In Brazil, more than half the country’s workforce identifies as Black or mixed race, yet less than 30% of these workers occupy managerial roles. With this in mind, Paulo Rogério Nunes co-founded Vale do Dendê, a social impact accelerator and innovation center for Black-run startups in Salvador da Bahia. Vale do Dendê recently closed an incubator program for audio and small music producers funded by a donation from Spotify, and an acceleration program for local food startups.
What is unique about Bahia’s startup ecosystem and why?
In Brazil, the northeast is seen as separate from mainstream business ecosystems in São Paulo—the financial capital—and Rio, the tourist capital. But Salvador, the capital of Bahia, was the country’s first capital. It’s the cultural capital of Brazil and it’s at the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. What’s different here is the creative economy. Salvador is the birthplace of Brazilian culture—samba and capoeira started here. This strong culture is a foundation for a very creative society. If you combine the creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills we have here with technology, it makes something very special.
What are the biggest challenges for Black-led startups in Bahia and what is Vale do Dendê doing to tackle them?
The biggest barrier is definitely access to capital. We’re talking about descendants of enslaved people who have no inheritance. Black people in Brazil are three times more likely to get their credit denied by banks than their white counterparts. This gap in access to both traditional capital and VC funding is because investors lack relationships with Black people. That’s why we created Vale do Dendê, to focus more on those entrepreneurs.
Tell us about Vale do Dendê’s recent incubator program for audio producers and accelerator program for food startups.
Spotify asked us to design a program that made sense to us, so we created an incubator for the audio ecosystem because Salvador is a UNESCO city of music. This program helped 45 small production companies and music/ podcast studios get investment and training in an industry where the big corporations are still in control.
What has been the most successful startup to come out of Vale do Dendê and why?
In terms of funding there’s Infleet, a truck software app that won 1.5 million Brazilian reais (~$315,000) of investment from traditional funds because it’s very B2B and disruptive. In terms of visibility, TrazFavela—a delivery app for favelas—is probably the most well-known. It faces a lot of challenges because it opened in a very competitive market but it did receive some investment from Google’s Black Founders’ Fund.
Which sectors of Bahia’s startup ecosystem are you most excited about this year and why?
The social impact umbrella is particularly important here because of inequality. A solution created here can apply to any other city in the Global South because the challenges are the same–environmental, urban, and economic. The solutions we design are also much more scalable than those created in Silicon Valley because the world looks more like developing countries than developed ones. So once they are validated, these solutions can reach the rest of the world faster. We aim for Salvador and Brazil to be an example for other developing countries.
*This 3 Minutes With interview first appeared in the Rest of World weekly newsletter. Sign up here.