There are technological and entrepreneurial hubs all over the world, and none are equal to the other. The success story of San Pedro Valley, in Belo Horizonte, is unique and inspiring

One of the main Brazilian delicacies, the cheese ball, is a real competitor of brigadeiro to represent Brazil abroad. However, there is a special ingredient in its original version, the version from Minas Gerais, which many people, including Brazilians, are unaware of. The cheese ball recipe, contrary to what we imagine, does not start with the cheese from Minas Gerais, but cassava. In fact, by its derivative: cassava starch, which can be sour or sweet. Both are used in the cheese balls from Minas Gerais – the choice for one or the other depends on the region.

Besides the starch, Minas Gerais hides another great secret: an ingredient that has bloomed a startup ecosystem in the capital, Belo Horizonte, and that ecosystem is being spread not only in Brazil, but also in Latin America and the world. It is called San Pedro Valley, in reference to what still is the largest innovation hub in the world, Silicon Valley, in the United States. San Pedro Valley has been voted twice as the Best Startup Community in Brazil by the Spark Awards – today Startup Awards -, awarded by the Brazilian Association of Startups at CASE, its annual event.

Belo Horizonte has stood out in the world of startups for some time already. Akwan Information Technologies, a name inspired by the Guarani language: Akwan means fast in the indigenous language, established the capital of Minas Gerais as a reference center in this market over 10 years ago. Headquartered in the capital of Minas Gerais, the company was on the news in November 2005, when Google bought it.

Based on the doctoral thesis of an engineering student at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Akwan drew attention for having developed an algorithm capable of providing efficient answers to the searches made by Internet users. It was the technology behind the search engines of and it provided services to UOL, from Folha newspaper group, and IG. It was also a hub for skilled labor, with a team made up of professors and engineers from the university itself.

Among them, was Nivio Ziviani, a professor and researcher at UFMG, a rare Brazilian academic who has been able to turn research into millions of Brazilian Reals. In addition to Akwan, in the last 20 years he has also founded Miner, which specializes in organizing specific segment searches – sold in 2006 to UOL for R$ 4 million – and Neemu, an e-commerce oriented search company acquired in 2015 for R$ 55.5 million by Linx, the software maker.

Google’s acquisition of Akwan was not the only one. At that time, Akwan’s office was chosen to be the headquarters of the American multinational technology company in Brazil. To date, Belo Horizonte is home to the only Google’s engineering hub in Latin America.

Nevertheless, it was not just Google. In 2008, Accenture, one of the world’s leading management consulting firms and technology services, bought Atan, the supplier of industrial automation systems in Minas Gerais, and settled in Belo Horizonte. Embraer, in turn, also chose the capital of Minas Gerais to be the base of its first engineering hub outside São Paulo in 2014.

As a result, the number of startups in Belo Horizonte has increased and growth is accelerating, mainly in São Pedro neighborhood. At that time, the neighborhood was chosen for its low commercial rent, but today, the companies of San Pedro Valley, which are around 300 startups, are scattered throughout the city and the noblest neighborhoods of the city, such as Savassi.

Support from the government, universities and entities

Among the largest companies that are part of San Pedro Valley, some stand out for their growth, involvement with community and, consequently, authority: Hotmart, Méliuz, Rock Content and Sympla.

Hotmart is a platform specializing in solutions for those who create, sell and distribute digital products, in this case, e-books, video lessons, podcasts and audiobooks. Created by João Pedro Resende and Mateus Bicalho, the startup was one of the first to obtain investment. In 2011, they participated in a startup competition promoted by Buscapé and they won R$ 300 thousand.

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Méliuz is a loyalty program that instead of using the reward points system, it gives users the cash benefit. Also created in 2011 by Ofli Guimarães and Israel Samen, who met at college just as many members of San Pedro Valley had done. Méliuz was one of several companies in the town that participated in Startup Chile. In 2012, the company returned from the mentoring and acceleration program with an investment contribution of US$ 40,000 and has not stopped since then.

meliuz startup san pedro valley belo horizonte

Méliuz is a loyalty program that gives users the cash benefit. Photo: Emily Canto Nunes

Finally, Sympla is a platform for ticket sales, registration and event attendance management that was also created after its members met in San Pedro Valley, brothers Rodrigo and Marcelo Cartacho with David Tomasella.

sympla startup san pedro valley belo horizonte mg

Sympla is a platform for ticket sales, registration and event attendance management. Photo: Emily Canto Nunes

In addition to these companies, it is also worth mentioning MaxMilhas, created by Max Oliveira, a portal for purchasing airline tickets with reward miles and it connects those who want to sell air miles with those who want to buy tickets. Finally, Rock Content, a content marketing company created by Vitor Peçanha, Edmar Ferreira and Diego Gomes.

