Startups: inversionistas extranjeros apuestan por la tecnología en América Latina

Startups: inversionistas extranjeros apuestan por la tecnología en América Latina

strongTiendanube ayuda a los pequeños y medianos emprendedores a crear su propia tienda en línea. La inversión en tecnología en América Latina va en aumento. (Cortesía de Tiendanube)/strong

PORTO ALEGRE, Brasil — Los inversionistas en tecnología ponen sus ojos sobre la región latinoamericana y las ventajas que ofrece.

Tiendanube, Nuvemshop en inglés, es una plataforma de e-commerce dedicada a ayudar a los pequeños y medianos emprendedores a crear su propia tienda en línea para vender en Internet. Anunció recientemente que recibió un aporte de 500 millones de dólares. Estos fondos provienen de empresas como Insight Partners, que ya invirtió en Twitter, y el Grupo Alibaba, y Tiger Global Management, inversionistas en Spotify y Uber, y cuentan con una importante participación de los fondos Alkeon y Owl Rock.


Otros capitalistas de riesgo que se juntaron a la iniciativa fueron Sunley House Capital y VMG Partners, así como los inversionistas actuales Accel, Kaszek, Kevin Efrusy, Qualcomm Ventures LLC y ThornTree Capital. Con los nuevos recursos, Tiendanube se convirtió en la quinta startup “unicornio” más valiosa de Latinoamérica. Ahora, el valor de mercado de la empresa es de 3.1 billones de dólares.

“Con la nueva contribución, reforzaremos nuestra misión de reducir las barreras al emprendimiento en toda América Latina, asegurando que cualquier persona pueda vender en el mundo digital. Esto mueve la economía e impacta cientos de miles de empleos directos e indirectos en Brasil”, dijo Santiago Sosa, director ejecutivo y cofundador de Tiendanube.

Según la directora de Finanzas de Tiendanube, Tatiana Rezende, Brasil se ha ido consolidando como una opción de inversión viable para los inversores extranjeros. “Tuvimos la primera ola con Softbank, y ahora la segunda ola con varios otros inversionistas. Paralelamente, tenemos un grupo de emprendedores maduros mucho más experimentados, es decir, la calidad de los emprendedores locales ha aumentado mucho en los últimos años, por eso este interés”, dijo a Zenger.

El crecimiento económico en algunos países latinoamericanos, atribuido al estándar del producto que ofrecen los emprendedores de la región, es otro factor que lleva a los inversionistas extranjeros a apostar billones de dólares en startups tecnológicas.

”En la medida en que podamos demostrar que, a pesar de todas las dificultades, la economía puede crecer, los emprendedores pueden prosperar y desarrollar productos de calidad en comparación con el resto del mundo, se hace más fácil atraer este capital riesgo. Los inversionistas extranjeros pueden leer lo que está sucediendo, el crecimiento y el éxito que han logrado varios modelos de negocio”, dijo Rezende a Zenger.

Tatiana Rezende es directora de Finanzas de Tiendanube en Brasil. (Cortesía de Tiendanube)

Fábio Rodrigues, inversionista y socio de Smart Money Ventures, dijo que América Latina es uno de los mercados más grandes del mundo en lo que respecta a inversiones. “Tenemos un ecosistema ya formado, es decir, productos de calidad, nuevos talentos, startups que nacen como grandes ‘unicornios ’. La competitividad de las inversiones en los países de América Latina es mucho menor que en Estados Unidos, que tiene muchos fondos, liquidez y capital buscando estas startups. Naturalmente, estas empresas suben sus precios. En América Latina, tenemos un gran mercado, historias de éxito, tecnología y capital fluyendo para buscar nuevas oportunidades, especialmente aquí en Brasil”, dijo.

En los últimos 18 meses, en plena pandemia, Tiendanube tuvo un incremento en el número de minoristas en líea. De 20 mil, pasaron a 90 mil comerciantes, repartidos entre Brasil, Argentina, y ahora, México. “Nos tomó 10 años conseguir 20 mil inquilinos en la plataforma, y en menos de dos años logramos triplicar ese número. Muchos modelos de negocio terminaron beneficiándose de este proceso, que terminó impulsando la transición del mundo físico (offline) al virtual (online)”, dijo Rezende.

Tiendanube también acelerará su plan de expansión internacional en toda Latinoamérica, para llegar a Colombia este año, y Chile y Perú en 2022. El objetivo es crear una operación 100 por ciento local en cada país, al contratar a profesionales de las propias regiones. La compañía tiene actualmente 600 empleados, pero para fines de 2021, tiene la intención de contratar a otras 300 personas, y a mil 500 profesionales para fines de 2022.

