I heard years ago from a friend who lived in Africa and traveled quite a bit around the continent that there was a space over part of West Africa that had absolutely no radar whatsoever. It was a “black hole” of sorts where planes, if they dared fly over it at all, went to visual flight rules and took their chances. For some airlines, the cost of fuel and vast distances meant they had to fly over the area despite the danger. But fundamentally, there was this huge area where nobody had any idea what was happening in terms of air traffic. I wonder if this might not be a metaphor of sorts for certain parts of Latin America — are there spaces where there is traffic (in the technology entrepreneur sense of the term), but we just can’t see it? Are there parts of LatAm that simply haven’t discovered the notion of technology entrepreneurship?
The obvious starting points for exploring this question have roots in political problems. Less developed countries are more likely to be vulnerable to policies that are populist and have the net effect of discouraging entrepreneurship. Cubans are an entrepreneurial bunch (their country’s political system and some would say the US embargo force them to be), but there is little in the way of technology entrepreneurship there, at least as far as I have been able to discern. Similar comments could be made about Nicaragua and Ecuador.
But what about Venezuela? Venezuela suffers from many of the same political issues and economic pressures that Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador struggle with, and Venezuela has many other problems besides, not least its staggering murder rate. But for all its social problems, I’ve been able to find startups in Venezuela almost since I started writing about tech companies in LatAm. And, in case you didn’t hear, Caracas is about to host its first Startup Weekend.
On the other hand, there are certain places that are trying but not getting much attention. Bolivia, for example, has hosted at least a couple Startup Weekend events, including one in Cochabamba. And I was surprised to discover this recent Quora thread on startups in Bolivia.
Similarly, Guatemala receives short shrift even though there have been signs of a small but robust community there since at least last year. And, at the same time as Caracas, there will be a Startup Weekend in Guatemala City. There’s even talk of a Startup Weekend for Tegucigalpa.
So, with a few exceptions, perhaps it’s not so much that there are black holes, per se, but that we collectively have a blind spot for them. They’re there but they get so little media coverage that we don’t know or assume they don’t exist. Hopefully, in the weeks and months ahead, we can cover the good and great results that come from these out-of-the-way places.
You never know where the next great startup is going to come from.