The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in South America

1_Enalta

For catching Brazil’s ethanol industry as it stumbles. The São Carlos, Brazil-based company makes sensory and GPS software to monitor seeding and irrigation, which yields farmers a richer crop. That’s a big deal in this nation, where sugarcane—used to create ethanol—is an important part of the local economy. Last year, Enalta released a voice command product that overseves plants in real time. Net sales are expected to jump to $8 million this year, up from $1 million in 2011, after increased orders from three of Brazil’s top ethanol producers.

2_MercadoLibre

For creating the Latin American eBay, and providing locals with inspiration and sustenance. A Nielsen report last year said that at least 134,000 people in Latin America derive a main part of their income from selling on this Buenos Aires, Argentina-based e-commerce pioneer. The company continues to be the only NASDAQ-listed internet company from Argentina or Brazil, and its CEO and co-founder Marcos Galperin frequently serves as a mentor for entrepreneurs in the region. In fact, some of the region’s most notable players have grown out of MercadoLibre—including two on this list. Netshoes began by selling on the site, and MercadoLibre co-founder Hernan Kazah started Kaszek Ventures with former MercadoLibre CFO Nicolas Szekasy.

3_Prospéritas Capital Partners

For catalyzing the start-up scene in South America’s second smallest country. The Montevideo, Uruguay-based venture capital firm has already invested $11 million in early-stage Uruguayan companies in the IT, consumer web, and mobile sectors, and has had a wide range of successes: Its companies have become hot locally (like Hiddenbed, a furniture company) and have been sold abroad (like Interactive Networks, which was acquired by Mumbai-based Geodesic).

4_GraalBio

For re-imagining advanced biofuels. This year the São Paulo, Brazil-based company is building an ethanol plant to do something spectacular: Rather than using sugarcane, it will create ethanol out of waste. When finished, the plant is expected to produce 82 million liters of cellulosic ethanol per year. GraalBio is also developing its own genetically modified crop, an “energy cane” expected to have a higher content of cellulose as well as its own yeast strains—both crucial to the fermentation process.

5_Authenware

For looking out for your online safety. The Mendoza, Argentina-based company has been a pioneer in developing keystroke and biometrics software, which detects the rhythm of users’ typing and can help combat online identity fraud. This year it plans to release more methods of user authentication, including shaking and gesture detection for smartphone use. The software is being used by major international firms, including Spanish bank BBVA, South Africa’s Standard Bank, Ecuador’s Banco Pichincha, and Telefonica Germany.

6_Tecsis

For efficiently harnessing the wind. This Brazilian company develops custom-made blades for wind turbines, using technology from the aeronautical and space industry. (It was founded by an alumni of Brazil’s Institute of Aeronautical Technology.) The firm exports nearly half its products to the U.S., including major buyers such as General Electric.

7_Netshoes

For popularizing ecommerce through sports. The online sporting goods company was one of Brazil’s earliest ecommerce adopters, and is expected to soon become one of the first two Brazilian ecommerce companies to have an IPO. It estimates 2012 revenue to be approximately $500 million, and it’s eyeing a big expansion. The company currently operates in just Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, but last fall it added former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to its Board of Directors—a statement of its global ambitions.

8_Kaszek Ventures

For trying to single-handedly reverse the direction of capital flow from a country amidst great economic and political tension. At a time when capital flight is on the rise in Argentina and foreign investments are scarce, this Buenos Aires-bases firm has raised nearly $100 million and invested in 21 companies, largely in the burgeoning ecommerce and consumer web spaces. It also has attracted Silicon Valley firms as co-investors, Accel Partners in the case of Kekanto and Redpoint Ventures with Open English.

9_Inetsat

For giving small TV providers a fighting chance. TV networks typically pay satellite distributors a fortune in order to reach viewers. This Uruguayan company’s technology—which launched last spring—changes the way shows are transmitted, resulting in lower operating costs. That means small pay TV networks can reach more viewers without draining their coffers.

10_Fuerza Bruta

For championing Argentine culture around the world. Since 2005, this theatrical production might just be Argentina’s best-known cultural export (aside from tango). It has been celebrated in Manila, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, and London, and been described by Variety as “an evening of jaw-dropping sensation.” But this year, it truly triumphed: Its New York City off-Broadway run was to end February, 2013, but demand surged and the company decided to continue the show indefinitely.

[Image: Flickr user Fernando Stankuns]

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