Startup Stay in Rio

My friend Fred Caballero set up StartupStay (now Bizpora) – it’s a kind of couch surfing for entrepreneurs. I tested it out on my trip to Brazil, and i was pretty surprised to find entrepreneurs in most of the places I planned to visit, many of them social entrepreneurs.   Although I didn’t find anyone to actually stay with through the website, I did find some interesting people to meet.

Ilya Brotsky, a canadian living the start-up life in Rio, was one of the first people I contacted.  He invited me round to his co-working space / start-up incubator, called 21212.  I wasn’t really surprised to find him and his team still working when I got there at 7pm.  They’ve recently received investment, had some big coverage, and the new website was about to go live.  As usual,last minute changes were quickly being put in place.

What does he do?  I’ll let him explain:

I had a chance to meet some of the team, as well as some of the others in the Start-Up community.  Special mention definitely goes to Olivia, the ex-New York Brazilian startup specialist and ball of energy.  We bonded over a book of innovation.


That evening, during dinner and waiting for a bus, Ilya and I discussed the struggles of startup life, and how lucky we are for being able to spend our time doing something we feel passionately about.  There is no certainty in our future, but at least for the moment, we are in control of our direction, and we like where it is heading.

We all met up again the next night, for a Samba Class organised by Ilya, at the appropriately named Gringo Cafe.  After Samba, we were ready for Carnival.  We followed the music playing trucks, and got ourselves surrounded by drummers.  Olivia introduced me to the sweet delicacies of Brazil, and after a little more dancing,  we headed to Ipanema beach, where we couldn’t help noticing all the drunk Carnival couples making out.


My StartupStay meeting for the next day was a completely different experience.  Severino had sent me a message through StartupStay, saying he’d like to meet me in Rio, and he was interested in business for social benefit.

I knew it was going to be an interesting meeting, when I got the sense that he was using google translate to send me the email.  Years of teaching English in Japan have taught me the signs of a computer translator, versus not so great English. Although it seems that either google translate is getting better, or it’s just better for Portuguese to English, rather than Japanese to English.

And so, it was the case – Severino could speak no English, and I no Portuguese.  At his small, rentable “virtual” office, we tried valiantly to communicate in single words of each others language.  After 10 minutes of good hearted struggle, we turned on the computer, loaded Google Translate, and got down to business – it worked surprisingly well.


We discussed the struggles of life in Brazil, politics, corruption, social enterprise, our motivations and travels. I really appreciated his interest in my work, and he thanked me for coming to Brazil to share positive stories from social entrepreneurs. He told me he was inspired to do more, and will keep some time to hire out his office free of charge to socially responsible entrepreneurs. It was pretty rewarding to perhaps be planting seeds of future social action in his mind, and connecting him with some of the right people to get started.

In the end, that’s what I’m here to do.  Whether it’s for you, or the people I meet along the way.

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