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Belo Horizonte, from mining to the San Pedro Valley

aerial view of Belo Horizonte Brazil

Located an hour’s flight from Brazil’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte is emerging as Brazil’s mini-Silicon Valley. Dubbed the San Pedro Valley, after the “Belo” district where most of the city’s start-ups are concentrated, the community now includes hundreds of web start-ups, dozens of incubators, gas pedals and coworking spaces.
In the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, more than 900 start-ups therefore form the “San Pedro Valley”. They are the spearhead of the technological revolution that is shaking the region.
From mining to the San Pedro Valley, zoom on a region in full mutation.

Belo Horizonte is the second hotbed of startups in Brazil

Minas Gerais concentrates a large number of startups, just behind the state of São Paulo. The famous San Pedro Valley can be highlighted as the most important startup community. However, there are many others spread all over the state such as Zero40 (Juiz de Fora), ZebuValley (Uberaba), Uberhub (Uberlândia), Santa Rita do Sapucaí’s Electronic Valley, the Knowledge Valley (Itabira), Santa Helena Valley (Sete Lagoas), Libertas Valley (Itaúna) and Inconfidentes Valley (Ouro Preto).

Second city with the highest number of startups in Brazil, with 9.5% of the total, Belo Horizonte reveals a strong innovation ecosystem. The city is second only to São Paulo (SP), with 35.3%, and ahead of Rio de Janeiro (RJ) and Curitiba (PR), with 5.7% each, according to the Ranking 100 Open Startups.

In the capital of Belo Horizonte, one of the most important innovation ecosystems in the country has flourished. The city has a stimulating atmosphere for the innovation sector with more than 600 startups, and hosts 3 of the top 10 ranked in the 100 Open Startups of 2017. Development agencies such as the Minas Gerais Investment and Foreign Trade Promotion Agency (INDI), the Minas Gerais Development Bank (BDMG), the Minas Gerais Economic Development Corporation (CODEMGE), the P7 Creative and the Foundation for the Support of Research in the State of Minas Gerais (FAPEMIG) support innovative projects that add to the innovation atmosphere present in Minas with respect to the national scenario.

It is worth highlighting some projects and initiatives such as the Digital Hub, the startups of the Raja Valley region, the FIEMG Lab, the Atmosphere Café, the Minas Gerais Innovation System (SIMI), the Startups and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (SEED) and a large meeting for innovation based in Belo Horizonte, which is the International Trade, Innovation and Technology Fair.

Next to an artificial lake in southeastern Brazil stands a modern church with a blue tile roof, one of Oscar Niemeyer’s early masterpieces that made Pampulha famous. This 1940s architectural ensemble, which served as the basis for the Brasília project, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But this suburb of Belo Horizonte (BH, “beautiful horizon”), the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, is also a hub of the technological revolution that is sweeping through this mountainous, red-roofed mining state.

Just south of the landscaped lagoon of Pampulha lies BH.Tec, a five-story science park with a cafeteria overlooking the rainforest.

One of the first start-up centers on the continent

The construction of this technology park, inaugurated in 2012, on the campus of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, is part of a campaign to bring together Brazil’s world-class innovative companies, federal government officials and the business community. Just down the road is the Mineirão stadium, rebuilt for the 2014 World Cup but best known for being the scene of a real debacle in a famous match.

“We don’t want to be the place where Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany,” says Leonardo Dias, the dynamic undersecretary of Technology and Innovation of Minas Gerais, with a smile. The 47-year-old electrical engineering graduate and events entrepreneur says, “We would like to make a name for ourselves as the innovation capital of Brazil.”

With 5,000 high-tech companies – the largest contingent after São Paulo – Minas Gerais has quickly emerged as one of the best centers for start-ups in Latin America. Its growth has shrugged off Brazil’s worst recession in 20 years. During the Rio Olympics, the state won gold, silver and bronze in an informal competition organized by the British Consulate, the Startup Games.

4 of the 10 best universities in the country

The start-ups gathered in its capital form what is known as the “San Pedro Valley“, named after the wealthy district where most of them were born. There are now more than 900 of them, all over the city of Belo Horizonte. This is due to the presence of developers in a state that has four of the top ten universities in Brazil. Google opened its first Latin American R&D center in Belo Horizonte a decade ago after buying Akwan, a data analysis software company with an excellent search algorithm.

In Belo Horizonte, this “garden city” with its squares laid out around fountains, life is less expensive than in São Paulo or Rio; the city is less congested and the pace of city life is more relaxed in this “bar capital” of Brazil. An hour’s drive away are the pleasure gardens and 23 contemporary art pavilions of the Instituto Inhotim, founded ten years ago by iron ore magnate Bernardo Paz.

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