An Active Tech Startup Scene — 6,500 Miles From Silicon Valley

Even though the Internet can connect people around the world, it’s surprising how little news in the tech community gets exchanged across national borders. I’m not referring to things like computer languages and algorithms, which the engineers exchange with each other – although mostly in the direction of north to south. Rather, it’s particularly knowledge of the business of tech and potential partners that doesn’t cross borders well.

Silicon Valley and North America is frequently covered in other parts of the world. And Americans will periodically get tech and entrepreneurial news from Europe and Japan and now China.

But there’s a big world out there that most people are unaware of who live in the northern hemisphere that includes North America or Europe or East Asia. Among the places where you might not expect a thriving tech scene is 6,500 miles from Silicon Valley, even further away than Beijing or Shanghai. That city is Buenos Aires, which I visited last month.

In Buenos Aires and throughout Latin America, there is almost a parallel universe of tech activity – except it is conducted mostly in Spanish which may be part of the reason it is less well known outside of Latin America (and perhaps tech centers like Barcelona, Spain).

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There is so much entrepreneurial and tech activity going on in Buenos Aires that I was only able to sample a part of it. A good example is Startup Buenos Aires (SUBA).  By providing “community, education and resources”, SUBA aims to

“connect members locally and globally, while providing resources to grow a strong and sustainable startup ecosystem in Buenos Aires and around the world.”

Their calendar shows two or three events of interest to the tech and startup community every day.

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Along with ten thousand other tech folks, I attended ExpoInternetLA, which declares that it is

“the biggest Business & Technology Event in Latin America, focused on B2B and M2M and many other technologies that are applied in every day and especially in business, virtually and/or physical. It is the first event of its kind in LATAM, where it promotes and stimulates the sector, businesses and investments that will influence the IoT & IoE in the region. During the 3 days of it, you can see innovation, new developments and releases as well as attend the conference program with top experts in the field, live different experiences offered by exhibitors and sponsors, make the business round and do networking at its best.”

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Three days of presentations, that could have easily taken place in North America, covered a wide range of topic like Digital Transformation, IOT, biometrics and Bitcoin. And the exhibition area looked very similar to tech trade shows in the US, with the range of products and services you’d expect to see, except that the vendors were unfamiliar names, almost all from Latin America.

While ExpoInternet was conducted in Spanish, some of the presentations were in English and there were a large number of English speakers on the floor. Thus, they know what’s happening in English-speaking tech, although English-speaking tech may not know what’s happening here.

I also saw the two locations of AreaTres which calls itself “the meeting space of the Buenos Aires entrepreneurial ecosystem. Together with our partners, in the year 2015 we hosted 120 events focused on technology, innovation, design and entrepreneurship in which more than 100,000 people participated.”

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Of the many events and meetups, one especially interesting to me was the local Digital Innovation Group with about a hundred in attendance (obviously including an out-of-towner, me). The presentation was on “Conversational UX: The Interface Dialog”, a topic you’d expect to have in Silicon Valley or New York. And the presentation was very much up to the current state of the art. It even ended with a demo of Albert The Bot as an interface to devices like Alexa Echo.

This particular meeting was hosted by at Solstice Consulting, a tech company that was started in Chicago, but set up an office in Buenos Aires to take advantage of the tech talent pool there and the time zone (only two hours difference at this time of year, compared to the 10-12 hour time differences with Asia).  

By the way, they’re not alone and it’s not just tech, but also a strong design community. R/GA, the award-winning digital ad/film/product firm headquartered in New York that describes itself as “combining creativity with the power of disruptive technology”, also has an office in the same district of Buenos Aires.  And near one of the two AreaTres locations, there is also a Design Center.

And the city government itself is quite sophisticated with excellent and innovative citizen-facing technology and support for all this private sector activity. Just one illustration when I was in town, on June 27th, the City government’s department for innovation ran InnovatiBA 2017, the fifth annual, all-day event for residents to “experience the future, today.”

Argentina’s economy has had its ups and downs recently.
Unfortunately, over the last hundred years or so, it has also fallen far
from its perch as one of the richest nations in the world.

Yet there is still considerable wealth here among some and there are professional and educational traditions that are still strong. That legacy, along with the entrepreneurship, hard work, innovation and tech skills that I witnessed, are all positive signs for the future here

 —  as the welcome mat to one of the tech offices
declares. 

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© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

Tech Frontiers On The Farm

Farming is a remote, not well understood, occupation for most people
who live in cites.  So the technology frontiers being pursued by farmers
is one of the most interesting and unreported stories.  But I’ve only
touched on this topic before, especially in my report about very
innovative areas of rural Netherlands.

In this post, I’m writing
about some things on the agricultural tech frontier that have caught my
eye.  But this only is a sample – one that doesn’t even cover biological
engineering on the farm.  There is so much going on in ag tech that a
single blog post cannot capture it all, even if it were limited to the
US which is certainly not the only place this technology is developing.

As Cory Reed, vice president of John Deere – a company most of us associate with traditional tractors – has said:

“We are on the cusp of the next innovation wave of digital agriculture.”

The Tech Products

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The
various tech products cover everything from sensors and drones to
assess the condition of soil and crops to sensors and locators on
livestock to robotic farm machinery that does what was once back
breaking work.

More diverse farm robots may emerge from the program that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) US Department of Agriculture announced a few months ago.

The
app phenomenon has also come to agriculture.  LambTracker is a
smartphone app to track sheep.  ThermalAid measures heat stress on
cattle.

You don’t even need to have a large farm to benefit from this developing technology.  For example, there’s the Edyn Smart Garden System with its sensor stick.

And for more urban farmers, there is technology for vertical, indoor farms from a completely automated one to one that cuts out any transportation costs by being placed in a store.

Big Data On The Farm

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With
all the data from sensors and drones collected on farms, it was only a
matter of time before the big data movement hit the world of
agriculture.  As an example, Farmobile, has opened up its Data Store in Minnesota, where “farmers now have the ability to sell their agronomic and machine data to vetted third parties.”

Another company, the Farmers Business Network,
hopes to help farmers by enabling them to share their data.  In that
way, FBN proposes to “access agriculture’s largest database of real
world seed performance” and thus “unlock profitable, actionable insights
from all your data”.

Startups & Investments

If you’re not
involved in agriculture or rural development, you might nevertheless be
thinking that this might be a good undiscovered market to invest in.  
Sorry, you’ll have to get in line.  Other investors are ahead of you
already, even in places where these investors are often hidden – for
example, in San Francisco where AgTech2050 held its World Agri-Tech Investment Summit last month, in Silicon Valley where the Third Annual 2016 Silicon Valley AgTech Conference will be held next month and in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel which is hosting the Global AgInvesting 2016 conference today.

One
recent estimate points to $4.6 billion in investments in ag tech
startups last year, a doubling from the previous year.  Just last week, one such company, PrecisionHawk, raised $18 million in funding from Verizon, Yamaha and NTT Docomo.

While
there will always be new investment opportunities, the more positive
part of this story is that this helps to ensure that the billions of us
on earth will not go hungry.  For the future of the countryside, this
new technology adds to the attractiveness of rural life and the strength
of the farm economy.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/143481039969/tech-frontiers-on-the-farm]