Step off the plane in Sao Paolo, the commerce center of Brazil, and you can feel the innovation in the air. GeeksonaPlane, a group of founders, entrepreneurs and investors from the U.S., has arrived, and the Brazilian entrepreneurship community is rolling out the red carpet.
Our hostess, Bedy Yang, founder of Brazil Innovators, thinks nothing of hosting 200 entrepreneurs and investors for a four-hour lunch at the finest restaurant in the city, Figueira Ribayait.
The geek on my left at lunch is starting a text-based Groupon disruptor to bring people to large retailers on off days. Another has a contracting company for Ruby on Rails web apps based in Uruguay. Still another has a development team in Buenos Aires.
A few are putting teams of natural entrepreneurs together to form new companies around simple ideas that solve big problems.
Everyone we meet is somehow involved in entrepreneurship in Brazil.
Bedy, who started Brazil Innovators last year to shine a spotlight on her country, is trying to be the catalyst. For her, it's about holding a monthly networking event to introduce founders and investors to each other, bringing the community together. And about landing a high profile Silicon Valley geek group like Geeks on a Plane to visit Sao Paolo. In honor of the group, she has organized a Sunday event: Brazil NewTech.
There are entrepreneurs all over Brazil working alone, not knowing how to take their companies to the next level, she says. They need to meet others who have already done it. There is, for example, the young man who mapped all of Sao Paolo and then licensed his GIS to Google for its local Maps. Patrizia, on my right at lunch, tells me that with a better entrepreneurial infrastructure perhaps he could have been Google Maps!
Anyone who has founded a company knows how much of its success comes from being in the right place at the right time, which is why Brazil's geeks are trying to make this the right place for now.
And at Saturday night's Startup Party "Geeks on Beer" at Pto de Contoto, a coworking space with a rooftop patio, once again the talk about turns to tech: "where are you from?" "what are you working on?" This is one of three co-working spaces in Sao Paolo, two of them owned by Fernanda, the woman behind Pto de Contoto.
No one asks anyone who they work for. The big companies, Microsoft, Google, and Groupon are here, but they're here as sponsors, not employers. No one works for anyone anymore—it's too tempting to try instead to change the world.