is the first hackaton in the city. Several people discovered blockchain and had to deliver a solution in a day and a half. It was a short time to take a disruptive approach.
  • Developers stated that there is still a lack of documentation about programming with blockchain on the internet. Big companies as Microsoft or IBM should facilitate materials (in every language) and environments to push developers feel comfortable with the technology.

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In a previous event, I heard that “blockchain is like sex for teenagers, everybody talks but nobody does nothing”. Well, we still have a long way to ride but I would say that this was a good beginning. Developers rolled up their sleeves and started experimenting what is programming with blockchain. We need more events like this in order to create among the coders the curiosity to learn more about the technology. Blockchain is the future and we cannot be left behind now that the global movement has started.

Thank you Robert Schwentker and Blockchain Center for organizing the event.

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Searching innovation… go to the Innovators Summit in Brazil

Some weeks ago, Sao Paulo hosted the Innovators Summit Event gathering international and national speakers. This was the second year that the event took place in Sao Paulo. For one day and a half, attendants immerge in the new trends of innovation within an organization and within several sectors.

Technologies were presented and discussed during the event showing the potential that can be reached if we implement that in Brazil. The different panels were meant to induce attendants to look for innovation thinking outside the box and also learning how to boost innovation when you work in a big company. To sum up there is no more a reverse way, innovation has to be in our companies whatever the size and organizations need to learn how to accept it and seed this new state of mind in all the levels of the hierarchy.

Obviously, if we talk about new trends, panels about fintechs and blockchain have to be presented.

To start, we had the presence of Robert Schwentker from the Blockchain University. It is a university in California that provides blockchain related technical classes and organizes events for developers and the startup community. For beginners, the presentation was a great material to educate the public to the world of bitcoins and blockchain, in few words it is a sort of new internet where all transactions are transparent and we can ensure traceability and therefore safety. Several countries are creating new solutions using this technology and even the World Economic Forum recognized it as a disruptive technology of the future. Xapo and Ewally are South American examples of startup using the blockchain technology. In fact, Robert emphaticized that now we are going to the next level of the technology creating more complex solutions linking blockchain to internet of things or artificial intelligence for example. More organizations have realized the potential of this technology and companies as Citigroup has created its own cryptocurrency and consortiums were created as R3. Blockchain is starting to invade financial products (wallets, investments, merchants, financial data, payroll , insurance…) and big organizations cannot missed it anymore.

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Coinbase also spoke out at the event to depth in the discussion of bitcoins. Coinbase is a digital asset exchange company headquartered in San Francisco, California. It is a global leader in digital currency, and present in 33 countries. There are still some controversies about the real success of bitcoins but its volume and usage are growing globally. Sam Rosemblum, from CoinBase insisted that regulators will be the key drivers to accept the existence and advantages to use a digital currency. He mentioned for example Japan as a model about openness and acceptance of bitcoins and saluted Brazil regulators to start investigating and learning about digital currencies.

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Finally, there was a conversation with Kay Schmitz from IFC and its investments in Latam and Africa. IFC has performed high level investments in fintechs, by mid-2015, it had invested over $180 million in equity and debt in early- and growth-stage fintech companies around the globe and Latin America is becoming a more attractive place. Kay considers that in the next 5 years (maybe less) the role of banks will definitively change, going beyond credit and deposits…As a specialist of fintechs, he confirms that cooperation of banks and fintechs is crucial and productive to attend client  needs  (from millennials to baby boomers). In Brazil, he sees great potential on fintechs providing loans because the credit penetration is low in the country and has the highest net margins in the world.

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Kay points out Mexico as the second country of fintechs in Latam due to the size of the market and a high need of credit for all the population. Then he mentioned Colombia and Peru, emerging countries which focus on financial inclusion. To conclude, banks are confronting big challenges in the close future because digitalization is imminent but still do have a big number of clients that refuse or are in the transition period to stick to an agency. In addition to that, customers claim convenience and customization so banks have to invest in user experience too. How to find the balance between modernization and old structures? … Unfortunately, there is no a sole answer.

To finalize speakers recognize that Brazil has a special place in the heart of investors, (besides economics figures and political disappointment), it is quite difficult to not like this country. These are encouraging words for every Brazilian startup and a chance to not miss with international investors.

I would like to thank +Innovators and CI&T for the event because they did choose carefully the speakers and it is great to listen new points of view about the fintech environment in Brazil, its positioning worldwide and of course its potential.

Thank You +Innovators and CI&T and we look forward the next year with more innovations (certainly not yet discovered) in the agenda.

 

 

 

Seedstars in Brazil and the winner is…

I would like to write about an international initiative that arrived in Sao Paulo two weeks ago and is travelling around Latin America.