¿Qué es una startup ‘unicornio’?

Según Fábio Rodrigues Póvoa, de Smart Money Ventures, el startup “unicornio” es una empresa privada que alcanzó la marca deseada con un valor de mercado igual o superior a 1 billón de dólares, incluso antes de realizar la IPO (Ofrenda Pública Inicial).

La principal característica de una startup “unicornio” es la innovación en el mercado en el que opera. “Es tan raro que una pequeña empresa crezca hasta valer un billón de dólares; es por eso por lo que la llamamos de ‘unicornio’, un ser mítico, raro que acaba de nacer y que ya lo vale todo”, dijo Rodrigues.

 Fábio Rodrigues es inversionista y socio de Smart Money Ventures. (Cortesía de Fábio Rodrigues)

Según el informe StartupBase, Brasil tiene 13.4 mil startups registradas, por lo que el país latinoamericano se encuentra entre los 10 con más empresas de tecnología e innovación.

Los 20 “unicornios” brasileños

Startups brasileñas avaluadas en más de 1 billón de dólares, según Flourish.

  • 99
  • Ebanx
  • PagSeguro
  • Wildlife
  • Nubank
  • Loft
  • Arco Educação
  • VTEX
  • Stone
  • Creditas
  • iFood
  • C6 Bank
  • Loggi
  • MadeiraMadeira
  • Gympass
  • Hotmart
  • Ascenty
  • unico
  • Quinto Andar
  • Nuvemshop

Editado por Melanie Slone y LuzMarina Rojas-Carhuas



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New Test Could Help Diagnose Alzheimer’s Years Earlier

New Test Could Help Diagnose Alzheimer’s Years Earlier

A volunteer, fitted with the Fastball EEG cap, takes part in the passive test developed at the University of Bath, which could diagnose Alzheimer's disease earlier than current methods. (University of Bath)

A new method of measuring brain activity may be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease up to five years earlier than current methods, leading to improved outcomes for patients, according to scientists at the University of Bath in southwestern England.

The Fastball EEG technology exposes patients to a series of flashing images for two minutes on a computer, while attendants measure their brain activity with an EEG app.


“Fastball offers a genuinely novel way of measuring how our brain is functioning. The person being assessed doesn’t need to understand the test, or even respond; they simply watch a screen of flashing images, and by the way we manipulate the images that appear, we can learn an enormous amount about what their brain is or is not able to do,” said neuroscientist George Stothart of the University of Bath.

Stothart was the lead researcher in a study published in the journal BRAIN, which described a technique that detects small, subtle changes in brain waves when a person remembers an image.

Currently, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed with a combination of subjective and objective reports of cognitive decline. A clinic administers memory tests, which are prone to biases such as assessment anxiety, as well as tests requiring verbal and written communication, which are ineffective for some patients.

“The tests we currently use to diagnose Alzheimer’s miss the first 20 years of the disease, which means we are missing huge opportunities to help people,” said Stothart. Despite the availability of scientific tools to test brain function, he said, none have been used to assess the brain’s ability to acquire, understand and retain information. Stothart and his team hope that Fastball will achieve that goal.

George Stothart from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology hopes the Fastball EEG will help improve outcomes for Alzheimer’s patients by detecting the disease five years earlier than current methods allow. (University of Bath)

The study’s authors say earlier diagnosis would mean earlier lifestyle and medical intervention, potentially improving the effectiveness of those interventions and leading to healthcare savings of about 3 billion pounds [$409 billion] per year in the United Kingdom.

Aducanumab — approved recently — is the first medical treatment for Alzheimer’s. With earlier diagnoses, medication can become more effective.

Alzheimer’s is the underlying cause of approximately 60 percent of dementia cases. In Europe and North America, it affects about 5–7 percent of the population.

George Stothart (left) from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology talks to a volunteer (right) about Fastball EEG — pioneering research that could increase early detection of Alzheimer’s. (University of Bath)

According to the Fastball EEG team, their technology is inexpensive and portable. Easily scalable, it relies on technology already available at hospitals. The team is currently studying the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease at the Research Institute for the Care of Older People and the Bristol Brain Centre at Southmead Hospital. Their research is funded by BRACE, a U.K.-based charity that funds research on dementia and cures.

Over time, the team hopes the Fastball EEG will become a screening tool for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, similar to the use of tests to detect high blood pressure during middle age.

The research team will continue to test the technology at earlier and earlier stages of Alzheimer’s progression and expand the types of brain functions measured, including language and visual processing. “This will help us to not only understand Alzheimer’s but also the many other less common forms of dementia,” said Stothart. “We are a long way from that, but this is a step towards that goal.”

