Feature Story

Innovative new apps help Brazil's economy rebound

by Matt Bokor

Innovative new apps help Brazil's economy rebound

The 'Internet of Cows' goes global among a wave of startups launched in Brazil.

Slowly climbing out of a lengthy recession, Brazil finds itself awash in digital innovation. This wave of app-based startups generates vibrant commerce while pursuing a range of lofty to local goals—like reducing malnutrition, averting power failures and helping humble metal collectors find recyclables.

In recent years, more than 6,100 startups and some 40,000 entrepreneurs have joined the Brazilian Startup Association. This offers benefits, connections and education to its members. StartUp Brazil, a government initiative with private-sector partners, also nurtures the startup ecosystem by providing developers assistance, including seed money, networking and mentorship.

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App-based startups "have emerged as bright spots in the Brazilian economy as examples of dynamism and ingenuity that are often overlooked," according to Irene Estefanía González, a strategist at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think-tank.

'Internet of Cows'

Among the many launches going global from Brazil is BovControl, a mobile app that's reshaping farm management all over the world. With more cows than people, Brazil is fertile ground for the app, which aims to help farmers improve meat, milk and genetics production.

If the farmer notes a cow is pregnant as he inputs livestock data, the app can predict the delivery date and notify the farmer as the day nears. If a cow's milk production is off, the app sends a signal.

Among its smart-farming outputs, BovControl provides vaccine management, nutrition, organization and tax management data, and generates reports, graphics and cattle analyses to help modernize management and production.

Co-founder and CEO Danilo Leao, who as a teen logged data by hand on the family farm, said he hopes his "internet of cows" will reduce world hunger through improved efficiency.

Sensing a problem

Addressing the common problem of blackouts in Brazil and other emerging markets, Sensorbox helps reduce losses for an array of users, including hospitals, laboratories, Internet providers, restaurants and ice-cream shops.

Using cloud-based technology, Sensorbox monitors remote locations for signs of trouble. When its detects something unusual, such as a temperature spike in a data center, Sensorbox sends alarms by e-mail or Push and allows for switching equipment or devices on or off remotely. The technology can also be used to monitor meteorological stations for earthquakes and tsunamis. 

Recycling on a roll

Another app aims to generate more income and higher esteem for Brazil's often-maligned legion of waste collectors (catadores). Because Brazil recycles only a fraction of its solid waste, individual collectors serve an important role, pushing their two-wheeled carts down streets and picking up discarded metals and other recyclables that they can sell.

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Rolled out in July 2017 by São Paulo street artist Thiago Mundano, the nonprofit Cataki app matches people who have recyclables available for pickup with collectors working in their neighborhoods. Cataki spokesman Carol Pires said 650 waste collectors in 135 Brazilian cities have registered, with more than 16,000 downloads.

"For the future we expect more cities to include their waste pickers and more people to use the app, generating more income and work for these recycling professionals," Pires said.

Tech hubs on the scene

Meanwhile, tech hubs have been cultivating Brazil's startup ecosystem by providing workspace for developers to network, learn, share, and fine-tune their businesses and ideas.

In 2016, for example, Google opened its first hub for entrepreneurs in Latin America. Its Campus São Paulo, one of six campuses around the world, attracted 75,000 members in its first year. Among its many services, Campus São Paulo offers a coveted, six-month residency program that helps high-impact startups tackling big problems.

And Cubo Itaú, the largest entrepreneurial hub in Latin America, is quadrupling its office space in São Paulo to host more startups and provide more support for resident and nonresident developers.

In addition to support from accelerators, startups enjoy the advantage of launching with relative ease in Brazil, which is known for onerous red tape to start a business, according to González. "App-based startups are able to bypass some of the steps required to open a physical business, like obtaining construction permits and registering a property," she said.

"Although there is still a great deal of economic uncertainty and a number of bureaucratic barriers to entrepreneurship in Brazil, it seems that startup culture is taking hold," González said.

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