Spain’s Rosita Longevity, an app that helps seniors be more active, is headed to Florida

Hearts Radiant, a Spanish startup that’s building a “longevity coach” for seniors — with the goal of extending quality of life through app-based personalized coaching designed to combat and even prevent frailty — has closed a seed round of funding as it gears up to launch in the US, eyeing Florida’s 4M+ over 65s.

We covered the startup as it came out of stealth to announce pre-seed funding for its digital coach, aka Rosita Longevity, back in October 2020. It followed that by launching out of beta in Spain at the end of 2020 — and went on to amass around 2,000 “very active” users, with an average DAU/MAU of 30%.

The app is offered as both paid or a lighter, freemium version.

“Over the first months we worked on creating adherence and medical plans and by September 2021 we came out of beta and launched our first paying cohort,” says co-founder Juan Cartagena. “The cohort was capped to 40 users paying an average $60/quarter because it involved many manual processes.

“Over the last five months we have been working on automatizing those processes while delivering the service to those users (aside the other ones on the free version). To this day we have had just one person churning and an average DAU/MAU of about 80%, which is incredible for a non-chat product.”

The idea for a personalized digital coach to motivate seniors to make lifestyle improvements to raise their quality of life and even, potentially the number of healthy years they can live — grew out of an in-person spa/retreat for seniors run by the wife-husband founder team.

Digitizing programs developed at the spa — and proving that digital coaching and other remotely delivered technologies can be as effective as in-person therapies is a key part of Hearts Radiants’ mission, as it works to scale a business that sells ‘longevity as a service’.

A clinical trial on its approach is still ongoing, with progress having been delayed somewhat by COVID-19. But the startup tells TechCrunch it plans to publish research on its methodology soon, possibly this summer.

The app-based coaching program packaged as Rosita Longevity focuses on encouraging (gentle) exercise as a way to boost seniors’ mobility and decrease frailty, as well as increasing their social connections (via cohort-based group classes) for an age group that can suffer especially from loneliness and associated mental health issues.

The app organizes seniors into different cohorts depending on their physical condition and muskulo-eskeletical symptoms in order to tailor support — with AI used to help develop a personalized plan per user, based on information they provide about their mobility and any illnesses/conditions etc.

But core to the program is “motivational” coaching — which is provided by (human) healthcare professionals who, while they are dispensing advice/classes digitally, are certainly not made of pixels.

The app-delivered program also provides seniors with other information on how to live better for longer, such as advice on diet, or provides support to manage chronic pain, such as through targeted physiotherapy, in addition to serving up info on relevant emerging research around ageing and longevity.

“When you download the app you go through an evaluation process where Rosita learns where you are today and relevant issues of your past health, helps you set the goals for your next months and proposes an action plan to achieve them. The plan combines live and recorded sessions, follow up tests and group chats with our specialists that will cover all the questions and issues our seniors have,” explains Cartagena.

“We have found these group sessions very relevant in the senior community because as you age, most of the pathologies affect them in a very similar way (comorbidities are very similar and close in symptoms) so it feels very productive to group them in terms of learnings and follow ups.”

“Users inside of a cohort get a personalized plan but are coached in teams per cohort, leveraging social health and peer dynamics. So we are connecting the human part with the automated part for most impact, keeping a healthy trainer ratio,” he adds.

The €2.4 million ($2.8M) seed round was led by Barcelona-based impact fund, Ship2B ventures. Other investors include JME Ventures, KFund, Seedcamp, Bankinter, Seedlink Health, Telefonica Wayra, the University of Chicago, and a number of business angels — including Cristobal Viedma (founder of Lingokids) and Poonam Sharma (a “health veteran” at Oscar Health).

As well as the seed funding the planned expansion into the US — where Cartagena says it will (at least initially) opt for the same b2c model, charging seniors to access a “Prime” version of the app that unlocks access to more classes/therapies — the startup wants to spend on R&D with the goal of developing what he describes as “longevity biomarkers with biomechanics and artificial vision”.

Which is a condensed way of saying the startup hopes to be able to use computer vision/machine learning technologies to automate the detection and assessment of frailty/prefrailty in seniors to better tailor programs and interventions, even if the only hardware in the room is a relatively old smartphone with a not-so-amazing camera.

Further plans for the seed funding are to expand “longevity plans” to more specific cohorts — “based on a combination of behavioral patterns and health history” — so it can offer increasingly customized programs.

