Regional Venture

Latin America’s Herd Of Unicorn Startups Multiplies

Startup investors have been putting a whole lot more capital into Latin America for the past couple years. Now they have something to show for it: A large and fast-growing stable of unicorns.

At least 23 private Latin American companies have now crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold, per an analysis of Crunchbase data. Collectively, they’ve raised over $15 billion in sectors ranging from fintech to food. We put together a list1 of them below:

What’s remarkable about this list is how different it would have looked just a year or so ago. That’s because much of the funding activity, along with the surging valuations, are relatively recent.

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Of the 23 unicorns on the list, 15 have raised venture rounds this year — all big financings. The largest deals include a $750 million Series G for digital banking provider Nubank, along with $500 million rounds for online food delivery platforms Colombia-based Rappi and Brazil-based iFood

Fintech, fintech and more fintech

If you’re wondering what industry has captured the most startup capital, it’s fintech by a long shot.

In 2020, fintech represented 40 percent of all regional venture capital invested, according to LAVCA, an organization that tracks private investment in Latin America. Crunchbase data indicates fintech momentum is continuing this year, led by big rounds for Brazil-based payment tech provider EBANX and digital bank Neon, as well as Nubank.

We put together a list of seven regional fintech unicorns that raised funding in the past year below:

The largest Latin American fintech deal this year, meanwhile, wasn’t a traditional venture round. In late June, JP Morgan agreed to pay a reported $2.3 billion for a 40 percent stake in C6 Bank, a 2-year-old Brazilian digital bank that has amassed more than 7 million customers.

It’s not just fintech and not just Brazil

Digital banks and payment tools aren’t the only ones landing really big rounds. E-commerce, consumer apps and proptech are the standout runner-up sectors when it comes to big investment recipients, per LAVCA.

And while Brazil is still the leading unicorn producer in Latin America, other countries are also scaling up their herds. That was the case in 2020, and appears to be holding steady this year as well. 

Looking at some of the largest non-fintech rounds underscores the geographic diversity. 

One of the biggest 2021 funding recipients is Mexico City-based Kavak, an online platform for buying and selling used cars that raised $485 million this year. Others include São Paulo-based home rental marketplace QuitoAndar, which landed $300 million, and Santiago-based alternative protein producer NotCo, which pulled in $235 million. 

Roughly two-thirds of today’s Latin American unicorns are based in Brazil, but data indicates other countries are catching up. Mexico and Chile saw record levels of capital investment in 2020, according to LAVCA. Argentina, Colombia and Mexico also saw record early-stage investment last year.

Exits and onward

Public markets have also been receptive to Latin America-focused startups of late.

Uruguay’s dLocal, a provider of cross-border payment processing, carried out its IPO on Nasdaq in early June, with a warm reception from public investors. It’s currently valued around $14 billion.

Meanwhile VTEX, a company founded in Brazil that works with major retailers to manage their digital commerce operations, went public last week on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares have been trading well above the initial offer price, with the company valued around $4.5 billion

Older names are soaring along with new market entrants. Among the biggest venture-backed success stories is e-commerce giant MercadoLibre, which went public back in 2007. The Buenos Aires-based company has surged in the past three years, with its share price multiplying nearly fivefold to hit a market cap of over $80 billion.

So, while things may look incomparably bullish right now, there’s reason to believe Latin America’s unicorn cohort has room for more big gains ahead.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

  1. The list includes companies that crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold as private companies in recent years. At least two, dLocal and VTEX (incorporated in the Cayman Islands but founded in Brazil), have gone public in the past two months.

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