A series of acquisitions of startups that stand out for innovations in health, education and the environment moved the socio-environmental impact market, involving transactions ranging from R$30 million to R$150 million.
“These are relevant moves that prove that it is possible to have a profitable company, capable of earning millions and attracting capital, while solving social and environmental challenges”, says Gabriela Bonotti, a partner at Quintessa, which since 2009 has accelerated impact businesses in the country.
From the accelerator’s portfolio, it lists five transactions in the last year. The most recent of these was Vitalk, a mental health healthtech, acquired by Gympass, a corporate wellness giant,
In addition to the merger of Boomera with Ambipar, which now holds 50.1% of the startup that sells reverse logistics and circular economy solutions.
“We are always looking for solutions that we still don’t have at home”, explains Tiago Silva, Ambipar’s CFO.
A national leader in environmental management, the company has made 18 acquisitions to expand its service portfolio since going public in 2021, when it raised BRL 1.1 billion.
With a presence in 17 countries, the Brazilian multinational had already purchased Biofílica, a consolidated carbon generation business through reforestation in degraded areas.
Vitalk was incorporated into Gympass, in a transaction that involved two startups at different stages of development and scale.
In March 2020, the social distancing imposed by the new coronavirus was a fire test for Gympass’ business model focused on offering fitness packages to companies through 53,000 member gyms.
A year earlier, the startup founded by three Brazilians had become a unicorn, a category of those valued above US$ 1 billion, after a US$ 300 million investment round.
As in other segments, the pandemic forced the fitness industry to reinvent itself. In two weeks, with the agility and innovation capacity so lauded by startups, Gympass launched a 100% digital solution.
Running in another lane and also having technology as an ally, Vitalk was already ready to gain scale with the entry into the scene of telemedicine, regulated at the touch of a box with the arrival of the pandemic in the country.
“Our business model based on a mental health app gained traction in the health crisis. We grew 400% in two years,” says Michael Kapps, 33, a Russian graduate from Harvard who chose Brazil to create a social impact business.
Finalist of the Social Entrepreneur of the Future in 2016 with TNH Health, which bet on SMS to guarantee access to health, a model that evolved with the launch of an app that helps to deal with burnout, stress and depression through robots, the chatbots.
“Users liked our self-guided tool, with the same principles as human therapy, but digital and accessible”, explains the economist.
By offering a cheaper solution for companies, Vitalk reached a portfolio of 80 clients and 250 thousand people served.
With live fitness classes and expanding its focus on nutrition, mental health and wellness, Gympass was also growing exponentially.
In 2021, with headquarters in New York and presence in ten countries, it participated in a new round of investment, attracting US$ 220 million. It doubled in value and was already valued at US$ 2.2 billion.
That’s when Gympass decides to launch Wellz, a mental and emotional health platform, and Vitalk enters the competitor’s radar. In October 2021, it drew attention when it received a contribution of BRL 24 million from Vox Capital, a social impact fund.
“We invest to make the business grow as we see an opportunity in the lack of access to mental health services”, says Marcos Olmos, partner at Vox.
In six months, the bet proved to be more than accurate with the sale of Vitalk for a value not disclosed by the parties, but estimated at around R$ 100 million.
Gympass led a pool of investors, formed by Goodwater Capital, Valor Capital, the family office of the Moll family, which owns Rede D’Or, and Greenrock.
“It is an acquisition that is part of a larger narrative and has to do with the maturation of the innovation ecosystem in Brazil in the last ten years”, says Michael Nicklas, partner at Valor Capital, seed stage investor in both Gympass and Vitalk.
“The tendency is for startups to become platforms and buy smaller players, when they are capitalized and looking for new products”, says the investor.
In the case of Gympass, explains Rogério Hirose, VP of New Business, the acquisition is part of a global growth strategy. “It’s an advanced stage startup acquiring another to build a strong team and scale the business.”
Boomera’s marriage with Ambipar also follows the same logic of gain in scale and complementarity.
“I joke that we created a new petrochemical model. Ambipar has access to raw materials and to us, to the technology for transforming scrap into new products”, says Guilherme Brammer Jr., 45, winner of the Social Entrepreneur 2019, with a ” greentech” supported by the tripod recycling, science and social inclusion of waste pickers.
Brammer will present his success story in Davos at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, May 21-25, as part of the Schwab Foundation’s guest social innovators delegation.
“We had superaggressive growth in the pandemic. The circular economy began to have demand and gained strength in this ESG context”, says Brammer.
From 2019 to 2020, Boomera doubled in size, but cash reinforcement was needed to keep growing. “It’s the pain of every startup not being able to make a new leap if it doesn’t receive a strong injection of capital”, says the social entrepreneur.
He makes optimistic projections in the face of the entry of the heavyweight partner. “It was a really good wedding. We’re going to more than triple our size in the short term.”
The startup will “fly turbocharged”, as its founder and now minority partner says, on the wings of a giant in the sector, which has registered double-digit growth per year.
“Our annual growth accelerated by acquisitions has been above 10%”, says the CFO of Ambipar, which earned R$ 783 million in the fourth quarter of 2021.
For Plínio Ribeiro, co-founder and CEO of Biofílica, the new partnership has the potential to at least quintuple the area of projects and generate 10 million tons of carbon credits per year.
With the ton quoted at US$ 15, the projected revenue would reach US$ 150 million per year. “We are prepared, with a mature business model”, says Ribeiro, an administrator with a master’s degree from Columbia, and a pioneer in this market.
The value of the acquisition was not disclosed, but it is a big people business.
“We don’t buy forests. We do customized projects and long-term contracts, for 20, 30 years, with landowners for the management of areas so that they are not deforested”, he explains, about the experience of managing 1.5 million hectares in the Amazon.
A developer of carbon projects, Biofílica had already gone through two investment rounds before the merger.
A minority partner of Biofílica since its inception and co-founder of the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Ipê), Cláudio Pádua joined big businessmen in 2012, including Guilherme Leal, from Natura, and Juscelino Martins, from the Martins group.
The bet was that solutions based on nature only tended to have more and more appeal in the market.
“After the Paris Agreement, it was certain that this market would fly”, says Pádua, winner of the Social Entrepreneur Award in 2009, when talking about the dream of reaching 5 million hectares protected in the Amazon.
“We built a 22nd century company, as all companies should be”, he says, about a more than successful business plan designed a decade ago.
“With capitalization, Biofílica can take the leap to win the international market and enter the real stake in this carbon credit industry.”
The arrival of the new partners also oxygenates Ambipar, a company that is 27 years old and was created by a former truck driver who used to make a circular economy even before the concept existed.
“We are well positioned and with a portfolio of services that ranges from total waste management, to post-consumption and carbon credit”, says the Ambipar executive, remembering that carbon dioxide is a transparent waste. And one of the villains of global warming.
A positioning that gained fashion reinforcement, with the announcement that Gisele Bündchen became a shareholder of the Brazilian multinational and joined the company’s sustainability committee in July last year.