“The holy grail of all of this is preventing frailty before it happens,” adds Cartagena. “Frailty and prefrailty are like being diabetic and prediabetic: It is just a matter of where you set the bar. Neither prefrailty nor prediabetes gets much attention but the impact to society is very large. We want to find the people who have the risk of becoming prefrail much much earlier, in their 60s and early 70s.

“We are initially very focussed on functionality, which includes biomechanics, muskulo-eskeletical changes and other areas related (such as gait strength or patterns) that are proxies to mental health (even stronger than cognitive tests!) and literally life expectancy. As we grow we will combine these tests with other lifestyle data, blood tests, microbiome and epigenetic clocks.”

“Tests for frailty and prefrailty exist, but geriatricians can easily point a frail person by looking at how they walk a couple of steps. Therefore an AI might be able to do the same,” he adds.

Asked about the ongoing clinical trials it intends to demonstrate the effectiveness of its digital programs, he suggests the “key variable” is consistency — noting that the current paying cohort is doing 320 minutes+ of exercise a week (“which even for in person coaching is amazing for the senior community”).

“What I believe we have proven with our pre-seed round, is that you can achieve high adherence and results with virtual coaching,” Cartagena adds. “The WHO recommends 150 minutes of physical activity for seniors per week (the average is less than 50 and most do 0 minutes (walking does not count)), and we are achieving a lot more than that (320 in paying users and 170 in non-paying users), plus people are feeling better so they are also becoming more active outside the App, which we do not measure properly yet. This amount of activity in seniors in really unheard of in geroscience.”

YC-backed Blabla raises $1.5M to teach English through short videos

Short, snappy, entertaining videos have become an increasingly common way for young people to receive information. Why not learn English through TikTok-like videos too? That was what prompted Angelo Huang to launch Blabla.

Originally from Taiwan, Huang relocated to Shanghai in 2019 to start Blabla after working in Silicon Valley for over a decade. A year later, Blabla was chosen as part of Y Combinator’s 2020 summer cohort. The coronavirus had begun to spread in the U.S. at the time, keeping millions at home, and interest in remote learning was reviving.

“It was my eighth time applying to YC,” Huang, who founded two companies before Blabla, told TechCrunch during an interview.

This week, Blabla announced it has raised $1.54 million in a seed round led by Amino Capital, Starling Ventures, Y Combinator, and Wayra X, the innovation arm of the Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica. While Y Combinator wasn’t particularly instrumental in Blabla’s expansion in China — one of the biggest English-learning markets — the famed accelerator was of great help introducing investors to the young company, said the founder.

The Blabla app pays native English speakers by the hour to create short, engaging videos tailored to English-learning students around the world. The content creators are aided by Blabla’s proprietary software that can recognize and tag their scenes, as well as third-party translation tools that can subtitle their videos. The students, in turn, pay a subscription fee to receive personalized video recommendations based on their level of proficiency. They can practice through the app’s built-in speech recognition, among other features like speaking contests and pop quizzes.

The startup is in a highly crowded space. In China, the online English-learning market is occupied by established companies like VIPKID, which is backed by Tencent and Sequoia Capital. Compared to VIPKID’s one-on-one tutoring model, Blabla is more affordable with its starting price of 39 yuan ($6) a month, Huang noted.

“The students [on mainstream English learning apps] might have to spend several thousands of RMB before they can have a meaningful conversation with their teachers. We instead recycle our videos and are able to offer lessons at much cheaper prices.”

The app has about 11,000 weekly users and 300-400 paid users at the moment, with 80-90% of its total users coming from China; the goal for this year is to reach 300,000 students. The funding will allow Blabla to expand in Southeast Asia and Latin America while Wayra X can potentially help it scale to Telefónica’s 340 million global users. It will be seeking brand deals with influencers on the likes of TikTok and Youtube. The new capital will also enable BlaBla to add new features, such as pairing up language learners based on their interests and profiles.

Blabla doesn’t limit itself to teaching English and has ambitions to bring in teachers of other languages. “We want to be a global online pay-for-knowledge platform,” said Huang.

With lower bandwidth, Disney+ opens streaming service in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile team with Airbus, China Telecom and more on stratospheric cell networks

A new industry alliance led by Alphabet’s Loon high-altitude balloon technology company and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile stratospheric glider subsidiary aims to work together on standards and tech related to deploying network connectivity using high-altitude delivery mechanisms.

