Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative media, design, and consumer goods companies.
Not surprisingly, companies from the region’s two largest economies—Brazil and Mexico—are well represented on this year’s list of Latin America’s most innovative companies. But they’re bumping up against businesses based in emerging startup hubs like Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Lima. In 2021, Latin American startups raised $14.8 billion across nearly 800 deals, according to PitchBook data, making this the fastest-growing region in the world for venture funding. There is a sudden abundance of unicorns, such as Mexican startup Kavak, an online marketplace for preowned cars, which rode the COVID-era used-car boom to a nearly $9 billion valuation and opened 40 logistics and reconditioning hubs in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Uruguay’s first unicorn, dLocal, which enables cross-border payments for merchants in emerging markets, launched a program with Amazon allowing non-domestic merchants for the first time to sell their products through Amazon’s online store in Brazil. COVID-19 also drove strong demand for delivery of food—and successful companies in that space found innovative ways to reward their partners and benefit local communities. Mexican online grocer Justo.mx saw sales growth of 1,850% last year, while also managing to shorten supply chains and cut waste by sourcing fresh produce directly from local producers. Restaurant-delivery service iFood teamed up with payments partners to offer no-fee digital bank accounts to its 236,000-plus restaurant customers across Mexico and Brazil. Logistics startups like Nuvocargo and Nowports helped exporters meet growing demand for Latin American goods, enabling paperless transactions and bringing a new degree of transparency to cross-border shipping by land or sea. Regional demand for online education is surging, with companies like Mexico City-based Crehana and São Paulo-based Gran Cursos responding to growing calls for professional development courses, and expanding accessibility through audiobooks and other platforms. Latin America remains a fertile ground for fintech innovation, from Argentinian company Mercado Libre, which started letting customers in Brazil trade cryptocurrencies through its Mercado Pago app, to Quipu Market, a micro-payments platform allowing small merchants to conduct digital transactions using virtual tokens, boosting sales and building a credit history.
1. Mercado Libre
For making e-payments easy
Founded in 2007, this Buenos Aires-based online marketplace, the “eBay of Latin America,” has become a digital payments powerhouse. The company’s Mercado Pago e-payments app can now be used just about anywhere you can use a credit card in Latin America, and its payments business now exceeds its e-commerce business. In November, the Nasdaq-listed company with a $48 billion market cap (as of early March 2022) became the first payment service provider licensed to issue prepaid debit cards in Chile. In December, it announced that users in Brazil could now buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies through the Mercado Pago app.
For modernizing U.S.-Mexico cross-border trade
Nuvocargo provides an all-in-one digital logistics platform for shippers and carriers moving goods between the U.S. and Mexico—the U.S.’s largest trading partner—consolidating key services including truck procurement on both sides of the border, customs clearance, insurance, and trade finance. Nuvocargo, with dual HQs in New York and Mexico City, increased its monthly shipments by over 400% in the first half of 2021 versus 2020; its bilingual team has grown to 80-plus employees in the U.S. and Mexico, including new executive hires from Uber and McKinsey.
For bringing global ambition to the used-car game
Headquartered outside Mexico City, this used-car unicorn raised $700 million in a 2021 Series E, raising its valuation to $8.7 billion. The company has its own financing arm, Kavak Capital, which launched in 2020, and 40 logistics and reconditioning hubs in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. In 2021 Kavak began its international expansion, not only in Latin America but also in emerging markets around the world.
For bringing Amazon to the Amazon
Founded in 2016, dLocal, which enables cross-border payments connecting global merchants to emerging markets, was the first Uruguayan “unicorn,” going public on Nasdaq in June 2021. With offices in Montevideo, São Paulo, San Francisco, London, Tel Aviv, and Shenzhen, the company this year extended a partnership with Amazon to enable non-domestic merchants, for the first time, to sell products in Brazil on Amazon’s online store, connecting the world’s largest online market with South America’s largest consumer market.
5. Gran Cursos Online
For expanding access to e-learning
This Brazilian edtech company, a national leader in test prep for public and private-sector employment exams, now has the world’s largest library of audiobooks in Portuguese, thanks to a 2021 initiative that used AI to read course content in a “humanized” voice. The visually impaired, and anyone else, can now study by listening, dramatically improving access for an estimated 6 million Brazilians with a nonfixable visual impairment. To support hearing-impaired students, the company uses AI for closed-caption video content as well. Gran Cursos had 341,000 active students in 2021.
For giving small restaurant owners something to bank on
This online food delivery service, operating in Colombia and Brazil, serves 1,250-plus cities through its 236,000+ restaurant customers. In 2021, in association with Movile and Zoop, iFood created and launched the world’s largest bank for restaurants, offering its partners digital bank accounts with no monthly or transaction fees, and other financial services, through its iFood app. The company has pledged to be carbon-neutral and plastic-free by 2025.
For cutting waste while growing fast
While delivery apps like Cornershop and Rappi dispatch couriers to pick up food from brick-and-mortar stores, Justo stocks its own warehouses, offering five times the variety of its competitors, including recently harvested produce from 200-plus small local vendors. Customers get a flower with each delivery. Justo’s short supply chain has helped it limit food waste to just 2%, 10 times less than the supermarket average. With growth of 1,850% last year, Justo operates in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Queretaro, and Puebla, and is expanding thanks to $65 million raised in 2021.
For closing the skills gap in Latin American business
Crehana offers more than 800 courses on subjects from marketing to data analytics for the cost of a $70 annual subscription, for individuals. And more than 500 employers subscribe to the company’s fast-growing Crehana for Business platform to upskill their workforces. Last year, Crehana moved its headquarters from Lima, Peru, to Mexico City, raised $70 million in a Series B round led by General Atlantic and Salesforce Ventures, and tripled its subscriber base to nearly 6 million users. It plans to expand into Brazil this year.
9. Quipu Market
For extending credit to build communities
Quipu Market, a for-profit business registered in Colombia and the U.S., offers a web-based and mobile platform that allows individuals and small entrepreneurs in low-income communities—80% of them women—to conduct trade using virtual tokens, helping microbusinesses gain visibility and build creditworthiness even without access to formal banking. Cofounded in 2019 by Argentinian city planner and MIT grad Mercedes Bidart, Juan Cristobal Constain, an MIT grad from Colombia, and Viviana Siless, a Harvard postdoc from Colombia, Quipu launched its product in 2020 and currently serves about 3,000 users in the cities of Barranquilla and Medellín, who increase sales 10% on average when they start using Quipu. The company plans to launch this year in Cartagena and Cali, and next year in Mexico and the Caribbean.
For making it easy for exporters to track shipments—and find funding
Tens of millions of containers move through Latin American ports each year, and nearly half are delayed or lost due to mismanagement. Monterrey, Mexico-based digital freight forwarder Nowports, a Y Combinator alum, raised $16 million in Series A funding in 2021 and aims to be the OS for the region’s shipping industry, connecting shippers and carriers in a streamlined marketplace. In 2021, the company expanded its web and mobile platforms to offer customers more ways to visualize their shipping information and get fast quotes on insurance, and launched a financing program to help customers purchase and ship more merchandise, using their prior freight shipments and payments to determine creditworthiness and rates. Nowports, which also has offices in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, and Panama, grew revenue 972% in 2021 compared to 2020.