Edited by Siân Speakman and Kristen Butler



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Entering Third Bout Vs. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder Energized By Muhammad Ali KO Of George Foreman

Entering Third Bout Vs. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder Energized By Muhammad Ali KO Of George Foreman

Deontay Wilder (left) twice floored lineal champion Tyson Fury in their first bout in December 2018, retaining his WBC heavyweight title via a split-decision draw. Fury twice floored and eventually dethroned Wilder in their February 2020 rematch. They clash a third time on Oct. 9. (Ester Lin/Showtime)  

Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder aims to give himself an early birthday present by regaining his WBC heavyweight crown from England’s Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury.

Wilder is inspired for his third fight with Fury in part by Muhammad Ali, who became a two-time heavyweight champion on Oct. 30, 1974, with an upset, eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten George Foreman.


Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) gets a shot at redemption on Oct. 9 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on ESPN+/Fox joint pay- per-view against the 33-year-old Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), whom he battled to a draw in a December 2018 defense of his title before being dethroned in their February 2020 rematch via two-knockdown, seventh-round stoppage.

“Not only will I celebrate my 36th birthday on Oct. 22, but it’s also the same month Ali became a heavyweight champion for the second time,” said Wilder, who won the crown on Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 17, 2015 with a unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne.

“Muhammad Ali became a two-time heavyweight champion by not only defeating George Foreman, but by knocking him out, which is something almost nobody gave him a realistic shot at doing. People are saying the same thing about me after my last fight with Fury. But just like Ali, I’m going to reintroduce myself to the world as the two-time heavyweight champion.”

Fury landed in Las Vegas from England over the weekend. His trainer, Javan Sugar Hill-Steward, said the champion is holding off from meeting the media.

“Tyson is not doing any interviews. He is just waiting to fight on Oct. 9,” said Hill-Steward, nephew of the late Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward. “We are both confident and ready. Closer to the fight during fight week, I’m sure we will be talking.”

Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield watched from ringside as Wilder overcame Stiverne despite injuring his right hand in the third round. Wilder-Stiverne I was the first heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas since November 1996 and June 1997, when Holyfield recorded consecutive victories over Mike Tyson by 11th-round knockout and third-round disqualification in the infamous “bite fight.”

“To be there, and to see us [Americans] get one, that was kind of stunning,” said Holyfield, who turns 59 on Oct. 19. “As an ambassador of the sport, you wanted to see that.”

Wilder became America’s first heavyweight titleholder since Shannon Briggs in 2007, fulfilling a vow made to his daughter, Naieya, who was born on March 20, 2005 with the congenital disorder spina bifida and was told she might never walk.

Wilder entered the first fight with Fury following a three-knockdown first-round stoppage of Stiverne in November 2017 and a two-knockdown, 10th-round stoppage of previously unbeaten southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018.

Deontay Wilder (right) scored a 10th-round knockout over previously unbeaten Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018 and came from behind to win their November 2019 rematch by seventh-round knockout. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Leading up to his rematch with Fury, Wilder scored a first-round knockout of Dominic Breazeale in May 2019, and a come-from-behind, one-knockdown seventh-round stoppage of Ortiz that November.

The 6-foot-9 Fury earned the lineal title in 2015 from Wladimir Klitschko with a unanimous decision victory, escaped with a draw against Wilder despite being floored once each in the ninth and 12th, and dropped the 6-foot-7 “Bronze Bomber” in the third and fifth rounds of his victory.

“This fight will be a reversal,” said Wilder. “In the end, my hands will be raised in triumph.”

A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Wilder is the second-most popular sports figure in his hometown. Wilder wants to mimic the winning tradition of the University of Alabama football team, which claims 18 national titles.

Wilder has fought nine times in his home state, with four of those battles being sold-out title defenses.

Over a 20-month span, Birmingham, Alabama was home to Wilder’s championship stoppages in 2015 of Eric Molina (June) and Johann Duhaupas (September) in the ninth and 11th rounds, another in July 2016 of Chris Arreola in the eighth and in February 2017 over Gerald Washington in the fifth. Wilder fought Molina at Bartow Arena and the other three at Legacy Arena.

Deontay Wilder (left) defended his WBC heavyweight title with a fifth-round knockout of Gerald Washington at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, in February 2017. Birmingham was home to four title defenses by Wilder over a 20-month span. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native has fought in his home state nine times. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Wilder’s preparation under new trainer Malik Scott alternates between camps at New Era Boxing and Fitness in Northport, Alabama, and “my facility on Bomb Squad Island on my home estate,” Wilder said.

