An inspiring song here in Brazil goes: “Um passo à frente e você não está mais no mesmo lugar”— a step forward, and you’re not in the same place anymore. While singer Chico Science passed away before the tech boom, his words predicted the rapid transformation of the Brazilian startup world over the past half-decade.
When we opened Google for Startups Campus Sao Paulo in 2016, Brazil was in a deep recession. Only slightly more than half of the population had access to the Internet, let alone used it daily. International funds were skeptical of the growth of our mere 5,000 startups, none of which were “unicorns” (companies valued at over $1 billion).
Just five years later, there are now 141.6 million internet users in Brazil, now the world’s fifth-largest online population. The 250+ startups in our network have created more than 15,000 jobs and raised more than BRL 35 billion (USD $7 billion). Google for Startups Brazil has trained more than 30,000 entrepreneurs at more than 1,500 in-person and virtual events. The local startup ecosystem is growing so rapidly that in the three months since we finalized our five-year impact report the number of Brazilian unicorn startups has grown from 15 to 17, including six companies that graduated from Google for Startups programs.
The story of Google in Brazil is deeply connected to this tech transformation. Our presence in the country kickstarted with the acquisition of local search engine startup Akwan. Ever since, Google for Startups’ mission has been very intentional: to help founders solve Brazil’s biggest challenges. Startups like fintech giant Nubank, which became the biggest digital bank in the world by offering underbanked Brazilians fee-free credit cards; health-tech gamechangers like Vittude, which is making mental health care accessible to all; resources like Contabilizei that empower Brazilians to tackle bureaucracy; and digital platforms like Trakto that have reignited regional economies by helping local entrepreneurs learn digital skills.
And who becomes a founder is changing, too. 88% of the startups in our network have women in leadership positions, 53% have a leader who identifies as LGBTQIA+, and 58% counted at least one Black leader. While these are steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go to level the playing field for aspiring entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. Over 56% of Brazilians self-identify as Black, but one-third of Black entrepreneurs in Brazil report being denied funding. So last year we launched the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund—the first of its kind in Brazil—to not only boost racial diversity in the startup ecosystem but also create economic opportunity for all Brazilians by supporting high-growth, Black-led companies.
The past year also brought unprecedented devastation — and digital transformation — across our country. There have been more than 20 million cases of COVID-19 and over 570,000 deaths in Brazil, and unemployment hit an all-time high in March. Startups from the Campus Sao Paulo community fueled economic recovery by creating 2,000 jobs in 2020, a 33% increase over 2019. “The Google brand helped us forge relationships of trust,” said Lincoln Ando, CEO of idwall, a security tech startup that graduated from Google for Startups Residency and Accelerator programs and raised $38M during the pandemic. “We still have a lot to achieve in Brazil, but we see a big opportunity to take our mission even further.”
Each step forward presents new challenges, but reinventing the day-to-day is what startups do best. While I am incredibly proud of what Google for Startups has accomplished over the past five years, the real privilege is helping founders start, build, and grow the companies that will take Brazil—and the world—into the future.