This extends the existing partnership between HAPSMobile and Loon, which began with a strategic alliance between the two announced last April, and which recently resulted in Loon adapting the network hardware it uses on its stratospheric balloons to work with the HAPSMobile stratospheric long-winged drone. Now, they two are welcoming more members, including AeroVironment, Airbus Defence and Space, Bharti Airtel, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Intelsat, Nokia, HAPSMobile parent SoftBank and Telefonica.

The new HAPS Alliance, as it’s being called (HAPS just stands for ‘High Altitude Platform Station’) will be working together to promote use of the technology, as well as work with regulators in the markets where they operate on enabling its use. They’ll work towards developing a set of common industry standards for network interoperability, and also figure how to essentially carve up the or stake out the stratosphere so that participating industry players can work together without stepping on each other’s toes.

This new combined group is no slouch: It includes some of the most powerful network operators in the world, as well as key network infrastructure players and aerospace companies. Which could mean big things for stratospheric networks, which have the advantages of being closer to Earth than satellite-based internet offerings, but also avoid the disadvantages of ground-based cell towers like having to deal with difficult terrain or more limited range.

Is this the first step towards a future where our connected devices rely on high-flying, autonomous cell towers for connectivity? It’s too early to say how ubiquitous this will get, but this new group of heavyweights definitely lends more credence to the idea.

Alphabet’s Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile turn solar-powered drones into flying cell towers

Alphabet-owned Loon, the company that had been focused on delivering internet communications to remote areas via stratospheric balloons, has completed development work on a new payload for partner HAPSMobile, a subsidiary of SoftBank that’s building high-altitude solar-powered uncrewed aircraft. The two companies jointly adapted the communications technology that enables Loon’s balloons to beam communications networks to Earth for use on HAPSMobile’s drones, effectively turning them into high-flying mobile cell towers.

This is the result of a strategic partnership that the two companies announced back in April of last year, but an important step because it means that Loon’s technology will get its first functional tests on vehicles other than its ballon-based platform. The HAWK30 aircraft that HAPSMobile developed is a solar-powered electric aircraft that flies at speeds of over 100 km/h (around 60 mph) in the stratosphere (with an operating altitude or around 65,000 feet) which is much faster than Loon’s balloons, which meant adapting the payload to perform at these speeds. Part of that customization included making the antenna used to beam the LTE connectivity to devices on the ground much more responsive, allowing them to rotate quickly to maintain the best possible connection.

Loon and HAPSMobile say the their communications technology can provide connections between devices as far as 700 km (435 miles) apart, with data transfer speeds reaching as high as 1Gpbs. HAPSMobile’s goal with the HAWK30 project is to expand the scope of coverage vs. terrestrial cell towers, since their high-altitude position can cover a much larger surface area vs. even the tallest cell towers. In fact, the company notes that just 40 of its aircraft could provide coverage to the entirety of Japan, vs. “tens of thousands of existing terrestrial base stations.” Plus, fewer areas would be considered out-of-range as a result of inhospitable terrain or difficult to reach areas in terms of infrastructure installation.

For Loon, this is a signifiant expansion of their current operating model, providing another path to revenue that includes adapting their communications technology for use on different types of aircraft and delivery models. It’s yet another example of the type of commercial partnerships available to the company, even as it ramps up its existing balloon-based deployment plans with partners including Telefonica and others.

Alphabet’s Loon signs deal with Telefonica to provide internet to remote parts of the Amazon

Alphabet-owned Loon, the high-altitude balloon company that is using its stratospheric technology to provide internet connectivity on Earth, has signed a new commercial agreement with Telefonica-owned Internet para Todos (IpT). The IpT initiative, which is also backed in part by Facebook and the Development Bank of Latin America, aims to provide internet connectivity to users in remote locations across Latin America, and its deal with Loon will specifically connect users in remote parts fo the Amazon Rainforest in Peru.

Loon will begin providing service in 2020, provided the deal gets all the necessary regulatory approval it requires. This is a first in terms of a commercial deployment of high altitude gallons with the aim of offering connectivity over a continued, sustained period, so there’s some new ground to break in terms of working with the Peru Ministry of Transport and Communications prior to launch, but the partners involved are working with regulators to make sure everything’s signed off before launch.

