Gamechangers Latin America … the most innovative companies, from Agua Bendita and Cliengo to Rappi and Selina

May 2, 2019

In preparation for “X-Marketing in Latin America“, which I will be hosting in Buenos Aires later this year, I thought it would be good to bring together some examples of the most innovative brands and businesses which I see across the region. The harness the vibrant creativity of the region, the resourcefulness of frugality, the passion of humanity, and the dreams of growth.

Agua Bendita … Colombian fashion

Agua Bendita makes super-luxury handmade bikinis, inspired by their Colombian roots: gorgeous, sophisticated, and alive with colour and innovative fabrics. Catalina Álvarez and Mariana Hinestroza founded the brand whilst studying fashion, inspired by the scraps of brightly coloured fabrics discarded by Catalina’s father’s clothing factory. Nearly a decade later, their suits are seen in stores around the world and on celebrities on the beaches of the world. What makes them particularly special are the contributions of Colombian artisans, 700 single mothers with a passion for making beautiful clothes.

Read the full Gamechanger case study

Apli … Mexican talent

The Mexican startup is Latin America’s first major job recruiting platform primed for the gig economy. It was created as a solution to a shortage of restaurant delivery workers. Apli, a platform that connects workers with open jobs, offers a much-needed upgrade from classified ads, and is able to connect employers with recruits in as little as three hours. Currently, Apli is only set up in Mexico City and the surrounding metropolitan area, with a goal of eventually opening it up on a global scale. In 2018, Apli rolled out technology-enabled recruiting services through a profiling chatbot. The chatbot and selection models are unbiased, increasing diversity and identifying talent that had been overlooked in the past.

Cliengo … Argentine chatbots

Argentina-based Cliengo helps small-to-medium businesses easily connect with their customers by setting them up with an AI-assisted chatbot. In 2018, the company launched WhatsApp-compatible Cliengo Live, a platform that helps sales teams find leads through chatbots, and serve customers more effectively.

Ecoandino … Peruvian superfoods

Peruvian company Ecoandino cultivates, processes, and markets superfoods made from raw materials from the Andes and the Amazon. The company is committed to conserving the biodiversity of the areas they cultivate in, and helping the socioeconomic development of the regions.

Globant … Argentine software

Globant develops software for big companies mainly in the US and the UK. Its exclusive focus on emerging technologies, as opposed to traditional IT companies, has driven rapid growth and earned the company a reputation as one of Latin America’s most innovative businesses. The company aims to build and improve what it calls “digital journeys” for consumers, enabling its clients to engage better with their users through highly targeted and fast-evolving technologies such as big data.  In 2014, Globant became the region’s first software company to float on the New York Stock Exchange. Since then its share price has quadrupled. Based in Buenos Aires, it has offices across Argentina and in 12 countries. Chief executive and co-founder Martín Migoya, who likes to call his 5,200 employees “globers”, says he is following in the tradition of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies to combine engineering, innovation and world-class design with scale.

Grow Mobility … Brazilian bikes

Sao Paulo-based bike-and-scooter-sharing startup Yellow merged with Mexico City’s electric scooter-sharing company “Grin” on January 30th 2019 to form Grow Mobility, Latin America’s largest micro-mobility company. Grow now operates more than 135,000 vehicles in six countries and has aggressive plans for expansion in 2019Yellow previously raised $63 million in funding in a round led by GGV capital, the largest series A round for a Latin American startup. Grin had raised $45,7 million. Grin cofounder Sergio Romo has stayed on as CEO of Grow.

Magazine Luiza … Brazilian homes

Home-furnishing retailer Magazine Luiza provides access to a megastore’s assortment of basic home needs to populations in small cities. In the early ’90s, the retailer introduced the “virtual store” model, where customers can try products in stores and then order them online. The retail model is now used for more than 100 stores of the 744-store chain. Its “Magazine and You” initiative, which boasts more than 100,000 vendors, encourages customers to open their own stores on Facebook, sell to friends, and receive commissions of up to 5%. It’s also investing heavily in digital through its Luizalabs program, which develops things like “one-click buy” online via a physical store. In 2018, Luizalabs expanded their third-party sellers’ marketplace and expand the third-party sellers’ marketplace, enhanced A.I. to better track supply of the stores and better serve customers on messaging apps such as Whatsapp.

