Fableware Narrative Design founder Arthur Protasio.
Fableware Narrative Design founder Arthur Protasio, of Brazil, discusses his company at SA Startup Day's International Showcase. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Anibal Madrid is on the search for $5 million in capital to grow his startup, an already-profitable smartwatch-for-kids concept based in Santiago, Chile.

The company, SoyMomo, pitched to venture capitalists in New York City two weeks ago.

Upon arriving in San Antonio, he expected to find gun-toting cowboys. Instead, Madrid was surprised to encounter a metropolis with a large Spanish-speaking population, and he and his team now have the city on their radar for expansion into the United States, he said.

“I think it’s actually a quite good city if you want to start your business,” he said.

SoyMomo was one of 30 international startups invited Friday to spend the day visiting San Antonio, speaking to entrepreneurs and investors while getting a taste of a potential site for their U.S. headquarters. In addition to Chile’s SoyMomo, the delegation comprised startup founders from Brazil, Denmark, Germany, and Spain.

The companies were bussed from Austin, where they started the day with breakfast tacos at the San Antonio-owned Chispas, then listened to a panel discussion at Rackspace of local entrepreneurs who touted the city’s growing tech sector, and capped the day off with a pitch event at the Geekdom Event Centre in front of members of Alamo Angels, a San Antonio investor group.

Part of SoyMomo’s appeal lies in its attractiveness to parents, many of whom are chagrined by their children’s smartphone use but feel the devices have become a necessity for safety and communication purposes. The SoyMomo watch aims to cut down on screen time, Madrid said.

For Bret Piatt, CEO of Jungle Disk and a member of Alamo Angels, the concept of SoyMomo is one he hopes to see reach the U.S. market.

“I’d love to get rid of my teenager’s cell phone, so hopefully they can be in the U.S. soon,” Piatt said. However, he’s unlikely to invest in the company because it’s outside of his typical interest area: business-to-business cybersecurity and cloud services.

But Piatt said the event, coordinated by the City of San Antonio’s international relations office, presented the kind of investment opportunity the San Antonio angel community has been pining for: early-stage startups, the founders of which will get plenty of face time with Alamo Angels members.

Geekdom Event Centre is crowded during the event.
An audience at Geekdom Event Centre listens to entrepreneurs pitch their startups. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

It also served to create more awareness of the city, he said, which tends to get overshadowed by hipper and hyped-up Austin, where this weekend’s South by Southwest gathering and related activities are expected to draw 300,000 attendees, according to the Austin Convention Center.

The international startup showcase is being piloted by the City this year, and Rene Dominguez, the City’s economic development director, deemed it a success. City officials hope for concrete outcomes from the event, such as job creation and securing U.S. operations for the international startups that participated. Building San Antonio’s brand among technology companies and entrepreneurs is perhaps the residual effect, Dominguez said.

“One of the big opportunities is to really highlight the assets we have here,” he said, highlighting San Antonio’s cybersecurity, biomedical, and hospitality sectors. “Getting our message out, there’s that additional benefit [of explaining] to people what San Antonio’s all about.”

Jean-Luc Mette, the employee in San Antonio’s international relations office who helped conceive of the startup showcase, said he connected with organizations from the delegation countries at SXSW last year and pitched to them making the trek to San Antonio for a day before the weeklong activities kicked into full gear.

Of the 30 startups, more than half sought capital investment during their Texas trip. He said about five of them were aggressively pursuing establishing a U.S. presence.

San Antonio’s diversity, Mette said, appeals to international companies.

“We would like to present San Antonio as a community that is not only diverse but is truly celebrating diversity,” he said. “At the same time, San Antonio is a place where access to capital, partners, mentors, and customers might be easier to come by than in other cities, for example, like Austin, where there’s so much noise it’s hard to be heard.”

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.