Connecting the Canadian and Brazilian tech scenes

I worked in the Brazilian Startup Scene from 2012 to mid-2014, and I was anxious to return to São Paulo since moving back to Vancouver a year and a half ago. The dynamism and optimism we see on the west coast are shared there as well. I went back this month to participate in the largest startup conference in Latin America, CASE, put on by the Brazilian Startup Association.

Some startups, such as Hootsuite, which opened a São Paulo office this May, and Unbounce, which is now hiring a Brazil country manager, are starting to recognize the potential of Brazil and invest in the market. Edvisor, the winner of this year’s New Venture BC competition, has also been doing business in Brazil for the past few years.

There’s something happening here — and the conference was able to bring together around three thousand entrepreneurs from around Brazil and abroad, to discuss the latest trends in the market, covering themes of People and Culture, Customer Success, Ecosystem and Exits. As an emerging market, Brazil has a lot of growing up to do in these areas — but these are also hot topics in Canada as well.

Big opportunity in a very big country

My goal for the event was to promote my startup VanHack, which connects Brazilian tech talent with Canadian companies by sharing why Canada is a top destination for Brazilian tech. As the conference started many people stopped by my stand, curious as to why there was a Canadian flag at a Brazilian startup conference. They were interested in doing business with us Canadians and expressed their admiration for our high quality of life and innovative tech space. That said, the relationship between Brazil and Canada is far from optimal. There are cultural, language, and geographic barriers delaying the entry of Canadian startups in Brazil.

That’s why many Canadian companies have yet to explore the full potential of world’s fifth largest internet population, currently sitting at 113.7 million internet users, 66 percent of which are accessing the web via mobile. Those figures, by the way, are only with 50 percent internet penetration nationally, making this is a market projected to grow 20 percent through 2019, according to Forrester.

According to The Brazilian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association, Brazil is the most active country per capita on social media and the third largest overall market. It’s second on Twitter and third on Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. E-Commerce has also been a source of growth as the country moves online with over 20 percent growth in sales in the last 2 years, a number which is expected to continue moving forward. To give you an idea, 2014’s online sales were an estimated $11 Billion.

Canadians connecting in Brazil already

The government even created an event, Brazil Canada 3.0, to provide early-stage startups from both countries exposure to each other’s ecosystems through a pitch competition in São Paulo and Calgary. Another recent example is Invest Ottawa, who partnered with Brazil’s biggest co-working space, Plug, in order to create a soft landing program for entrepreneurs.

Some Canadian entrepreneurs have even decided to call Brazil home, attracted to the large market and opportunity presented by so many unsolved problems. A great example is Nima Kaz, who has been living in Brazil for the past 3 years and is the Director of Founder Institute Brazil & Co-founder of

“CASE was an event that showcased the massive potential and high quality of the Brazilian workforce while bringing attention to what ingredients are still missing in order to foster a healthy technology development ecosystem,” he argues. “We’re co-creating the next great companies of the world from here in relatively lesser known cities like Curitiba, which is positioning itself as Brazil’s ‘Smart City’ and it’s evident that we need to showcase the reasons to develop these strategic locations further and faster.”

The drivers of tech talent in Brazil: crisis and opportunity

On the other hand, with the BRIC going through an economic crisis, tens of thousands of tech workers look to Canada as a destination for their talent. There was a 55 percent increase in the amount of developers, designer and digital marketers looking to join Canadian startups. It’s also driving business owners to move their companies north, adding capital and talent to our economy.

To reduce the amount of friction in doing business between the two nations, there have been several economic missions by both private and public bodies as well as the first-ever virtual conference, Brazil Canada Connect (which ran this past May).

The amount of work needed to bridge the gap and get real business done is still significant. But there’s a real shot here for Canadian startups to have a first mover advantage into this emerging market.


Ilya Brotzky

Ilya Brotzky is the CEO and Co-Founder of VanHack, which helps Canadian companies hire from a world of tech talent.

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