- A group of 42 Internet investors and startup founders recently toured Brazil
- Geeks on a Plane helps partner Silicon Valley with the international tech sector
- Trips are also planned to Eastern Europe and the Middle East
They are an exclusive group of globe-trotting Internet investors, startup founders and tech junkies.
Or you can just call them "Geeks on a Plane."
The "Geeks on a Plane" project (yes, that's really what it's called), is an invite-only tour for startups, investors and executives to learn about burgeoning technology markets worldwide. Organized by 500 Startups, a Silcon Valley firm that helps fund emerging tech companies, the tour brought 42 tech insiders last week to Sao Paolo, Brazil.
"We are trying to understand what innovations are happening here... and what role investment or partnership with Brazilian companies can play in this blossoming of the Brazilian economy," Evan Henshaw-Plath, the pony-tailed founder of startup Cubox, said upon arriving at the group's swank downtown hotel.
The tech sector in the world's sixth-largest economy is abuzz, prompting venture capital funds to invest in local startups and luring foreign firms to its growing market.
Brazil now boasts the second highest number of Facebook users after the United States, and local tech industry leaders are fond of pointing out that Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger is from Brazil.
"It's the hottest place in South America. As we come here we're learning more and more that enforces that belief," said Tim Falls of Sendgrid, a Colorado-based tech company that's interested in expanding to Brazil.
The traveling geeks spent the week networking, attending conferences and visiting local firms such as Predicta, a company founded in 2000 that specializes in online marketing.
Predicta's co-founders told their visitors about potential pitfalls in the Brazilian tech sector, like a shortage of skilled programmers and employee benefits that can inflate salaries by 120%.
But they also hammered home the country's selling points.
"Brazil has a very stable economy," Predicta President Marcelo Marzola said. "Also, Brazilians are a very creative people by nature, so we're able to make a lot of creative stuff."
The main attraction for investors, however, is a booming consumer market. Brazilians already spend $13 billion a year online, with only 40% of the population regularly connected to the Internet -- a figure that seems poised to grow.
There aren't any official figures, but tech sector experts here say the number of startups has tripled in the past three years. Global venture capital funds are taking notice.
"We made five or six investments in Brazil over the last nine months," said 500 Startups co-founder Dave McClure. "So we're looking at expanding that and doing more in Brazil."
Other visiting entrepreneurs are interested in opening offices here.
E-commerce website Etsy, which specializes in selling handmade crafts, was impressed by the size of the market, but put off by the bureaucracy and costs.
"I'm interested,;I'm convinced. But I'm not convinced that it's the next easiest place," said Etsy CTO Kellan Elliott-Mcrea.
The visit wasn't all work and no play. The itinerary included a day trip to a water treatment plant to get a closeup look at reverse osmosis.
The Brazil tour was the latest in a series of Geeks on a Plane trips that have brought tech execs and investors to India, China, Japan and other countries. Future tours are planned for Eastern Europe and the Middle East.