Seedstars organizes the world’s biggest startup competition in emerging markets, visiting 65 countries to find the best national startup that will later go to Switzerland. On April 2017, all the winners will be gathered in Lausanne to share a unique experience and participate to the competition of the global winner.  The last year, the global winner was Giraffe, a South African mobile application that enables businesses to hire medium skilled staff faster and cheaper than any other recruitment network and also connects job seekers to these opportunities.

Romulo and Julianne are the regional leaders for Latin America and they have the hard mission to travel around most of South American countries to find out the best national startups. The job looks quite appealing but there is a lot of work behind: searching about each ecosystem, connecting with local influencers and organizing the events in every country (usually in a very short time).

After a national call for applications, the team has the difficult task to select 10 startups that will participate to the final local selection. For Brazil, there was one final in Sao Paulo and then another one in Rio de Janeiro to select the best startup of the country. Two days before the competition, the 10 selected startups were invited to receive a session of mentorship with the organizers and some of the sponsors, Swissnex and Grant Thorton. The goal of this session is to give some advices to prepare the pitches and to provide some guidance about the search of investments, one of the most difficult tasks in the life of a startup. The final of Sao Paulo was organized at the Google Campus Sao Paulo, to keep the spirit of technology and entrepreneurship …of course. Besides the pitches of each startup, two panels were presented during the event. The first one was a presentation of Aliança Empreendedora that showcased the evolution of its activities boosting social entrepreneurship and empowering women entrepreneurs. The second panel was a discussion about financial inclusion in Brazil and Latin America. It was a great conversation about diverse initiatives abroad, mainly in Africa and Asia and the beginning of some interesting projects in Latin America too as Compartamos in Mexico and Bim in Peru. The panel was composed by the ex CEO of Payleven, the Director of Marketing from PayU, the head of Innovation of Accenture and the founder of Avante. I wanted to give a special remark for Avante because it is a great Brazilian example of financial inclusion that can disrupt the local market. This startup has recently acquired Sling, an Israeli fintech that provides mobile financial services to small entrepreneurs. I do certainly expect a rapid growth and impact of this startup for the coming years. One interesting point highlighted is that beyond an excellent technology, the human contact is very important to penetrate the market of the unbanked people. I do agree with this point because technology will help a lot to fill the gaps of the current financial institutions but human contact will still be crucial to convince low income people that financial services worth it and can really beneficiate them.

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Going back to the competition, the finalists of the Sao Paulo event were: MGov Brasil / EduqMais , MeuCambio, QueroQuitar, ToGarantido, IU, Foxbit, MeuTicket, Veerbet, Mecasei.com and ReacHR. All of them presented a great pitch of their startups and answered the questions of the jury that was composed by investors, sponsors and the organization committee. …And the winners were:

  • Foxbit, a bitcoin broker, had a special recognition for having the most “likes” on the social medias during the event.
  • MGov Brasil / EduqMais, the winner for the education prize is a SMS platform for school-family/parents communication and engagement to foster participation in children education.
  • GoodTicket, the winner of the second place, is a solution uses the cellphone to do the payment and the reception of meal vouchers.
  • QueroQuitar, the winner of Sao Paulo, is a platform that modernizes the collection process using technology to alleviate and empower the debtor during this painful journey.

 

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After the final of Sao Paulo, Juliane and Romulo went to Rio for the finals of the country. For this last Brazilian competition, Bit.one won the second place. Bit.one is a platform that uses blockchain technology to perform payments (gateway, wallet, pre-paid cards, trade-exchange…).  And finally the competition in Rio confirmed the national winner, QueroQuitar. Natalia Alexandria, the representative of QueroQuitar will fly to Argentina in November for the regional summit and then to Switzerland next year to join the international network of Seedstars national winners. Great work Natalia and good luck for the next steps!

One of the sponsors of the event was PayU who will also support the events in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia. As you may know PayU is an international leading online payment service provider dedicated to create an efficient payment process for merchants and buyers. As an International fintech, PayU is involved in initiatives to boost the fintech and startups ecosystem. Present in 7 countries of Latin America, we celebrate when fintechs contribute to the development of innovation in Latin America.

Following the itinerary, nexts stops of Seedstars Latam are Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Panama and Santo Domingo. Keep tuned for the dates if you want to apply to some of the countries.

As Juliane and Romulo, there are other Seedstars ambassadors travelling around Africa, Asia and Europe searching for disruptive startups. Where do they find this energy? According to Juliane, the team shares the values of any entrepreneur: proactivity, autonomy and passion for their work.  Certainly, thanks to these teams, Seedstars has become a reference of innovation and startups knowledge within the emerging markets.

All the winners can be happy to go to Switzerland to meet the Seedstars teams and investors. But more than that, nothing can compare the amazing experience of meeting the other founders: from Nepal, Bolivia, Korea, Brazil, Nigeria and 60 more countries…after all, diversity always brings more innovation.

Great job Seedstars!

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