LatAm Startups Continue Raking In the Cash

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (03/30/2000) - Dollar bills keep raining down on startups targeting the Internet market in Latin America, proving that investors' enthusiasm for this market's potential continues to rise. This week, three startups closed multimillion U.S. dollar investment rounds to continue developing very different Web sites.

Asista.com Inc., a business-to-business exchange, received US$8.5 million from J.P. Morgan Capital and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Private Equity. Meanwhile, online travel agency Viajo.com Inc. closed an investment round with $31 million from a group that included Chase Capital Partners. Loquesea.com, a portal aimed at users between the ages of 15 and 29, raised $13 million from Merrill Lynch and others.

All three companies plan to use the money to continue expanding their areas of coverage and to strengthen their business and technological infrastructures, among other issues.

Based in New York, Loquesea.com is a Web site with content tailored for teens and young adults under 30 which is betting that other Latin American sites and portals aren't meeting the needs of this group of users, the group said Tuesday.

Loquesea.com estimates that this age group includes 92 million Spanish-speaking Latin Americans, 49 million Portuguese-speaking Brazilians and 10 million English-speaking U.S. Hispanics. The company, whose name means "whatever," was founded last year and has about 150 employees in offices in New York, Miami, Venezuela, México and Brazil.

Viajo.com, meanwhile, enables users to buy tickets from over 530 airlines, make reservations at more than 41,000 hotels and cruise lines and find out information about cities, weather and exchange rates. This $31 million round was preceded by a first round of financing that netted the company $5.3 million in June 1999, the company announced today.

Founded in 1999 and based in Miami, Viajo.com targets Spanish and Portuguese speakers and has about 100 employees in offices in Miami, San Diego, México, Brazil and Argentina. The company plans to open offices in Chile, Spain and the U.S. with part of the money raised this week.

Finally, Asista.com is putting together a Web-based catalog of supplies and services that aren't central to a company's core business but are necessary for a firm to operate, such as office supplies. The company, based in Miami, also has an office in México and plans to set up shop in Argentina and Brazil, and elsewhere in Latin America. Asista.com uses Ariba Inc.'s B2B Commerce Platform application.

There were 10.6 million Internet users in Latin America last year, a figure expected to rise to 66.6 million by 2005, according to estimates from market research company Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York. E-commerce transactions -- both business-to-business and business-to-consumer -- are expected to hit $8 billion in 2003, according to estimates from analyst firm International Data Corp. (IDC).

Asista.com, in Miami, is at http://www.asista.com/. Viajo.com, in Miami, is at http://www.viajo.com/. Loquesea.com, in New York, is at http://www.loquesea.com/.

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