What can a startup from a developing country do with $50,000 in equity-free funds plus six months of training, mentorship and technical support—all provided by Google? A moment of hesitation comes. Then a smile. “You know, we are a translation app and Google has the best translator in the world. I can't imagine how much I can learn with them,” says Ronaldo Tenório, CEO of HandTalk, a Brazilian startup that offers translation into language sign to the deaf community.
In Brazil, where the edtech entrepreneurship scene is still in its early stages of development (at least when compared to Silicon Valley), the package of support announced by Google is an enticing offer. The giant corporation is launching Launchpad Accelerator, a program that is offering more than $1 million in equity-free funding to startups from Brazil, India and Indonesia to help them create “the world's greatest apps.”
In total, 23 startups are part of the first cohort—eight each in Brazil and India, and seven in Indonesia—tackling a range from problems from transportation to communications, from agriculture to fintech sectors and, of course, edtech. HandTalk is one of them.
Tenório says money and the possibility of improving technology will help, but they are not all. “We are excited about the connections we will have access to and that are not so easy to find in Brazil,” adds the entrepreneur. In three years, his company has raised R$ 1.3 million (about US $325,000) between angel, seed investment and prizes. The app has been downloaded roughly 600,000 times and made 80 million translations.
Qranio, a mobile platform that offers gamified educational contents for schools and companies, is another edtech company in the program. The startup’s CEO, Samir Iásbeck, is also packing his bags for Silicon Valley for the first part of the program, which begins with two weeks of intensive training in Google's Mountain View headquarters on January 18. The other edtech company from Brazil in the list is ProDeaf, a platform that translates any spoken language to any sign language.
Workshops, one-on-one training with engineers and Google's famous free cafeteria food are waiting for them. “We will be using this opportunity to improve our product and to rethink our business strategies,” says Iásbeck. Qranio currently has 1.3 million users and most of its revenue is coming from partnership with big companies to provide games on corporate training. Since 2011, it has raised R$ 4.2 million (over US $1 million) with investors—in addition to winning awards and prizes.
After the stay in Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurs will return to their home country and, from there, regularly touch base with Google experts and have access to Google products, such as the Google cloud platform.
Before turning into an accelerator, Launchpad was operating in those three countries. Startups had access to $100,000 of credits in Google services, an online support for developers and to a community of entrepreneurs. Now direct investment and mentorship on the ground are being added to the package.
Applications for the second cohort, expected to start in mid-2016, are now open. After submitting the application, selected candidates will be asked to do a video interview with a Google member.
English Dost, from India, and HarukaEdu, from Indonesia, are also edtech companies in this first cohort of Launchpad startups.