Startups in emerging markets like Latin America face much greater challenges than those in the developed world, but those same startups have masses of potential to bring about world-changing innovations, providing they get the right support.
Technology giant Google is looking to change that with its Launchpad Accelerator program, led by Roy Geva Glasberg (pictured), a man on a mission to give startups in emerging markets better opportunities to grow.
“The success of startups in emerging markets depends on the level of mentorship they can get,” said Glasberg during his keynote presentation at Nexus 2017. “There is so much to learn from mentors in emerging markets, so the opportunity to work with mentors that have been working with startups for 20 years in a specific country is priceless – it helps us to learn about the real life of developers and the challenges in that country. This kind of both-way training is vital.”
Today, Google runs the biggest emerging market accelerator in the world, operating in over 25 countries. The company takes a modest and humble approach to acceleration, and strives to build this bridge of knowledge that goes both ways, but according to Glasberg, “it’s far from being an easy task”.
Google wants to speed up the process of getting investors to support startups by finding the most open, aggressive, and intelligent investors in emerging markets.
“We’ve seen so many wrong ways to make an investment,” said Glasberg. “You can’t build a company without an intelligent investor supporting you, and I put an emphasis on “intelligent”.”
He explained that not enough investments are going to emerging markets, mainly because innovation is assumed to only be happening in and around Silicon Valley. “The fact is, innovation is occurring in other markets, innovations that will change the world, we just need to speed that process up.”
Glasberg also touched upon the challenge of corruption, particularly in Latin America, explaining that trust is a basic thing that is taken for granted in Silicon Valley, but is causing a skewed perspective of investors in other regions.
“In terms of where governments fit in, we see them as having a crucial role to play, so if we’re provided a place at the table, we always make sure to send the right message in order to ensure they think about alternative options to their existing approach – we share knowledge with policy makers to help from our experience.”
Strengths of LatAm Talent and Entrepreneurship
Following Glasberg’s presentation, a panel of experts took the stage and offered different opinions on this topic, particularly from the perspective of the US.
Dilawar Syed, President of Freshdesk, a cloud-based customer support platform, sees that finding talent and developing it to become the next great entrepreneurs is a good method to bolster innovation in the market.
“Regardless of the growth of places like Guadalajara, the Silicon Valley will always be there, so even as other regions take their rightful place, we have to seed our leadership in innovation and partnerships,” he said.
The effects of certain immigration programs also affect the entrepreneurship ecosystem, as this well-developed talent is often restricted by borders.
“The problem for foreigners is that there aren’t many avenues into the US, so many companies see it as being difficult or expensive – there are even CEOs doing H1B paperwork and jumping so many hurdles, so they’d rather set up a little shell office in another country,” said Priya Alagiri, founder of Alagiri Immigration Law Firm.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, it’s vital that mentors can physically sit next to the business owners and work with them, according to Glasberg. For that reason, immigration regulations can be a huge restriction to startup growth. “One of the biggest missed opportunities is when a startup in one country develops a solution and doesn’t realise that a company in another country needs it,” he said. “So, getting people in a room together is the best way to take them from A to B.”
By the end of 2017, Glasberg intends for the Google Launchpad Accelerator to be working with 40 countries around the world, and with 100 or more mentors in each of those locations. With more than a 1000% increase in revenue and users each year, this goal is not out of reach.
The method of flying startup leaders to Silicon Valley, providing advice and sharing methodologies to them, and using the same approach to train new mentors, is certainly a unique one, but it shows that the challenges and hurdles that startups perceive to be insurmountable could actually be conquered.