Health Site Joins LatAm Web Frenzy

Amid the current buzz in Latin American private equity for anything Internet related comes a new health-care Web site-launched in mid-December-whose owners intend it to be the one-stop shop online for Latin Americans’ health-care needs in both products and information.

Salutia.com is the brainchild of Sebastian Popik and Gerardo Waisburg, who previously worked as consultants together at Booz, Allen and Hamilton in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the U.S. in consumer goods and the Internet, said Popik, who is Salutia.com’s CEO. Waisburg, who is acting chief operating officer, received his MBA from Wharton, while Popik has a masters in public policy from Harvard.

The two were able to garner $4 million in seed financing from PCP Group. Popik said that at press time the firm was still structuring its first round of financing and a parallel angel fund, set to close toward the end of January. But he said it was too soon to name potential limited parners for the fund. He did say, however, that they come from the health care, Internet, media and financial communities. PCP Group launched OfficeNet in Argentina this year. Officials at the company could not be reached by presstime.

“A lot of information and services currently available in the U.S. are not available in Spanish and Portuguese,” said Popik in explaining the strategy to build Salutia.com. “So the first thing is to provide that and tailor [the content] to specific audiences. There’s a very basic need for a database that gets questions answered,” he said.

Same Drivers the World Around

The health-care industry is $200 billion in Latin America, according to Salutia.com, and more than 60 million Spanish and Portuguese-speaking people will be online consumers by 2003.

“We are confident that the same drivers driving Internet growth in developed countries apply in Latin America,” he continued. “But here the information available is even more lacking and the industries are more fragmented. Even for people in the upper income brackets-(the Internet’s customer base in Latin America as few poor people have access to computers)- information is not codified anywhere.”

Salutia.com’s focus is on content, community and commerce. And Popik said he plans to provide highly localized content in several ways.

“We already have two full-time editorial journalists in Argentina; and three others in the other countries, whose backgrounds are in the health or medical professions [combined with journalism]. We have 18 people working for us now and expect to increase that number to 90 in the next 10 months.” In addition to Brazil, Salutia.com is opening offices in Miami, Mexico and Spain.

At Salutia.com, consumers will also find the Specialist Corner, which Popik described as like a columnist in a magazine, wherein “highly regarded local professionals” will write on topics such as “how to interact with your medical professional more effectively.”

In order to link them with their communities more, Salutia.com will advertise aggressively. It has already created partnerships with Screaming Media, and Reuters Health as part of its marketing strategy. It will also establish chat rooms and eventually provide more services such as the ability to evaluate insurance and doctors online, as well as to acquire insurance. Other goals are to provide a medical encyclopedia and directories with local resources.

The other component is e-commerce. Popik said it is currently establishing relationships with vendors to bring healthcare products to Latin American consumers that might not be otherwise available.

“A portal has the benefit of being objective and generating revenue from that objectivity just like media,” said Popik. “The idea is to bridge the gap between local markets and global ones.”

Other recent Internet deals in Latin America include several investments by Sao Paulo-based GP Investimentos, including $12 million in BookNet, renamed Submarino in November, $11 million in Freelance, an online auction services company, and $14 million in WebMotors.

Chase Capital Partners has been one of the most aggressive online investors this year, and has invested in everything from $4 million in Argentinian upstart Patagon.com (an online brokerage) to its much-talked-about StarMedia IPO last spring.

And other major players in the region, including AIG Capital Partners, The Exxel Group and Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, are also now investing in the Internet here. Exxel, for example, acquired Internet financial services company Latinstocks.com in September, and Jorge Mora, a managing director with the company, said, “all of our companies have Internet strategies. We’re developing it as a separate business.”