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A Deep Dive Into LatAm’s Most Innovative Companies in 2021

Maria Saldarriaga and Pedro MejiaTop Lists
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Santiago, Chile. Image Source: Agustín Ljósmyndun via Unsplash.

Startups mean serious business.

Not only are they trying to solve society’s most pressing problems — from providing access to fair banking systems to reimagining a more sustainable future for food — but they also need to fundraise, bid for top talent and put in the hard yards to get to the top and be recognized for it.

In Fast Company’s 2021 Most Innovative Latin American Companies list, every featured business is a startup. This says a great deal about the positive impact startups have had on the region, and the opportunities they provide for innovation and improvement. And investors have taken notice.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a record year for investments in Latin America, with more than $4.2B invested across 370 deals. The region has fared quite well for investors in part due to the accelerated digitization resulting from the pandemic. The trend has continued into 2021 and, as of March, the region has seen nearly $1.3B in equity funding year-to-date.

The startups featured in Fast Company’s 2021 list are all massive disruptors challenging the way the food, consumer goods, banking and energy sectors operate. “In a year of unprecedented challenges, the companies on this list exhibit fearlessness, ingenuity, and creativity in the face of crisis,” Fast Company Deputy Editor David Lidsky said.

The Org looked into the top five companies listed to find out why they gained the coveted spot.

1: NotCo

Coming in first on the LatAm list and at #41 globally, NotCo is Latin America’s leading food tech company. The Chilean industry pioneer uses its proprietary A.I. technology to match animal protein at the molecular level to plant-based counterparts. NotCo has received backing from key venture capital names like Jeff Bezos’ Expedition Fund and Kaszek Ventures, which has allowed its products, including NotMayo™, NotIceCream™ and NotMilk™, direct entry into retail giants Whole Foods and Walmart.

NotCo CEO and Founder Matias Muchnik told AP News he was a firm believer in new technology being the solution for broken systems. “The food industry is obsolete and artificial intelligence is one of the keys to unveil a whole new world of possibilities, creating a whole new world of products that are just as delicious, but better for the environment,” he said.

NotCo is currently sold in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and the U.S., and it will soon be available in Mexico and Canada.

NotMilk

Plant based NotcCo Milk. Image Source: NotCo.

Another notable achievement for the food tech startup was receiving a first-of-its-kind US patent for reverse engineering animal foods with its proprietary AI Technology. Known as Guiseppe, NotCo’s AI chef is an innovative algorithm that replicates animal-product based recipes with plant-based counterparts at the molecular level. The algorithm was co-developed by NotCo’s unique team of food scientists, engineers, designers and chefs who constantly collaborate to improve the program.

The startup has raised over $115M with its Series C round closing in September 2020.

NotCo

2: Frubana

The Colombian startup is a B2B marketplace that allows restaurants and small businesses to source food products directly from farmers while lowering prices for buyers and increasing margins for suppliers. Known for digitizing farm-to-table food sourcing, Frubana also earned a coveted spot on the World’s Most Innovative Companies list, placing at #46.

In 2020, instead of letting COVID-19 wreak havoc on the business, Frubana introduced a series of initiatives that led the team to triple sales during the pandemic. Among these were Club Frubana, a range of free tools and resources to help restaurants digitize, shop for supplies and even look for job opportunities.

During lockdowns, Frubana also launched Fresco, a startup within the startup as the team calls it internally, which helps consumers receive groceries at home. Entering the already competitive grocery delivery market, Fresco differentiated itself by introducing a “community leader” feature, allowing a ’champion’ to organize orders with their friend or family group and giving them the ability to help vulnerable people in their community receive groceries without leaving their homes.

Fabian Gomez, Frubana’s founder, was one of Colombian super app Rappi’s first team members. He led the expansion of the Colombian unicorn into Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay. In a similar fashion, Gomez has expanded Frubana’s team to over 500 employees in the three years since its creation.

Frubana currently operates in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. On June 1, the startup announced it’s Series B $65M round, which it said is aimed at building “the everything store” for LatAm’s restaurant industry.

Frubana

3: Cariuma

Brazil-based environmentally sustainable footwear brand Cariuma is using non-traditional raw materials like cork, sugarcane and bamboo to produce the lowest carbon footprint sneakers available in the market. In an industry desperate for cleaner production practices, the startup is also committed to combating deforestation, planting two trees in the Brazilian rainforest for every pair of sneakers sold.

Cariuma

Cariuma sneakers. Image Source: Cariuma.

Co-founders Fernando Porto and David Python understand that sustainable sneakers can’t come at the expense of style or comfort. That’s why their shoes are “good-looking, crazy comfy and consciously made with a ‘future classics’ design focus that yields an increased lifespan that evolves with the user and their sense of style,” as they say on their website. Both Porto and Python are former executives in the luxury footwear industry who left their roles to create a brand that puts sustainability first.

In August 2019 the startup raised a $13M seed round.

CARIUMA

4: Zoop

Founded in 2014, the Brazilian fintech company is a platform for payments and financial services. Using WeChat and WePay as inspiration, Zoop offers an easy payment experience for buyers across Latin America.

In 2020, the startup launched Zoop PIX, an instant payment system that is making online purchases more inclusive for the unbanked population. Zoop has also helped customers access new sources of credit through Zoop Antecipa, a service that allows large companies to extend credit to smaller businesses, and the company recently unveiled Banking as a Service, which lets non-financial companies offer digital accounts to customers. Notably, delivery giant iFood is now accepting Pix as a payment form on its platform.

Fabiano Cruz, Zoop’s co-founder and CEO, has extensive experience building and developing innovative products for multiple companies across the globe. He previously held technology roles at IBM, Siemens, BenQ, Nokia and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

In September 2020, Venture Capital firm Movile invested $11M directed at funding the expansion of the company’s B2B digital payments, banking and credit services throughout South America. Zoop currently has around 350 employees and is actively growing the team.

Zoop

5: Sunew

The Brazilian B Corp energy startup was created to reduce the environmental impact caused by greenhouse gas emissions through clean, solar-driven power generation. Sunew develops cutting edge technology to bring innovative, sustainable and low-carbon solutions to help secure a green and non-polluting future.

The company is a world leader in OPV, an organic photovoltaic film capable of creating smart surfaces that generate clean energy. According to their website, OPV is “the greenest alternative to power generation anywhere.”

In 2005 executives from Fir Capital, one of the first VC’s in Brazil, came across the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) and set up a joint venture partnership in Brazil. The line of research into OPV attracted renowned researchers and Nobel Prize winners from around the globe, and a team of 19 people from a range of countries came together in 2010 to work on a large-scale production of OPV. Five years later, Sunew was born as the most modern OPV production facility in the world.

In 2019, Sunew installed 1,580 panels of OPV in Natura’s Learning Nucleus in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, making it the largest installation of its kind. In August 2020, the startup partnered with PepsiCo Brazil to install films on over 2,000 delivery trucks, benches, bus stops and tables to capture solar energy in a clean and efficient way. And in October 2020, Sunew installed the world’s largest solar film glass facade at CAOA, one of the largest vehicle production and distribution conglomerates in Brazil.

Sunew

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