The Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in South America

These businesses are leading the way with world-changing ideas.

The Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in South America
Braskem Processing Plant

1. Braskem

For taking the oil out of plastic. Plastic is traditionally made from petroleum, but Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem is using sugarcane–its nation’s natural resource–instead. Its method for making polyethylene captures up to 2 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of plastic produced, and last year, the company developed a line of low-density renewable plastic for shopping bags and flexible packaging. Brands like Johnson & Johnson and Walmart bear Braskem’s “I’m green” seal on their products, and the company currently produces 200,000 metric tons of green plastic per year. Read more >>


2. BCMF Arquitetos

For designing the world’s first solar-powered stadium. BCMF–the only architectural firm to participate in the design of all three of Brazil’s megaevents, including the 2016 Olympics–unveiled the renovated Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte last summer. Instead of starting from scratch, the team stripped the original 1960s building back to its shell and added a new roof fitted with a 1.4-megawatt solar array, making it the first ever completely solar-powered stadium in the world. They also lowered the pitch, upgraded all services and infrastructure, and added new shops and a football museum. The stadium will use rainwater harvesting to cut down on its water consumption and is set to host matches during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

3. Magazine Luiza

For pioneering Brazilian e-commerce and proving retail can work in small cities and slums. By doing away with on-site products, home-furnishing retailer Magazine Luiza provides access to a megastore’s assortment of basic home needs to populations in small cities. In the early ’90s, the retailer introduced the “virtual store” model, where customers can try products in stores and then order them online. The retail model is now used for more than 100 stores of the 744-store chain, and last year, the virtual store in Heliópolis, São Paulo, became the company’s first location in a slum, which attests to the growing buying power of Brazil’s lower and middle classes. (The space also offers free courses and events to the community.) Its one-year-old “Magazine and You” initiative, which boasts more than 100,000 vendors, encourages customers to open their own stores on Facebook, sell to friends, and receive commissions of up to 5%.

4. Wayra

For creating Silicon Valleys across South America. Wayra, which means “wind” in Quechua, was started by José María Álvarez-Pallete–who also serves as COO of wireless giant Telefónica–to stanch the flow of Latin American entrepreneurs who might leave their respective countries to develop their business ideas elsewhere. Wayra’s global project acceleration model, which focus on web and communication technologies, nurtures startups by providing technological tools, qualified mentors, cutting-edge work spaces, and the financing required to accelerate growth. Its academies in Bogotá, Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Santiago, and São Paulo have received more than 20,000 business proposals and helped develop 312 startups, including BovControl (“Google Analytics for cattle ranches”) and AgentPiggy, which educates kids about their finances.


5. Monte Alto Renovable

For helping Chile’s renewable-energy adoption expand as quickly as its economy. As one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Chile is faced with the dilemma of trying to support rapid economic growth without overexploiting the natural resources that are fueling its rise. Monte Alto Renovable provides comprehensive biomass energy services to off-grid hotels and communities by managing the up-front costs of renewable energy, and financing necessities like equipment purchase, installation, and maintenance in exchange for long-term fuel-supply contracts. Since launching its first commercial project in 2013 with the Hosteria Lago Grey, MAR expects to replace close to 1 million kilowatt hours of diesel energy with biomass energy and eliminate the emission of 6,000 to 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, helping clients save up to $50,000 per year in fuel costs.

6. Globant

For waving the flag for the Latin American tech industry. If the Buenos Aires–based Globant launches its reported $86 billion initial public offering this year, it would be the first Argentine technology company listed on the New York Stock Exchange–and a shining example of the Latin American commitment to innovation. The company, which counts Google and Zynga among its clients, takes a multifaceted approach to software development, putting its 2,800 employees to work via agile, module-like “studios,” including Gaming, Cloud Computing, and Consumer Experience.

7. ContaAzul

For boosting small-business capacity in Brazil. There’s a huge opportunity for small businesses in Brazil, but they suffer (and often die off) due to a complex tax system and high levels of bureaucracy. ContaAzul provides affordable, Brazil-specific online accounting software that manages cash flow, inventory, sales, customers, and issue reports, and throws in e-books and webinars to teach hungry entrepreneurs about growth and innovation. ContaAzul, which has served more than 180,000 small businesses since its 2011 launch, started an advisory program last year to certify consultants all over Brazil to help customers with business-management issues.


8. Samba Tech

For (main)streaming online video throughout Latin America. Samba Tech, led by Brazilian startup evangelist Gustavo Caetano, is Latin America’s largest online video platform and manages content from international brands like MGM, Samsung, and, yes, Playboy. Its platform focuses on live streaming, distance learning, and web TV, and last year, Samba Tech became Samba Group, upgrading itself into a holding company that further leverages its tech prowess to develop in-house solutions for corporate and startup clients.

9. Tatil Design

For making ecofriendly design affordable and sexy. Last year, the award-winning design firm teamed up with one of Brazil’s largest retailers, Natura, to design the packaging for the new, affordable “Sou” (“I am”) product line. The result is an upright pouch that allows users to extract products until the very last drop, promising to pave the way for a new generation of packaging that is not only ecofriendly but also efficient. The product, which uses 70% less plastic than conventional cosmetics, was awarded the 2013 iF Packaging Design Award–one of the most prestigious in the international market. Tátil also designed the logos for the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics, and counts Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola among its clients.

10. Advanced Innovation Center

For creating a game-changing solution to provide clean drinking water to the world. Through high science and tech, this low-profile, Chile-based center creates and designs answers to world-scale problems by combining advanced science with industry and theoretical mathematical modeling. (Resources are generated through the sale of innovative products.) Its biggest breakthrough is the Plasma Water Sanitation System, which uses a process involving oxidation, ionization, and UV rays to eliminate microbial contaminants from water–a major source of disease in underdeveloped areas of the world. The technology, which can purify 35 liters of water in five minutes, blew past the National Sanitation Foundation’s highest standards in a recent test of its ability to blast away bacteria.


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