This isn’t the first time Loon has worked with Telefonica – the two join forces to provide emergency internet connectivity following the 8.0 earthquake that hit Peru in May, and the’ve been collaborating on a number of projects for years. For Loon, this is now the third commercial contract it has secured, including one with Telkom Kenya which is also awaiting final regulatory sign-off, and an arrangement with Canadian company Telecast to develop a coordination system for a future planned low-Earth orbit satellite constellation.

The initial deployment plan for this partnership with IpT will provide connectivity to an area that makes up around 15 percent of the total area of the Loreto Region in Peru, which together accounts for a population of around 200,000 people. Of that 200,000, roughly a quarter have access to connectivity at least that 3G quality, according to Loon. The Loon balloons that will be deployed to provide service essentially act as very high altitude cell towers, receiving LTE connections and redistributing those directly to consumer devices on the ground.

Why is Andreessen Horowitz (and everyone else) investing in Latin America now?

Investments by U.S. venture capital firms into Latin America are skyrocketing and one of the firms leading the charge into deals is none other than Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz .

The firm that shook up Silicon Valley with potentially over-generous term sheets and valuations and an overarching thesis that “software is eating the world” has been reluctant to test its core belief… well… pretty much anywhere outside of the United States.

That was true until a few years ago when Andreessen began making investments in Latin America. It’s the only geography outside of the U.S. where the firm has committed significant capital and the pace of its investments is increasing.

Andreessen isn’t the only firm that’s making big bets in companies south of the American border. SoftBank has its $2 billion dollar investment fund, which launched earlier this year, to invest in Latin American deals as well. (Although the most recent SoftBank Innovation Fund investment in GymPass is likely an indicator that the fund, much like SoftBank’s “Vision” fund, has a pretty generous interpretation of what is and is not a Latin American deal.)

“We previously didn’t invest internationally, [because] we weren’t as well set up to help these companies,” says Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Part of the reason for why LatAm is proximity.”

The Stanford connections behind Latin America’s multi-billion dollar startup renaissance

The houses along the tree-lined blocks of Josina Avenue in Palo Alto, with their big back yards, swimming pools and driveways are about as far removed from the snarls of traffic, sputtering diesel engines, and smoggy air of South America’s major metropolises as one can get.

But it was in one of those houses, about a twelve-minute bicycle ride from Stanford University, that the seed was planted for what has become a renaissance in technology entrepreneurship in Latin America.

Back in 2010, when Adeyemi Ajao, Carlo Dapuzzo, and Juan de Antonio were students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business they could not predict that they would be counted among the vanguard of investors and entrepreneurs transforming Latin America’s startup economy.

At the time, Ajao was negotiating the sale of his first business, the Spanish social networking company, Tuenti, to Telefonica (in what would be a $100 million exit). Carlo Dapuzzo was in Palo Alto taking a break from his job at Monashees, which at that time was a small, early-stage investment fund based in Brazil focused on investing in Latin America. Juan de Antonio had left a job as a consultant at BCG to attend Stanford’s business school on a Fulbright scholarship.

In just two years, Ajao would be a founding investor in de Antonio’s ride-hailing business, Cabify, focused on Latin America and Europe; and Dapuzzo would be seeding the ride-hailing service 99Taxis. Today, Cabify is worth over $1 billion and has focused its business primarily on Latin America while 99 was sold to the Chinese ride-hailing company Didi for $1 billion — making it one of the largest deals in Latin America’s young startup history.

The three men are now at the center of a vast web of startups whose intersection can, in many cases, be traced back to the house on Josina Avenue where Dapuzzo and de Antonio lived and where Ajao spent much of his free time.

“It’s the same dynamics as the PayPal Mafia,” says Ajao. “The new unicorn batches which started in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. Although they’re all trans-national, they all know each other and literally they are all friends and all co-investors in each other’s companies and they all have links to Silicon Valley… and… more importantly… to Stanford.”

Carlo Dapuzzo, Adeyemi Ajao, and Juan de Antonio at Stanford University

Stalled Economic Engines

If Ajao’s enthusiasm sounds familiar, that’s because it is. There was another wave of interest in Latin America that started surging nearly a decade ago, but crashed nearly five years into what was supposed to be the time of the region’s explosive growth in the global scene.

