Latin America: The top mobile startups and emerging development scene

Latin America is known for a lot of things: its vibrant culture, natural resources, touristic resorts, literature, music, and sports. However, Latin America, despite recent interest from investors and companies, is not known for its emerging tech scene and mobile startups, and even less, its crowdfunding industry. Some say that’s because is non-existent, but the truth is that it’s adapting to an ever-changing audience and the needs of Latin American youth. These particular needs have molded Latin American innovative startups as a special kind, which focus both on mobile entertainment and social innovation.

So far, Latin American startups have focused their efforts on mobile gaming, transportation, and media. Sometimes, these apps include a social objective, such as communicating social injustices, promoting social and economic equality, educating low-income communities and, even, giving financial tips to families in the countryside. The involvement of social innovation through mobile startups is a distinctive characteristic of Latin American development. Perhaps, since the inequality is more visible, it has permeated the intentions of entrepreneurs. There are also projects such as, a non-profit organization supported by Movistar that challenges entrepreneurs into generating social impact through apps in exchange for investment opportunities.

Besides the social innovation that we see in many of the Latin America mobile startups, there are significant startups, similar to Uber or Airbnb, which try to satisfy the day-to-day needs of Latin Americans. Apps like Tappsi -to find cabs near you-, Despegar -to get cheap flights- and Cívico -app for citizens to find new places and, sometimes, get privileges from restaurants and movie theaters-, have established themselves as powerful and promising startups. Tappsi and Despegar are role models and have expanded to all of Latin America, while Cívico started in Bogotá and, just recently, arrived in Santiago de Chile. Cívico’s model of niche content appeals to an audience that wants to get in touch with their city. Even though every startup understands the globalized context on which they live, Latin American businesses depend on local traditions to get in touch with their customers.

There’s also the mobile gaming industry, driven by the active gaming community in Latin America and a growing series of events similar to Comic-Con and boot camps for developers. One of the biggest gaming startups in Latin America is Brainz, a Colombian company that developed Vampire Season, Monster Defense and Audio Ninja. In more than 50 countries, Audio Ninja was the #1 musical game.

Now, let’s talk about the crowdfunding scene. Crowdfunding in Latin America is relatively young: approximately, four years have passed since Ideame, the biggest crowdfunding site on the continent, started. Despite this, it has evolved in many ways, although it hasn’t reached the impact of crowdfunding in the US or Europe. Countries like Mexico, Chile and Argentina already have an established crowdfunding industry, with hundreds of projects financed through platforms like Ideame, Catarse, and Fondeadora. Just as Kickstarter does, these platforms support creative projects such as movies, books, music records and more, while also promoting social impact and economic development.

Due to lack of tech projects in Latin America (a situation related to profound and rooted issues such as the quality of education, poorly distributed resources and investment in technology), which get a lot of attention in European and North American crowdfunding sites, the platforms have turned their attention to the mixture of culture, communities and social innovation. You’ll see that most of the projects in Ideame rely on a strong ideological message, opposed to some of the biggest crowdfunding campaigns in Kickstarter, that have worked for an early sale of products.

While these countries have found their stride, the rest of the countries (Colombia, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, and such) are just starting to get traction from the public. Colombia already has five crowdfunding platforms: La Chèvre, Uonset, Summa, Little Big Money and Help. The first three support cultural and creative projects, just as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, while the last two focus on entrepreneurship in poor communities and education.

Overall, the Crowdfunding options for young entrepreneurs is estimated to continue to grow in 2016, and a flurry of new mobile startups will continue to find funding in this emerging market.



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