Komal Dadlani, Lab4U: Turning Smartphones in Science Labs, Ep 63

From a very young age, Komal Dadlani has wanted to make a difference in the world. After studying the careers of people who had changed the world – Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Pablo Valenzuela – Komal realized that she wanted to be a scientist, specifically a biochemist. Studying science in Chile is not easy; up to 88% of schools don’t have lab equipment, and even those that do are not using it. This struggle inspired Komal to cofound Lab4U, a company that democratizes science by turning smartphones into scientific experiment devices. Komal has grown Lab4U across Chile, the US, and Mexico, while working alongside the Inter-American Development Bank to test her educational tools and overcoming the challenges of being an immigrant, female founder starting her company in Chile and doing business across borders in Silicon Valley.

I was glad to finally have a chance to sit down with Komal to talk about raising capital across Latin America and the US, growing up as the child of immigrant parents in Chile, and how a serendipitous Startup Weekend run by Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs launched her into her entrepreneurial career. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn how Komal journeyed from Arica in the North of Chile to Santiago, and finally to Silicon Valley.

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How to Pay Bills Across Latin America: Problems and Opportunities

You would think that in 2018 you could pay almost any bill online. But that’s not the case in many Latin American countries, although the process is becoming easier.

While companies such as Xoom, Multicaja, and Nequi are streamlining online payments in Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, respectively, many people still find themselves queuing up in three-hour lines to pay their utilities, credit cards and other bills every month.

One expat in Mexico explained how he used five different payment methods for his electric bills over ten months because the rules changed each time.

So how do people keep track of their payments and wade through the bureaucracy each month to pay their bills? What happens if you send a payment late or the providers send the bill to the wrong tenant? It depends on the country.

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An Overview of the Insurtech Industry in Latin America

The insurtech industry worldwide received over US$2.3B in investment in 2017, a 36% increase from the year before. From 2014 to 2017, the Latin American share of the insurtech market grew from 1% to 7.6%, and the number of insurtech startups increased by 114% in 2017. This uptick is logical as insurance plays a vital role in stabilizing emerging economies and minimizing risk.

Latin America is underinsured, despite steadily growing incomes over the past two decades. Currently, insurance penetration, calculated as the ratio between insurance premiums written and GDP, hovers between 2-4% across the region compared to 6.2% globally and 7.3% in the US, the world leader, in 2015. Latin America still lags behind the rest of the world in insurance coverage.

As Latin America’s most developed economy, Chile is also the most developed insurance market in Latin America. Earthquake insurance is required for all mortgages and after Chile’s 2010 earthquake, a group of mostly international insurers paid out claims that reached around 4% of Chile’s GDP.

Compared to the rest of the region, Chile has a relatively open and well-regulated insurance industry. While Brazil has become a top player in insurtech, the insurance industry in Brazil is mired in complex regulations. Still, growing middle classes across Latin America have yet to invest heavily in comprehensive insurance policies for a host of reasons.

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Latin American Shipping: Opportunities for Startups

In 2014, the US government launched an initiative called “Look South” to show companies in the United States the benefits of shipping to the Latin American market. Despite numerous trade agreements between Latin America and the US, 58% of US companies at the time were exporting to only one other country: Canada or Mexico.

Latin America is a close US trading partner, yet the complicated shipping logistics in most Latin American countries – whether by air, water, or overland – are hurting the region’s supply chain.

The challenge of automating and streamlining shipping logistics in Latin America is becoming more pressing as e-commerce and other B2C delivery businesses take hold. Not only are large corporations dealing with sending and receiving bulk cargo across the region, but individual consumers want more on-demand services that require better organization and logistics.

Latin America still lags behind in the development of its shipping industry. The World Bank reported that in 2014, no Latin American country was in the top 25% of the Logistic Performance Index global rankings. In 2016, this figure hardly changed; Panama is the top-ranked Latin American country for logistics and shipping, yet it comes in 40th on the LPI global rankings. Chile is next at 46th, with Mexico and Brazil ranking 54th and 55th, respectively.

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