Lisa Besserman could be at home anywhere in the world; but last year, the Queens, New York, native put down roots in Argentina to launch Startup Buenos Aires, to motivate, support and connect startups across the globe. The 29-year-old tech entrepreneur, named one of the “100 Most Influential Tech Women on Twitter” by Business Insider Australia in May, says that her goal is to put Buenos Aires “on the map of global startup ecosystems.”
Her clients seem to agree. A year after its launch, her organization—which helps local startups find employees and funding, and connects local tech talent to projects and employers—has attracted some 4,000 members, including foreign firms.
Besserman is a successful example of a new class of global workers that could be called “tech nomads.” In November 2012, feeling constrained by corporate culture in New York City, Besserman left her job as director of operations at AirKast Inc., a mobile app development startup, and looked at a map to determine where she’d begin her next business venture. The only requirement: the city had to have a similar time zone to the East Coast to make doing business easier.
She chose Buenos Aires—though she was not fluent in Spanish and had never set foot in Argentina—based on her conviction that North American companies will begin to shift their overseas partnerships to Latin America, thanks to its proximity and cultural similarities.
Arriving in Argentina in late 2012, Besserman realized that despite the abundance of entrepreneurs and tech talent in Buenos Aires, “the business ecosystem was sorely fragmented and there was no viable support system for startups.” Regardless of their stage of development, all the startups she encountered seemed to lack resources—whether it was the right business connections or adequate funding and support.
Yet the talent and skills were there. “Buenos Aires is an incredible hub for innovation, technology and development,” Besserman says, noting that Colombia and Peru already rely on Argentine tech experts. Low costs also help: a senior app developer in Argentina charges about $50 an hour, compared to between $200 and $500 an hour in the United States. And, although Besserman is now learning Spanish, she says she hasn’t met a developer in Buenos Aires who doesn’t speak English. Within a month of her arrival, her tireless networking scored a meeting with Hernán Kazah, the Argentine co-founder of e-commerce giant MercadoLibre, and she was on her way to securing a place in the Argentine startup world.
Besserman says that Startup Buenos Aires’ network and expertise are especially helpful for foreign companies—representing industries as diverse as fitness and health, technology, e-commerce, travel, and clothing design—who want to build local teams and set up operations in Latin America. For them, the organization’s growing database of local tech talent is a rich resource. Currently, about 60 percent of Startup Buenos Aires clients and members are Argentine, and about 40 percent are expats, she says.
But that’s only one aspect of Startup Buenos Aires’ work. The organization has three pillars: education, resources and community engagement. It offers free workshops on subjects including coding, program design, startup law, and marketing. It also serves as an outsourcing hub, featuring job and internship listings on its website and a variety of online materials to help startups with marketing, communications and crowdfunding campaigns. Startup Buenos Aires’ community work includes curating tech conferences, networking events and Women 2.0 “Founder Friday” parties. And it will help coordinate Buenos Aires Social Media Week in 2015, which hosts panels and parties for an international mix of tech enthusiasts.
The organization—which Besserman launched with her own savings—is already self-sustaining, thanks to the “talent search commission” (between 15 and 20 percent) that Startup Buenos Aires charges to recruit employees. Meanwhile, a few of Startup Buenos Aires’ clients—such as the Switzerland-based travel professionals’ network 3BaysOver—have since become fully funded.
Besserman says it’s only a matter of time before Startup Buenos Aires’ connections and resources turn the city into a global outsourcing capital “that can compete with India and China.”
Watch an AQ Q&A with Lisa Besserman.