Mashpi Lodge … Equadorian adventures

A luxury cocoon in the clouds, located in the Andean cloudforest of Ecuador, close to Quito: a sanctuary for your senses. It is part of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, and an unexpected oasis of urban comfort for just 47 guests in a truly unique location: a mega-biodiverse private forest reserve located within the Metropolitan District of Quito. Guests at the lodge can now explore the Andean Cloudforest by Sky Bike. If you’re brave enough, you can take this human-powered, two-seat bike across the Cloudforest and see the canopy of the rainforest up close. The current bike is the result of five prototypes inspired by an article in Popular Mechanics.

Mercado Libre … Argentine shopping

Latin America’s answer to eBay, is the region’s most visited ecommerce website. A household name across Latin America, it is the region’s only internet company listed on Nasdaq. After surviving the 2000 dotcom crash thanks to co-founder Marcos Galperín’s ability to raise financial support, the company swiftly caught the attention of eBay. The US giant acquired a 19.5 per cent stake in exchange for its Brazilian subsidiary pledging not to return to Latin America for at least five years. That cleared the way for MercadoLibre’s rapid expansion, executing a timely initial public offering in August 2007, helping it to weather the global financial crisis that was setting in at exactly the same time. Now one of Argentina’s biggest companies and with a market capitalisation of more than $6.5bn, each year MercadoLibre matches 30m buyers and sellers (about 5 per cent of the region’s population) of anything from computers to cars. The site boasts a gross annual merchandise volume of some $8bn.

Movile … Brazilian kids

Brazilian mobile commerce company Movile’s primary offerings in 2012 were centered around mobile payments and mobile commerce. In 2013, after it saw explosive success with the launch of the PlayKids app, which became one of the top-grossing children’s apps of all time, the company moved fast acquiring other Latin American startups, including Rappido, iFood, and Freshtime, as well as investing in others such as Maplink and TruckPad. Today, the company’s all-in-one mobile platform is similar to China’s Tencent. In 2018, the company launched Wavy to bundle together its 400+ companies with content ranging from educational apps to messaging services.

Nevado Roses … Equadorian flowers

The Ecuadorian farm Nevado Roses, owned by Roberto Nevado and his son John. In 2005 John Nevado was chosen by The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to join their Young Global Leaders Initiative for his work in sustainable agriculture. Since January 1998, Nevada produces best quality roses in two farms located at altitudes between 2750 and 2950 metres above sea level, and 140 kilometres South of Quito. At the moment, the farms continue their expansion to 40 hectares with 2.8 million rose plants in 36 varieties. The nursery itself is constructed as a closed eco-system, where most waste is recycled and the fertilization is accomplished with chicken droppings. More about Gamechangers in Equador.

Nubank … Brazilian banking

Since its launch in 2014, Brazilian fintech company Nubank has created banking solutions for populations that traditionally could not or did not access the five major banks in the country. It first introduced its signature purple credit card to alleviate high interest rates (upwards of 400% a year on other Brazilian credit cards) and make the credit process simpler with a virtual, app-based system (and no hidden fees)–and is now the 6th largest credit card issuer in Brazil. In 2017, the company expanded into high-interest savings accounts that customers can use to transfer money or pay bills. Last year, it began offering direct deposit for users’ paychecks and debuted debit and ATM withdrawal features.

Rappi … Colombian delivery

Bogota-based Rappi is an on-demand delivery mobile app that allows users in Latin America to shop for groceries and other goods and send items through a courier service. The delivery service, which operates in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Colombia, is even used by customers for cash withdrawals in cities where it is not safe to go out and use ATMs at certain hours. Customers pay the Rappi app and a delivery person will come and deliver their cash to their door.

Selina … Panamanian hospitality

Selina takes unused spaces, like former factories, schools, asylums, or hotels, and turns them into boutique hotels and coworking spaces catering to travelers at every price point with prices starting at as little as $10/night. The company works with local communities to provide curated tours and fitness classes as well as homegrown meals, and decorates properties with local artwork and furniture from local artisans. Based in Panama City, Selina raised $95 million in funding from the Abraaj Group and WeWork founder Adam Neumann in 2018.

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