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ECONOMY | 18-04-2022 15:13

Ualá founder raises US$30 million for Latin American venture capital fund

Founder of Argentine fintech Ualá, Pierpaolo Barbieri, launches venture capital firm with US$30 million from a roster of investors.

The founder of Argentine fintech Ualá, Pierpaolo Barbieri, is launching a venture capital firm that has raised US$30 million from a roster of investors, including General Catalyst, Brevan Howard founder Alan Howard and others. 

Through his new firm 17Sigma, Barbieri will focus on betting on early-stage startups in Latin America. Backers also include former SoftBank executives Marcelo Claure and Paulo Passoni, Adam Neumann’s 166 2nd, MongoDB founder Kevin Ryan, Rappi co-founder Sebastián Mejia, Greenmantle LLC’s managing director Niall Ferguson and former Key Square senior managing director Diego Dayenoff.  

The launch comes after a record year for startup funding in Latin America in 2021, with about US$15 billion raised, helping to mint 17 new companies worth US$1 billion or more, according to data from the Association for Private Capital Investments in Latin America. 

Barbieri, 34, is the founder of one of those new unicorns, Buenos Aires-based financial services startup Ualá, which operates in Mexico and Colombia in addition to its home country. The company was valued at US$2.5 billion in its latest funding round. 

17Sigma will focus on pre-seed and seed rounds in Latin America, given that there’s less interest in that phase of funding from larger global funds, according to Barbieri. 

“When we thought about this project, we thought the most effective way to help the community and to disrupt markets is to bet at the earlier stage,” Barbieri said. “That’s when founders need the most help, they need ideas, they’re building teams.”

Ualá’s management team is also investing in the company, Barbieri added. 

While Barbieri is the lead investor and sits in the investment committee, the fund will be run by managing partner Bianca Sassoon, formerly at venture capital firm Kaszek Ventures, making it the first fund in Spanish-speaking Latin America to be led by a woman, Barbieri said. 

The team has three members and will be hiring actively, Barbieri said. 17Sigma has already invested in 10 companies from countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. The venture capital firm is looking to invest in 15 to 20 more targets across sectors, beyond fintech. 

“We look for companies with a goal of developing digitisation in Latin America and increasing competition in markets that are usually monopolistic,” Barbieri said. He pointed to the fund’s name, a statistical term that refers to highly unlikely events, to explain his vision. “We want to help these founders create these 17 sigma events, so rare that they rarely happen, but when they happen they change the nature of the economy.”

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by Carolina Millan, Bloomberg

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