Belvo, a Latin American fintech startup which launched just 12 months ago, has already snagged funding from two of the biggest names in North and South American venture capital.
The company is aiming to expand the reach of its service that connects mobile applications in Mexico and Colombia to a customer’s banking information and now has some deep-pocketed investors to support its efforts.
If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Belvo is borrowing a page from the Plaid playbook. It’s a strategy that ultimately netted the U.S. startup and its investors $5.3 billion when it was acquired by Visa in January of this year.
Belvo and its backers, who funneled $10 million into the year-old company, want to replicate Plaid’s success and open up an entire new range of financial services companies in Latin America.
The round was co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek. With the new arsenal of capital complimented by the Founders Fund’s network and Kaszek’s deep knowledge of the Latin American market, Belvo hopes to triple its current team of 25 that is spread across operations in Mexico City and Barcelona.
Since its initial establishment in May 2019, the company has raised a total of $13 million from Y Combinator (W20) along with some of the biggest players in Latin America’s startup scene. Those investors include David Velez, the co-founder of Brazil’s multi-billion dollar lending startup, Nubank; MAYA Capital and Venture Friends.
The company’s co-founders, Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are no stranger to startups themselves. Viguera served as COO at European payments app Verse, and is a former general manager of one of the big European neo-banks, Revolut. Tintoré is a former NASA aerospace engineer, and while working for his Stanford MBA, founded Capella Space, an information collection startup that went on to raise over $50 million.
The company said it aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.
Belvo has built a developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.
Viguera says the capital will be used to open a new office in Sao Paulo, and invest in new product and business development hires. Notably, Belvo is only one year old, having launched in January 2020 and operative in Mexico and Colombia.
Co-founders Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are a former Revolut GM and former NASA aerospace engineer.
Belvo’s latest funding also marks another instance of a U.S.-Latin America investment teamup for a Latin American company.
Nuvocargo, a logistics startup that wants to bolster the Mexico – U.S. trade lane with its freight transportation technology, also recently raised a round co-led by Mexico’s ALLVP and Silicon Valley-based NFX. American investors may be starting to take note of the co-investment opportunity of putting capital into startups serving the Latin American market in partnership with successful new wave domestic funds like Mexico’s ALLVP and Argentina’s Kaszek.
“After developing the technology in San Francisco, we chose to start commercially in Latin America. It has been the perfect petri dish for us: the markets here, especially in Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, are very exciting. These countries have the highest payments fraud rates in the world, which makes their identity issues the most interesting,” said Victor in a statement.
The rise of a new generation of fintech startup across Latin America creates a unique opportunity for Mati in a number of markets — and so does a new generation of financial services regulations, the company said. “We view the fintech regulations sweeping across LatAm as an opportunity to help a lot of promising fintechs and marketplaces get to the next level”, Victor said.
Already working across three countries, with operations in Mexico City, St. Petersburg, and San Francisco, Mati is an example of the global scope that even very early stage companies can now achieve.
Identity verification is at the core of much of the modern gig economy and much of the social networking defining life during a pandemic.
The company said it will use the capital investment — it would not disclose the amount of money it raised — to continue product development and expand its geographic footprint.
The scope of the identity verification problem is what brought Spero to the table to discuss an investment, according to a statement from Shripriya Mahesh, the founding partner at Spero.
“For us, identity is foundational to scaling the vast array of gig economy, fintech, social, and commerce platforms that represent our collective future of work,” Mahesh said. “The ability to have safe and trusted interactions at an unprecedented scale, especially with people in places where national identity infrastructure is limited, will create opportunities and global connections we can’t yet even forecast.”
Hims & Hers, the startup focused on providing access to elective treatments for things like hair loss, skin care and erectile disfunction and online telemedicine services, is expanding its services to include a Spanish language option, the company said.
After Mexico, the U.S. has the second-largest Spanish speaking population in the world, with an estimated 41 million U.S. residents speaking Spanish at home. The population also prefers to receive healthcare information and frequent facilities that offer resources in Spanish.
Now, with a shortage looming in primary care physicians for rural areas and inner cities and a sky-high rate of Hispanics living without any form of healthcare coverage (roughly 15.1%, according to data provided by the company), Hims & Hers is pitching its telemedicine offering as an option.
“Language, cost, and location should not be barriers to receiving quality care, which is why we are launching a Spanish offering on our telemedicine platform,” the company said in a statement.
The company’s $39 primary care consultations at its Hims and its Hers websites will be in Spanish. That will include everything from communications like the patient intake form and instructions to prepare for an online consultation along with a connection to Spanish-speaking healthcare provider.
“The reason we created Hims & Hers was to break down barriers and provide more people with access to quality and convenient care,” the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Andrew Dudum, said in a statement. “As a telemedicine company, we recognize the need and understand the importance of serving the Spanish-speaking population. We hope those seeking access to care in Spanish find our platform to be a welcoming, inclusive, quality experience.”