Back in 2008, as the U.S. was sliding into recession, global economists cast about for countries whose economic might could potentially provide some antidote to the toxic assets that were poisoning the global financial system in America and Western Europe. It was then that the concept coined by a Goldman Sachs economist back in 2001 (in the aftermath of another financial shock) baked Brazil, Russia, India and China into a BRIC — a group of nations that, as a bloc, could create enough growth to keep the global economy moving upwards.

All of them were growing at a rapid clip, albeit at different speeds and from different starting trajectories. But they were still all humming. Investment — from large financial institutions, private equity and venture capital firms — all began flowing into the four countries.

In Brazil and across Latin America, companies from the U.S. began to cast their eyes South for growth. That’s when Groupon began to make inroads into the region. When Groupon acquired the Chilean company ClanDescuento, it served as a starting gun for activity across multiple geographies.

Two years after that acquisition by Groupon, Redpoint’s Brazilian investment vehicle, Redpoint eVentures was able to close on a $130 million fund for Brazilian and Latin American investments in just under four months. While Brazil held the bulk of the capital, many of the largest startup companies were being launched out of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Globant, Despegar, MercadoLibre, and OLX were all lucrative deals for the investors who made them. Today, they remain solid companies, but they didn’t create the ecosystem that both local investors and entrepreneurs were hoping for. Brazil’s Peixe Urbano was also a rising star at the time, but it too wound up selling, in its case to Chinese internet Baidu. Indeed, the Peixe Urbano funding gave investors like Benchmark’s Matt Cohler their first exposure to the region.

A 2012 default on Argentinian debt derailed the economy and Brazil’s economy began seizing up at around the same time. Then, in 2014, Brazil was hit by both an economic and political collapse that shook the country’s stability and ushered in a two-year-long recession.

Ultimately, the Brazilian component of the BRIC miracle, that would have potentially ushered in a brighter future for the broader region, didn’t materialize.

The next starting gun

Ajao began investing in Latin America as an angel investor during the beginnings of the downturn in Brazil and when Argentina was also seizing up. It’s also when Dapuzzo made the initial bet on 99Taxis — bringing Ajao in as an investor — and Cabify launched, eventually bringing its service to Mexico and seeing huge growth in the Latin American market.

500 Startups expanded to Mexico around the same period, in what turned out to be a prescient move. Because even as the broader economies were slowing, technology adoption — fueled by rising smartphone sales and new internet-enabled mobile services — was speeding up.

Groupon’s push into the region taught a new consumer market about the pleasures of venture-backed e-commerce, but it was ride-hailing that truly paved the way for Latin America’s future success. Many factors played a role, from the rise of smartphones to the stabilization and growth of economies in the region outside of Argentina and Brazil and the return of a generation of founders who gained exposure and experience in Silicon Valley.

Here again, the house on Josina Street and the friends that were made over the course of the two-year grad school program at Stanford would play a critical role.

“99 was the second start and this new generation of founders,” said one investor with a deep knowledge of the region.

A taxi driver uses the 99 taxi app for smartphones in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 11, 2018. (Photo via Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

A herd of unicorns

Ajao also sees 99 as ground zero for the network that has spawned a unicorn stampede in Latin America. It’s a group of companies that covers everything from financial services, mobility and logistics, food delivery and even pet care.

In some ways it’s an extension and culmination of the American on-demand thesis, with allowances for the unique characteristics of the region’s varied economies and cultural experience, investors and entrepreneurs said.

“In my mind 99 had a lot to do with what is happening right now with the current PayPal mafia [of Latin America] because they became the first big new exit on the continent,” Ajao says.

Entrepreneurs from 99 spun out to form Yellow, a dockless scooter and bike-sharing company that was initially backed by Monashees, Grishin Robotics and Base10 Ventures — the venture firm that Ajao co-founded and which closed a $137 million venture fund just nine months ago.

Monashees and Base10 also co-invested in Grin, a Mexico City-based dockless scooter company. Together the two companies managed to raise over $100 million before merging into one company earlier this. That deal ultimately provided a challenger to the automotive-based ride-sharing businesses that were beginning to encroach on the scooter business.

The growth of 99Taxis and the rise of startups in Latin America ultimately convinced David Velez, a former venture investor with Sequoia Capital to return to Brazil and try his hand at entrepreneurship as well. A year behind Ajao, de Antonio and Dapuzzo at Stanford, Velez was also friendly with the group.