While operating in very different markets, San Pedro Valley companies have something in common: they provide service as something innovative and customer focused. Sympla’s Consumer Service department, which provides general support and user support, is one of the largest.

Another point in common among some of the startups is that some of them received support from the local government. In 2014, with the launch of the Seed program by the government of Minas Gerais (created in 2013), the number of startups in the region increased. In three rounds of acceleration, 120 startups were benefited and earned R$ 23 million altogether, generated 145 jobs and raised R$ 10 million in private investment. Some of San Pedro Valley’s most influential startups have participated in the program, such as Beved (online and classroom courses), Smarttbot (investor robots), Tracksale (shopping review) and Risü (discount coupons).

There is also the joint work of four main representative entities of the industry in this group: Brazilian Association of Information Technology Companies of Minas Gerais (Assespro-MG), Fumsoft (a non-profit organization operating in the IT industry), Computer Companies Union of Minas Gerais (Sindinfor), Association of Computers and Subsidiary Equipment Users (Sucesu Minas). These entities decided to work together to make the sector more relevant until 2022. They developed training actions to encourage entrepreneurship and adaptation of the regulatory environment.

Another important ingredient of San Pedro Valley, besides inspiration and government incentive, is education. Akwan, as mentioned before, was born within the UFMG. In addition to the Federal University, the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, the Brazilian Institute of Capital Markets (IBMEC) and Fundação Dom Cabral also train professionals for the information technology industry and related areas. In addition, other universities, such as the State University of Minas Gerais (UEMG), Newton Paiva, Una University Center and University Center of Belo Horizonte (Uni-BH) comprise of the startup ecosystem of Belo Horizonte.

Collaborative mentality

Although it was created in 2011 and was launched in 2013, SmarttBot only started operating, for real, one year later. The partners Felipe Machado, Leonardo Conegundes and Paulo Gomide spent three years prototyping their investment robots within UFMG. The research was precisely in algorithms to automate investment in the stock market. Meanwhile, besides UFMG, the company was helped by Seed, was accelerated by the Bradesco program, Inovabra, and was incubated in the Google Campus, in São Paulo.

Gomide, who has long been part of the San Pedro Valley ecosystem and is a Computer Engineer with a Master’s degree from UFMG, testifies the importance of quality education in Belo Horizonte. “We are a technology excellence hub, and we already have a culture of entrepreneurship, of helping ourselves, but also of letting a guy try his best,” he says. Today, for example, the Entrepreneurship subject of UFMG, designed by entrepreneurs of San Pedro Valley, has classes taught by them.

The Engineer also says that the atmosphere of non-competition, win-win and community collaboration is 100% organic. “We have WhatsApp groups to help us and whenever there is a doubt, whoever knows will help the other,” he says. In addition, this exchange is between not only CEOs and leaders of local startups, but also among professionals who work in other departments of these companies, such as marketing and communication, for example. Finally, Gomide believes that Minas Gerais has a particular way of making things happen without attracting attention, known as the famous “discreet and successful way to act”, and such particular behavior has its share in the success of San Pedro Valley.

More than inspiration, the encouragement of those who have already gone through the pains of undertaking, speaking on an equal basis with those who are starting, makes the difference in the technological hub of Belo Horizonte. Collaboration among professionals, but also between private and public entities, coupled with the power of universities to empower this entrepreneurial mindset, make San Pedro Valley an example to be followed in other regions, not just in Brazil, but in the whole world.

What can you do?

There are many ways to get involved with San Pedro Valley ecosystem. One of them is the official website, where you can get to know the companies that are part of the community. Another way is to attend Órbi, a collaborative space to foster innovation and entrepreneurship that assists startups at different development levels. Órbi is the result of the collaboration of entrepreneurs and startups of San Pedro Valley with three big companies from Minas Gerais: Banco Inter, MRV and Localiza. The venue works as a meeting place to do business, networking environment and a hub for quality content consumption about the subject.

Content published in March 15, 2018

What Braskem is doing about it?

O Braskem Labs is a Braskem platform comprised of three programs — Braskem Labs Ignition, Braskem Labs Scale and Braskem Labs Challenge — to encourage the entrepreneurial ecosystem through knowledge exchange with experts and mentors, in addition to networking. Since 2015, several partners have been working on it to accelerate business and startups that have a positive impact on society and the environment by using chemistry or plastic as a solution.

ACE is one of the partners of Braskem Labs Scale and offers a set of tools for the entrepreneur comprising of solutions for each stage of the startup development. Innoscience, a partner of Braskem Labs Challenge, is a management consultancy firm for corporate innovation. It provides methodologies, tools and knowledge to support the generation of results through innovation.

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