After traveling to more than 50 countries
We all yearn for new experiences and learning through travel. I often find myself on the road, traveling whenever time permits, but my colleague and friend Maurice Lee takes it to the next level. As a social progress-minded futurist and thinker, he specializes in advising startups with market expansion and growth plans. His life pursuit of studying the human condition has led him to explore over 50 countries across six continents, connecting with people of varying cultures and mindsets.
Through my regular conversations with Maurice, one vital learning I took away is the diverse nature in which startup culture has taken shape across the planet. When it comes to launching a venture, founders are often told to “think global from day one.” As a result, globally-renowned startup hubs such as the Bay Area, London, and Singapore, among others, have experienced explosive growth in terms of the number of startups founded over the past decade.
While these locales might be favored places to start businesses, what Maurice has recognized, through traveling to emerging startup hubs around the world, is that the next generation-defining companies will likely come from elsewhere. These new hubs, characterized by thriving community-focused startups, are popping up everywhere–from Tunis to Tallinn, São Paulo to Buenos Aires.
In Buenos Aires, for example, Mauricio Macri’s government has launched initiatives such as Ley de Emprendedores to provide interest-free loans to startups, and accelerators like IncuBAte to provide mentorship, office spaces, and additional funding. A host of regional venture capitalists have also financed ventures in different stages of their development.
It is essential to note the role startups, and, more broadly, innovation plays in our society. In prominent hubs such as Silicon Valley, inequality is rampant. Maurice has noticed that startups born out of these hubs are usually less cases of disruption and more so cases of increasing the concentration and accrual of value, at least in recent years.
As Anand Giridharadas discusses in his book Winner Takes All, Uber “casts [itself] as empowering people by allowing them to chauffeur others around,” but in reality, such companies are merely dismantling labor unions and taking the market for themselves with little consideration for the well-being of their drivers. These companies don’t challenge systemic problems, but build on them in ways that don’t harm market leaders. Startups outside of these traditional hubs, on the contrary, tend to be built around real needs that the state and its policies have failed to address adequately.
One such company Maurice has shared with me is the Brazilian healthtech company, Dr Consulta. It’s a private medical service provider working to execute the Brazilian government’s goal of offering comprehensive and free medical coverage to every Brazilian citizen. While public solutions have faced challenges, including lack of funding, long queues, and geographic disparities between urban and rural areas, Dr Consulta offers a viable alternative built on the back of public infrastructure and policies.
While astronomical valuations and new unicorns still originate from established hubs, it is vital to keep an eye out for great companies born of other geographies. They may start with servicing and addressing local and community-specific needs, but some will grow to tackle universal problems and offer products to benefit people all around the world.
About the Author
Antonia is an entrepreneur and startup veteran working to help startups unlock new market opportunities. She is involved in all aspects of strategy and operations at HYPE, a venture builder that’s the first of its kind in the region helping startups globally to land in Asia.