Welcome to this week’s news round-up on the Brazilian innovation and technology ecosystem. Here are three key developments in Latin America’s largest economy during the week ending March, 20, 2020:
Slow in the uptake
The realities of the coronavirus spread have started to dawn on Brazilians as companies begin to understand the need for social distancing. At the time of publication, there were seven deaths and 621 confirmed Covid-19 cases – a number that is being contested by specialists, who argue the number could be ten times superior given the country’s limited testing approach.
Despite the fast dissemination of the virus in Brazil, the first large developing nation in the democratic world to be affected by Covid-19, companies are being slow in terms of allowing their employees to work from home – even when their functions would allow the adoption of the model.
As well as lack of technological readiness – that is, inability to use simple collaboration tools such as cloud-based software and videoconferencing – employees fear that remote working may bring them closer to losing their jobs.
“Line managers see working from home as being one step away from fully outsourcing our jobs,” an unnamed worker at a major publishing house said. The professional’s fears are no unfounded: there are 11.9 million people out of work in Brazil and increasing reliance on gig economy platforms as a source of income.
The tech sector appears to be faster in the uptake of WFH and day after day we get news of another startup who has realeased its workers to do their jobs remotely. However, the number of tech companies that have done so is still not as significant as one might expect.
According to a survey carried out this week by Brazilian firm IT Mídia, 130 companies out of a pool of over 300 tech companies (this included traditional firms as well as startups) polled have released their workers to work from home, so not even half.
Brazilian tech founders unite to #stopthespread
Inspired by the Stop the Spread movement that has engaged over 800 leaders from the tech community in the United States, Brazilian founders have started a local version of the group.
The Brazilian movement is led by entrepreneurs Luciano Tavares, CEO at online investment firm Magnetis, Gabriel Benarrós, CEO of the entertainment platform Ingresse and part of FORBES Brazil’s Under 30 cohort of 2016, as well as entrepreneurship organization Endeavor, led in Brazil by Camila Junqueira.
The three key objetives of the group is raise awareness among companies about the need to allow workers to do their jobs from home wherever possible, as well as supporting professionals in the frontline and healthcare workers and generally staying at home. Over 600 organizations, mostly startups, have already joined the group.
According to Anderson Criativo, CEO at independent innovation hub Onovolab and also one of the backers of the movement, the various residents of the space were asked to work remotely as a means to slow the spread. Their response, says Criativo, was immediate and fast.
“The decision in the short term should be the preservation of everyone’s wellbeing. You can’t do crystal ball gazing as to what will happen next, but you have to set priorities and people should be at the top of the list”, he noted.
Buser halts intercity travel to halt the spread of coronavirus
As well as collective movements related to the battle against coronavirus in Brazil, individual initiatives that stood out this week include the decision of mobility startup Buser to halt all of its bus services in 60 cities where it operates from tomorrow (20). The company, often referred to as “Uber for buses” offers a collaborative charter service that enables booking bus trips at a lower cost.
The decision to fully interrupt the company’s inter-city services follows the suspension of the route São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro earlier in the week. The startup supported the decision of Rio’s governor, Wilson Witzel, who announced the closure of the borders of the state yesterday (19). All previously booked travel will be refunded.
“New determinations arise everyday and the public authorities have rightly imposed an increasing number of restrictions on travel. Buser agrees with the extreme need for these restrictions”, the company’s cofounder, Marcelo Abritta, pointed out in a statement.
Buser had been growing 30% a year and raised a funding round led by SoftBank in October 2019. Despite the huge impact of the spread of coronavirus on the local transport sector, Abritta said the firm considered its responsibility to only to customers, but also to other actors in its ecosystem, including some 1,000 drivers and partners operating through the platform.
According to Abritta, the company is ready to resume operations “at any time” and that it is creating an action plan to minimize the impact of the interruption of activities for people involved in its operations. The entrepreneur also reiterated that the company will not seek government support.
“We believe that public resources should be allocated to healthcare and we will be able to deal with the situation with our partners independently,” he noted.