The founder of Argentina-based FinTech Ualá is launching a venture capital (VC) operation that has raised $30 million so far from a stable of investors.
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.
Launched in October 2017, Ualá offers a Mastercard-branded prepaid card and app and allows for numerous financial services, including sending and receiving money, online shopping and ATM withdrawals.
Barbieri told Bloomberg that 17Sigma will focus on pre-seed and seed rounds in Latin America, because there’s less interest in that phase of funding from bigger global funds.
“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.”
While Barbieri is the chief investor and has a seat on the investment committee, the fund will be overseen by managing partner Bianca Sassoon, formerly of VC firm Kaszek Ventures, making 17Sigma the first fund in Spanish-speaking Latin America run by a woman, per the report.
“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.”
Last year, Ualá launched Ualintec Capital, its own broker-dealer operations, in an effort to expand the number of investment alternatives it can offer clients with its digital wallet app.
Also in 2021, the company purchased ABC Capital, a Mexican bank, in order to further its plans to expand and grow in that country ahead of additional investments. At the time, Ualá said it could potentially raise as much as $150 million.