Despite the global panic caused by the current pandemic, startups in Latin America have continued to attract international capital. In April, Mexico’s Alphacredit, Colombia’s Frubana and Brazil’s CargoX were among those that raised particularly large rounds to support their growth during this challenging time. All three companies target markets that may have grown since the start of the pandemic, namely lending, food delivery and cargo delivery, respectively.
Alphacredit, a Mexican lending startup, raised a $100 million equity round from SoftBank and previous investors to continue to expand its digital banking services across Mexico. This round comes just months after the startup received a $125 million Series B round from SoftBank in January of this year. Alphacredit’s CEO explained that the round would enable the company to help clients during the current liquidity crisis, increasing financial inclusion in Mexico.
Meanwhile, fresh produce delivery platform Frubana raised a $25 million Series A led by GGV and Monashees, with support from SoftBank, Tiger Global and several other private investors. The startup delivers fresh produce to restaurants and small retailers directly from farmers across Colombia, and participated in Y Combinator in 2019.
Frubana has seen a boom in demand for its products since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have shied away from visiting large grocery stores, preferring to visit local mom-and-pop shops that receive the startup’s deliveries. Frubana raised $12 million in mid-2019 to help scale into Mexico and Brazil after it hit a monthly growth rate of 50% in the Colombian market. The startup’s founder, Fabián Gomez, started Frubana after serving as head of Expansion at Rappi, one of Latin America’s fastest-growing startups and Colombia’s first unicorn.
Finally, Brazil’s “Uber for Trucks,” CargoX raised an $80 million Series E round led by LGT Lightstone Latin America, with contributions from Valor Capital, Goldman Sachs and Farallon Capital. The startup has quietly grown to become one of the largest players in Brazil’s inefficient trucking industry, managing a fleet of nearly 400,000 truck drivers, without owning a single truck.
This investment brings CargoX’s total capital raised to $176 million and has enabled the company to launch a $5.6 million fund for the delivery of essential goods in Brazil during COVID-19. This fund will help CargoX keep drivers employed and ensure the proper delivery of essential goods like medication, food and cleaning products.
Nubank launches $3.8 million COVID-19 fund to support clients
Brazil’s largest neobank, Nubank, announced a $3.8 million (R$20 million) fund to help its clients survive the current pandemic. The fund also relies on partnerships with iFood, Rappi, Hospital Sírio-Libanês and Zenklub to help struggling clients access food, supplies, medical care and online psychological treatment throughout the pandemic.
Nubank will use the fund to grant credits to people who cannot leave their home, providing them with discounted groceries and free delivery service. Through the partnership with Hospital Sírio-Libanês, the neobank will pay for more than 1,000 free online consultations with doctors for its home-bound clients.
Nubank has more than 20 million clients across Brazil and Mexico, where it launched in 2019. CEO David Velez stated that he believed the fund could serve tens of thousands of people in need by the end of April. Customers who wished to receive these benefits were directed to reach out to Nubank via phone, email or chat to be connected with a representative who could grant the appropriate credits.
iFood merges with Domicilios to fight Rappi in its home territory
Brazil’s largest food deliverer, iFood, recently announced a partnership with Delivery Hero to merge with their Colombian subsidiary, Domicilios. The parties did not disclose the price of the deal but have shared that iFood is now the majority shareholder in Domicilios, holding 51% of the company.
IFood operates in Mexico and Colombia, as well as Brazil, but has struggled to gain traction in Spanish-speaking Latin America. This merger makes iFood geographically the largest food delivery company in the country, with more than 12,000 restaurants in its network. However, local last-mile delivery startup Rappi continues to dominate the market, using SoftBank backing to blitzscale across the region.
By comparison, iFood has focused on developing its technology, using artificial intelligence to improve the user experience across its platforms in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. Using these systems, iFood processes more than 26 million deliveries each month, helping restaurants across the region adapt to the new protocols caused by the virus and social-distancing policies. IFood hopes the merger will help provide a more competitive delivery service for Colombians, as well as helping boost growth for local restaurants.
Freight-forwarding startup Nuvocargo raised $5.3 million in seed funding to support the growth of its trade routes across the U.S.-Mexico border. Founded by Ecuadorian-born Deepak Chhugani in 2018, Nuvocargo has grown quickly since participating in Y Combinator, although this funding was their first institutional round. The round drew investors from both sides of the border, including Mexico’s ALLVP. Nuvocargo also marks the first investment by new partner Antonia Rojas Eing. Nuvocargo is working hard to ensure its truck drivers are safe as they continue to deliver essential supplies across the border through the pandemic.
