“I really only help with that final push,” says Eduardo Prisco Ramos, consul general of Brazil in San Francisco, about his work in encouraging companies in Silicon Valley to invest in Brazil – and vice versa. Prisco says that because his main job is to oversee all of the consular services required by the residents in his jurisdiction, which encompasses the Northern California area, and the states of Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
But all the networking that comes with this role has generated fruitful opportunities for businesses in Brazil and Silicon Valley. In his two and half years as consul general in San Francisco, he has already helped a few small and larger companies take their operations to Brazil, as well as having facilitated the opening of a Brazilian government office in San Francisco to help promote trade between startups in Brazil and U.S. companies in the Bay Area. Subsided by Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, the office will be managed by the Brazilian Trade and Investment Agency (Apex Brazil).
This is a huge accomplishment, but nothing compared Prisco Ramos’ next endeavor: to help convince airlines to establish direct flights between San Francisco and other Brazilian cities. This alone, he says, could be the ignition needed for companies in the Silicon Valley and Brazil to begin a whole new level of relationship.
Born in Rio, Prisco Ramos holds a journalism degree from Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro – which is not too surprising given his knack for communication. Prior to his appointment as consul general in San Francisco he was Ambassador of Brazil in Panama (2008-2011) and Ambassador to El Salvador (2004-2008). In a two-part interview, one via e-mail and one over the phone, Nearshore Americas was able to pick a little of Prisco’s brain. Here’s what he had to say…
Nearshore Americas: You’ve been doing a great job in bringing startup companies in Brazil closer to Silicon Valley. What prompted you to promote this relationship?
Prisco Ramos: First, I have to clarify that my job is to be the Consul General, overseeing all consular services for the Brazilian and American communities. But I’m close to the Silicon Valley and to companies such as Apple, Oracle, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and there are a huge amount of top universities in this area – Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and many more – so there is a clear benefit from this “ecosystem” that can’t be overlooked. As I start to meet people and to network with them, I give bits of information about Brazil that were perhaps ignored before, so I really only help with that final push.
NSAM: How exactly are you accomplishing this?
Prisco Ramos: From several fronts: Whenever I realize that both sides have something to gain, I try to put Brazilians –who live here, or in Brazil – in contact with people from Silicon Valley, and vice versa. This happens with some frequency, because I am the Consul General. People come to talk to me and so I simply act as a “match-maker,” so to speak. On the other hand, I try to promote events here in the Bay Area that can increase the visibility of Brazil among the companies in the Silicon Valley and vice versa. To give a specific example, the consulate organizes trips with the scholarship holders of the Brazilian-subsided program “Science without Borders” to the Silicon Valley. During these visits, we discuss the Silicon Valley “ecosystem,” even though the students might not be in information technology per se. But when these students return to Brazil, they will share what they saw.
NSAM: What kinds of companies are interested in investing in Brazil right now?
Prisco Ramos: These are mostly tech, biotech, and small and medium-size companies that would only bring a few hundred jobs to Brazil. But the important fact is that, once they are positioned in a given area in Brazil, other companies from the same or similar industries start to show up. This forms a cluster of companies that starts to take a life of its own, bringing other incredible investments in the area. So this is a much greater result than the sum of the parts. But if you want something more specific, I’d say that biotechs have been really interested in investing in Brazil in the past two years.
NSAM: What are these companies looking for in Brazil?
Prisco Ramos: They ask, “Do you think the sector I operate in would be of interest in Brazil?”, “What are the advantages for my company to open an office in Brazil?”, “How is the financial system there?” or they often ask for suggestions on where to open their offices and if we can put them in contact with officials from local governments in Brazil. Since I’ve been the Consul General in San Francisco, at least three larger companies made their decisions based on this support from the Consulate.
Nearshore Americas: How are Brazilians showing their interest in the Silicon Valley?
Prisco Ramos: There are a lot of Brazilians that want to come to the region to find resources, to look for mentors, or just to get a feel of how businesses in the Silicon Valley operate in order to get better aligned with the industry once they return to Brazil.
NSAM: You’re working on creation of a direct flight from SF to Brazil. Can you expand a little bit on this plan, progress, etc.?
Prisco Ramos: This is one of the major demands from Brazilian and American entrepreneurs. It is a proven fact that after the establishment of direct flights between two regions, there is a significant increase in the flow of business. So our pursuit is clear: to achieve an increased volume of business between Brazil and the Bay Area. Right now, the airlines want to have a better idea of how many seats per year companies from the two countries intend to occupy, before they can make a decision. The airlines are interested in profitability, and corporate flights are what ensure that. Roughly speaking, if we can ensure the airlines will fill their business class, whatever comes from the economy class is a plus. As of now, we’re trying to assess this demand with hard numbers.
NSAM: Can you give us an idea of this number?
Prisco Ramos: Not yet, it’s too early in the process. But I can tell you that we give out about 100 visas per day, and a good percentage of these are work visas, though this number is slowing because visas now last 10 years. But the folks from the Rio de Janeiro Consulate tell me they can definitely identify there’s been an increase in business between San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro.
NSAM: This year, the Brazilian government has been the center of a lot of criticism – the Brazilian real is devaluing against the U.S. dollar, many corruption scandals are being publicized, and the population is really unhappy with the economy in general. What do you tell a company that could be interested in having operations in Brazil, but now is getting cold feet?
Prisco Ramos: I tell them that this is a long-term bet. Companies can’t make an investment thinking about the last 30 minutes of the game. They have to think in terms of the trend – what is this trend and where is it going? For example, smartphones take only 30% of the total cell phone market in Brazil, a country of 200 million people. So the migration to smartphones will happen, which is a huge growth prospect for the smartphone market in Brazil. Companies can’t miss out on this opportunity. Brazil is a country with a stable currency and a growing middle class that has been demanding greater services.
NSAM: Why is Brazil more advantageous to invest in compared to other Latin American countries?
Prisco Ramos: Because of the size of its economy. Brazil is the sixth or seventh biggest economy in the world and is among the top 10 in terms of population. These are the numbers of “security” that firms wanting to invest in Brazil should be looking at. These numbers won’t change and Brazil is unbeatable in this sense.