10 Facts That Showcase Bolivia’s Technology Potential
Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America with a population of 11 million people and a growing economy. While investors have long been attracted to Bolivia for its natural resources such as silver, lithium, and natural gas, in recent years, the country is undergoing a digital transformation.
The Bolivian government, financial institutions, and private companies are incorporating more digital technologies to bring the country up to speed with its South American counterparts. Although Bolivia has yet to develop a robust technology startup scene, new initiatives across the country are teaching the power of entrepreneurship to the next generation.
Here are ten facts that showcase Bolivia’s tremendous potential for technological growth.
1. New programs support Bolivia’s technology startups
Bolivia Tech Hub is an early-stage incubator in La Paz that started in 2014. The program provides support for the city’s tech community and helps bring entrepreneurs together to collaborate and share their knowledge with the younger population. This year, the Silicon-Valley based Founder Institute officially launched a pre-seed accelerator program in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The programs aim to provide mentorship, funding, and help formalize the country’s entrepreneurial scene.
2. Software technology exports are strong
The city of Cochabamba is the largest software producer and exporter in Bolivia, followed by La Paz and Santa Cruz. The 200+ software development companies in Bolivia export around US$30 million per year, according to data provided by the Electronic Government Agency and Information and Communication Technologies (Agetic). This number could be higher (exceeding US$50 million per year) due to the unknown number of software and systems engineers who provide their services independently.
3. E-commerce presents significant opportunities for growth
Although e-commerce in Bolivia is still a developing sector, Bolivian companies that ventured online generated around US$130 million in 2017, a 68% increase compared to 2016. E-commerce presents a number of opportunities for Bolivian businesses to get in front of the large percentage of the population which has a mobile device with an Internet connection (more than 58%).
4. Bolivian financial institutions are shifting to mobile
For three years in a row, Bolivia hosted Digital Bank, one of Latin America’s most important fintech gatherings. The event was held in both La Paz and Santa Cruz de la Sierra and brought together both traditional players and startups in the banking sector to showcase their solutions in the areas of mobile payments, electronic wallet, financial education, financial inclusion, and more. Bolivian banks are aware of the importance of digital transformation and more than half have already introduced mobile banking and wallet services.
5. 6B Labs empowers Bolivian entrepreneurs to go global
6B Labs, located in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, is a three-month incubator empowering Bolivian entrepreneurs to build global companies with a focus on fintech, crypto, blockchain, SaaS, e-commerce, and mobile applications. Founded by Alejandro Rioja and Ariel Valverde, the program provides technical, marketing, and legal support to help companies launch in Bolivia and then register in the US so they can scale. 6B Labs has partnered with the University of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (UPSA), CAINCO, Flux Ventures, OS Bolivia, and more to achieve its goals.
6. 83% of invoices are processed electronically
According to data from Bolivia’s National Tax Service (SIN), 83% of the roughly 400 million invoices processed in Bolivia are done so electronically. In an effort to modernize and improve the country’s tax administration system, taxpayers must comply with the electronic invoicing system starting in 2019. Not only will it provide timely access to quality information but it will also help to reduce the cloning and sale of invoices.
7. Despite a crypto ban, Bolivian companies hope to explore blockchain technology
Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies remain relatively unexplored in Bolivia. In fact, Bolivia was the first country in Latin America to ban cryptocurrencies in 2014. However, many entrepreneurs and private companies are increasingly exploring the potential of blockchain technology to eliminate some of the socioeconomic barriers that keep so many Bolivians out of formal systems.
For example, La Paz-based Banco Ecofuturo announced it would use blockchain technology for new applications, however, the prohibition of cryptocurrencies still makes the development of blockchain projects difficult.
8. Coworking spaces bring together the local tech scene
Bolivia is one of the cheapest travel destinations in the world and a popular destination for digital nomads. There’s no shortage of coworking spaces for meeting new people and getting work done. For entrepreneurs and startup teams seeking a collaborative environment to work, coworking spaces such as Cruzioworks and Central43 in Santa Cruz or CoWork Sopocachi and Squemas Cowork in La Paz are great options.
9. Real estate startup Ultracasas is leading the Bolivian startup scene
Founded in 2015, Ultracasas was the first Bolivian startup to receive foreign funding, according to its COO, Camilo Eid, raising US$440K in October 2018. Ultracasas is the largest property search engine and mortgage channel in Bolivia. And while securing an international investment is significant for a Bolivian startup, the founders of Ultracasas stress that the country’s technology scene still needs more local and governmental support for more startup success stories to emerge.
10. One of the most famous CEOs in the world is from Bolivia
Marcelo Claure is a Bolivian-American businessman and executive chairman and former CEO of Sprint Corporation where he led a turnaround of the company and ultimately sold the business to rival T-Mobile US Inc. Claude was named COO of SoftBank last year. In January 2019, it was announced he would lead Softbank’s new Latin American investment fund. Though still under development, the fund will most likely focus on venture investments.
Although Bolivia has yet to develop a widespread technology startup scene, new programs and support across the country are proof of Bolivia’s tremendous potential for technological growth. For more information about Latin America’s technology scene, check out our post on Argentina.