Mexican online credit platform Kueski announced that it would lay off employees due to the economic crunch caused by COVID-19. Kueski provides microloans to more than 500,000 Mexicans and has been struggling financially as business slows during the pandemic. While Kueski did not disclose an official number, it is estimated that they laid off around 90 employees.
Latin American venture capital firm Magma Partners acquired Guadalajara-based accelerator Rampa Ventures to intensify its investments in Mexico. Rampa’s headquarters will serve as a Mexican base for Magma Partners as it continues to invest in the country, where it already has 12 startups in its portfolio. As a part of the deal, Rampa’s founder Mak Gutierrez will take over as CEO of Magma Partners’ internal agency, Magma Infrastructure, which helps startups grow and market themselves in the region.
The Brazilian direct to consumer dental tech startup SouSmile raised a $10 million Series A this month, closing the deal before investors began to show concerns about COVID-19. SouSmile uses 3D scanners to rapidly create invisible alignment devices for customers to provide them with affordable orthodontics for 60% cheaper than current models. This model has proved highly successful in Latin America, where access to orthodontics is quite low and cost-prohibitive.
Despite an impending global economic crisis, startup investment in Latin America showed signs of resilience in April. Startups in industries like delivery, healthcare and essential services have seen growth this month, and many are providing support to their customers and suppliers in this challenging time.
It is hard to predict what the world will look like for startups, let alone for anyone, by the end of next month. The resilience of Latin America’s startups provides hope that some businesses will bounce back and continue to support their customers throughout the global recovery from this pandemic.
Uber is introducing two new types of services, the company announced this week, including Uber Direct and Uber Connect. Direct is a delivery platform for retail items, while Connect is a peer-to-peer package delivery service, for sending goods to family and friends. This marks the most aggressive foray yet for Uber into courier services, after it already introduced grocery items to its Uber Eats platform as the coronavirus pandemic continues to suppress its ride-hailing business.
Uber has already also introduced new extensions of its platform for transporting personal protective equipment to front-line workers, and Eats is also delivering convenience items in some markets in addition to grocery goods. The Direct and Connect services will likewise open in select cities initially, and the service looks very different depending on where it’s in use. IN NYC, for instance, it’s delivering over-the-counter medications in partnership with Cabinet, whereas in Portugal it’s essentially supplementing the public postal service with general mail parcel delivery.
Uber Connect provides same-day, on-contact delivery from one person to another, which Uber positions as a way for people to send care packages, supplies, games and other quarantine daily staples with their friends and family. It’s launching in over 25 cities across Australia, Mexico and the U.S. to start. At heart, Connect isn’t much different from Uber’s basic rider service, but instead of transporting people door-to-door, it’s moving stuff.
Both of these are being introduced today but will evolve over time as Uber sees how usage proceeds, and what people want out of the service. Stepping up on the goods delivery front should also mean bolstering utilization rates for drivers, and continued income in the face of massive decreases in demand for general rider transportation services, even as Uber Eats sees a big usage spike as more people seek direct-to-door food delivery.
Toyota, Honda and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will not reopen North American factories at the end of the month as planned as the COVID-19 disease spreads and dampens demand for new cars, trucks and SUVs.
FCA said Thursday that plants across the U.S. and Canada, as well as headquarters operations and construction projects, are intended to remain closed until April 14, dependent upon the various states’ stay-in-place orders and the readiness of each facility to return to production.
FCA’s Mopar Parts Distribution centers, which have been deemed essential to keeping first responders and commercial vehicles on the road, will continue to operate with paid volunteers. The status of production for FCA’s Mexico operations will be subject to a separate announcement, the company said in a statement emailed Thursday.
Meanwhile, Ford, Toyota and Honda also announced plans to extend closures. Ford will also said it will extend its closure until April 7.
Honda also said will keep all of its automobile, engine and transmission plants in the U.S. and Canada closed into the first week of April. Operations will resume on April 7, Honda said.
“This extension is in response to the continued steep decline in market demand across the automotive industry due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, resulting in the inability of consumers in many markets to purchase new vehicles,” Honda said in an emailed statement. “As the market impact of the fast-changing COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, Honda will evaluate conditions and make additional adjustments as necessary. In undertaking this production adjustment, Honda is continuing to manage its business carefully through a measured approach to sales that aligns production with market demand.”
Toyota said its manufacturing facilities will remain closed through April 17 and will resume production on April 20. Toyota has numerous factories in North America, including Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and Baja California, Mexico and Guanajuato, Mexico.
Toyota said its service parts depots and vehicle logistics centers will continue to operate.
Earlier this month, major automakers suspended productions at factories across the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Most had planned to restart March 31. Now as that date gets closer, a number of automakers are pushing back plans to restart production.
COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has caused upheaval across every major industry as governments issue stay-at-home orders or directives for nonessential businesses to close in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic. Closures first hit China, where the first cases of COVID-19 popped up three months. Those factories are now coming back online as plants in Europe and North America shut down temporarily.
Ford said Tuesday it won’t restart its factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico on Monday, March 30 as the automaker had originally planned.
The company, which suspended production at its North American factories due to the continued spread of COVID-19, has decided not to restart operations in light of various governments’ orders to stay and work from home, Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America said in a statement.
“We are assessing various options and working with union leaders – including the United Auto Workers and Unifor – on the optimal timing for resuming vehicle production, keeping the well-being of our workforce top of mind,” Galhotra added.
Ford’s closures in North America follows a decision to shutter factories in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany as well as its Craiova facility in Romania. Earlier this week, Ford asked all salaried employees — except those performing business critical roles that can’t be done off site —to work remotely until further notice.
On March 15, the UAW along with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles formed a coronavirus task force to work on ways to protect worker and lessen the spread of the disease.
GM and FCA also suspended operations last week. Those automakers haven’t said if they will restart production March 30.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Monday it will start manufacturing face masks in the coming weeks and donate the critical medical equipment to first responders and health care workers — the latest automaker to direct its manufacturing expertise towards the COVID-19 pandemic.
The automaker confirmed to TechCrunch that production capacity is being installed this week at one of its factories in China. Manufacturing will start in the coming weeks and distribution will be focused on the U.S., Canada and Mexico. FCA said it plans to produce 1 million face masks a month. All of masks will be donated to police, EMTs and firefighters and workers in hospitals and health care clinics.
“Protecting our first responders and health care workers has never been more important,” FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement. “In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the healthcare industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks. We’ve marshalled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”
The FCA announcement follows a plea last week from Vice President Mike Pence for construction companies to donate their stocks of N95 respirator masks to hospitals. Construction companies have responded, Pence said in a subsequent press conference. Other companies have started donating their caches of face masks as well, including Apple, Facebook, IBM and Tesla.
COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus, has led to a shortage of protective equipment such as N-95 respirator masks, gloves and gowns.
Vice President Pence asked construction companies to donate to their local hospitals their stocks of N95 respirator masks and stop ordering more for the time being. This call comes in the middle of a major shortage of these kinds of masks, which get their name from being able to block at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles.
Other manufacturers such as GM, Ford, VW and Tesla have started to work on the complex task of producing ventilators, another critical piece of medical equipment for patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19. The disease attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.
GM said Friday that it is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last week that he had a discussion with Medtronic about ventilators. Medtronic later confirmed those talks in a tweet. Musk had previously tweeted that SpaceX and Tesla will work on ventilators, without providing specifics.
Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project that is now a business under Alphabet, said Monday it raised $2.25 billion in a fundraising round led by Silver Lake, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Mubadala Investment Company.
This is the company’s first external investment, which also included Magna, Andreessen Horowitz, and AutoNation and its parent company Alphabet.
“We’ve always approached our mission as a team sport, collaborating with our OEM and supplier partners, our operations partners, and the communities we serve to build and deploy the world’s most experienced driver,” said Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in blog the company posted Monday. “Today, we’re expanding that team, adding financial investors and important strategic partners who bring decades of experience investing in and supporting successful technology companies building transformative products. With this injection of capital and business acumen, alongside Alphabet, we’ll deepen our investment in our people, our technology, and our operations, all in support of the deployment of the Waymo Driver around the world.”
The round follows a flurry of activity in the past year that illustrated Waymo efforts to ramp up into a commercial enterprise. Much of the activity has focused on mapping and testing its autonomous vehicle technology in new locales such as Florida while continuing to expand its core fleet in Mountain View, Calif., and the Phoenix area.
Waymo has long focused on testing and eventually launching an on-demand ride-hailing service called Waymo One using its autonomous vehicles in the suburbs surrounding Phoenix. In October, Waymo began pulling safety drivers out of some of the vehicles on its Waymo One service.
But here have been other expansions, including a focus on finding new business applications for its autonomous vehicle technology such as delivery and trucking and even a plan to start selling its custom lidar sensors, to companies outside of self-driving cars such as robotics, security and agricultural technology.
In January, Waymo announced that it would begin mapping and eventually testing its autonomous long-haul trucks in Texas and parts of New Mexico.
Waymo has also expanded through acquisitions and partnerships. Waymo acquired in December a U.K. company called Latent Logic that spun out of Oxford University’s computer science department. The company uses a form of machine learning called imitation learning that could beef up Waymo’s simulation efforts. The acquisition marked the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub, which will be in Oxford, U.K.
Last spring, Waymo hired more than a dozen engineers from Anki, the robotics startup that shut down in April. The 13 robotics experts includes Anki’s co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, who is leading engineering in the autonomous trucking division.