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Rio de Janeiro sees favela start-ups

Start-Up Weekend hosted amongst Rio’s favelas, gives budding companies a platform to develop their ideas.

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Rio de Janeiro Start-Up Weekend, a nonprofit organization working with technology innovation, brought their own brand of Dragon’s Den to Rio’s favelas – aiming to create start-ups that benefit Rio’s marginalized favela populations, in the fields of health, education, business, culture and leisure.

Based in USA, but present in 13 countries, Start-Up Weekend organizes 54-hour weekend events that bring together groups of developers, business managers, start-up enthusiasts, marketing gurus and graphic artists. The teams pitch ideas for new start-up companies and work to develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening.

The event took place at Rio’s oldest remaining favela, Morro da Providência. Brazilian NGO Committee for the Democratization of Information Technology (CDI) was Start-Up Weekend’s local partner. Sponsors included Coca Cola, Microsoft and several local telecoms companies.

‘It’s important because the community will have a unique experience to identify and solve problems that are common to various favelas, such as the issue of waste collection,’ said local engineer Mario Chagas, who works in Providencia’s CDI building.

In April 2010, Providência  was ‘pacified’- Rio’s much heralded security scheme that sees Special Forces and police mount operations to take back territory long held by organized crime. Thirty eight favelas have been pacified so far.

While the drug trade hasn’t vanished in Providência, heavily armed traffickers no longer patrol the streets. There is a permanent local police force in the favela. However, while organized crime has been pushed away or at least out of plain sight, little improvements have been made to Providência’s creaky infrastructure – health and education services, basic sanitation, garbage collection, cultural and employment opportunities are desperately lacking.

There are around 1000 favelas in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area, housing around 20% of the population. Like Providência, for decades they have suffered neglect and stigmatization.

Out of nine submitted projects the 1st place winner was Plataforma Saúde (health platform) conceived by 70 year-old business manager Luiz Carvalho. Plataforma Saúde is essentially a health database bank that aims to stimulate a preventative care approach to health problems commonly found in favela neighborhoods such as tuberculosis, respiratory infections and heart disease. Tests are performed on patients by nurses and health workers at a cost of R$15 (£4) each after which the data is stored and monitored. If necessary, patients are referred to medical specialists.

‘The goal of Plataforma Saúde is to complement the basic services offered by health and Family Clinics installed in favelas of the country,’ Carvalho told reporters.

IBG Games came in at 2nd place – a project that creates competitive teams for video games players.

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