Velez worked at Sequoia Capital and saw the opportunity that Latin America presented as an investment environment. After starting Sequoia Capital Latin America he transitioned into an entrepreneurial role and became the co-founder of Nubank, which would be Sequoia’s first Latin America investment. Now a $4 billion financial technology powerhouse, the Nubank deal was yet another proof point that the Latin American market had come of age — and another branch on a tree that has its roots in Stanford’s business school and the Silicon Valley venture community.

The final piece of this intersecting web of investments and relationships is Rappi — the Colombian delivery service business that was also backed by Monazhees and Base10. The first company from Latin America to enter YCombinator and the first investment from the new Silicon Valley power player, Andreessen Horowitz, Rappi epitomizes the new generation of Latin American startups.

“The way we think about this part of the world is as a massive market with 700 million people living on the continent and really dense cities,” says Rappi co-founder and president, Sebastian Mejia. “And it’s a region where the tech stack hasn’t been built, which gives you an opportunity to solve problems and create digital champions that look more similar to China than the U.S.”

Mejia epitomizes what Ajao calls a new breed of startup entrepreneur that doesn’t necessarily look to other markets for inspiration or business models, but solves local problems for a local customer, rather than a global one.

“Being local was more of a competitive advantage than a disadvantage and we can solve problems in a better way than a Silicon Valley company or a Chinese company could,” says Mejia. “What we’re starting to see now is that those changes in perspective allow us to build bigger companies.”

In all, Monashees and Base10 have invested in companies operating in Latin America that have a combined valuation of over $6 billion between them. Through the extended network of Stanford connections and the startups that Velez has brought to the table that number is higher than $10 billion.

A bicycle courier working for Colombian online delivery company “Rappi”, rides his bike in Bogota, on October 11, 2018. (Photo via John Vizcaino/AFP/Getty Images)

The next $10 billion

If the Latin American market was once overlooked by venture investors like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark or Accel, that’s certainly no longer the case.

Funds are pouring into the region at an unprecedented clip, driven by SoftBank and its interest on the continent following its commitment to launching a new $2 billion fund in the region and its subsequent $1 billion investment in Rappi.

“Latin America is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important economic regions in the world, and we anticipate significant growth in the decades ahead,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SBG, in a statement when SoftBank launched its fund.

“SBG plans to invest in entrepreneurs throughout Latin America and use technology to help address the challenges faced by many emerging economies with the goal of improving the lives of millions of Latin Americans,” he added.

Son is likely thinking about the 375 million internet users in Latin America and the 250 million smartphone users across the region. It’s also worth noting that retail e-commerce has been a huge driver of economic growth despite other economic obstacles. The region’s e-commerce has grown to $54 billion in 2018 up from $29.8 billion in 2015.

Even more critically, there are some key areas where innovation and new services are still sorely needed. Access to transportation isn’t great for the roughly 79% of the 700 million people across South America who live in cities. Then there are 400 million people across Latin America who are either unbanked or underbanked. Healthcare is another area where a lack of investment to date could create potential opportunities for new startups.

More generally, poor infrastructure remains a significant problem that companies like Rappi and another SoftBank investment, Loggi, are looking to make inroads into.

“Latin America was for many years, underinvested,” says de Antonio, whose Cabify business has managed to score a valuation of over $1 billion largely based on the opportunities ahead of it in the Latin American market. “You will see a bit more money to catch up. The market is big… and potentially huge… I’m a big believer that it’s a good moment now to invest.”

For de Antonio, Cabify, Rappi, and other startups are only now hitting their stride. In the future, they stand to enable a host of other opportunities, he believes.

“The entrepreneurial mindset is really ingrained in Latin America… the difference is maybe there wasn’t an ecosystem to help these ideas to scale.. .there are huge fortunes in the region but they typically… they have a lot of their assets invested in the region… but they need to diversify,” said de Antonio. “Until recently there hasn’t been an active funding market for all of these startups.”

For de Antonio and Ajao, one of the critical lessons that they learned from their time at Stanford and being exposed to the broader Silicon Valley ecosystem was the notion of collaboration.

“This is something we learned from San Francisco,” de Antonio said. “The way companies help each other is something that we haven’t seen people do before. And usually when you are a young company this can be the difference between being successful or a failure.