“As always, my training camp is in Alabama, and there’s no place like home,” said Wilder, whose corner will comprise Scott, career-long manager Jay Deas, Damarius Hill and Don House. “There are no distractions at all. No matter where I go, when I’m training, people respect that. I get motivation, energy and encouragement from all types of people.”

Wilder financially supports the Skyy South recreation and boxing facility, which is free for kids in Coffeeville, Alabama, said Deas.

The former champion’s presence encourages local fighters such as Junior Olympic National Champion Obed Bartee of Huntsville, Alabama, who is black, and female three-time National Golden Gloves champion Jadalie Medeiros of Dothan, Alabama, who is Latina, said Deas.

“Deontay’s inspired people across the board, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic or Asian,” said Deas. “Joe Louis, Evander Holyfield, Earnie Shavers, Frankie Randall and Tracy Harris Patterson were all Alabama-born fighters, but Deontay’s local influence is so powerful because he’s really the first fighter born locally and to accomplish everything while staying home.”

Wilder was at the White House in May 2018 when then-President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, America’s first black heavyweight champion. The pardon came nearly 100 years after Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”

“We know the color of our skin and that racism exists from looking at what’s going on in the world,” said Scott, 40. ”Deontay understands that this fight is much bigger than him. Deontay has not just Alabama, but African [Americans] on his back.”

Johnson endured racial epithets and death threats while dominating white opponents and living an opulent lifestyle outside the ring. Johnson served nearly a year in prison from 1920-21 on the federal charge, and was 68 when he died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946.

“Jack Johnson certainly had it a lot worse than I, but as a black athlete like Johnson, I want to inspire as a positive role model and motivator,” said Wilder. “It’s my mission to be a hero to my people. That was the mission of people like Muhammad Ali and some of our greatest black innovators and inventors.”

A 19-year-old Wilder dropped out of Shelton State Community College to support Naieya, taking one job driving a truck and another at a restaurant. He turned to boxing at a friend’s urging, winning an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.

Now 16, Naieya is the eldest of Wilder’s five girls and three boys. Wilder recently gave her a Volkswagen hardtop with a sunroof as a gift.

Wilder’s church-going minister grandmother, Evelyn Loggins, repeatedly told him as a child he was “special, anointed and ordained” before her death in 2010 at the age of 76.

“Naieya ignited my journey,” said Wilder. “But my legacy was prophesied by my grandmother.”

In October 2012, Wilder spent his 27th birthday serving as the primary sparring partner for Klitschko in advance of the then-unified heavyweight champion’s unanimous decision victory over Mariusz Wach that November.

Deontay Wilder (left) floored Bermane Stiverne three times en route to a first-round knockout to retain his WBC heavyweight title in their November 2017 rematch. Wilder dethroned Stiverne by unanimous decision on Muhammad Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 15, 2015. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Wilder had been invited to Klitschko’s camp by the Ukrainian’s trainer Emanuel Steward, who named Wilder as Klitschko’s successor, calling him “The No. 1 best American prospect for winning the heavyweight title.”

“What are the chances Emanuel Steward would predict I would become the next American heavyweight champion, and that I’d do it on Ali’s birthday?” Wilder said of Steward, who was 68 when he died of cancer on Oct. 25, 2012, three days after Wilder’s birthday.

“It also happened in proximity to Martin Luther King’s birthday, which is Jan. 15. I became the world champion just like Emanuel Steward said. I am anointed like my grandmother said. These things don’t just continue to happen by coincidence as much as they’re happening in my life. I firmly believe all things happen in their appointed time.”

Even the loss to Fury?

Scott thinks so.

“It’s like God is asking Deontay, ‘Are you ready to go through an entire training camp and do it all over again?’” said Scott, a 6-foot-5 former contender Wilder stopped in 96 seconds in 2014. “Deontay’s grandmother never told him any of this was going to be easy. All of this is happening to him to see how badly he really wants it. We know we have a job to do and a mission to accomplish.”

Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall



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Usual Factors No Longer Apply For Prices At The Pump

Usual Factors No Longer Apply For Prices At The Pump

Some offshore installations in the Gulf of Mexico were severely damaged by Hurricane Ida. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ongoing supply-side pressures from the impact of tropical storms on the U.S. Gulf Coast are to blame for stubbornly high retail gasoline prices, analysts told Zenger.

Hurricane Ida made landfall as a category storm 4 in late August. Tropical Storm Nicholas was close behind.


Now more than three weeks after Ida hit, U.S. federal estimates show about 16 percent of total crude oil and 25 percent of the natural gas from the territorial waters of the Gulf of Mexico remain offline.

Royal Dutch Shell reported that Ida-related damage to one of its offshore installations means some of its production will be curtailed through the end of the year. While the U.S. does import gasoline from overseas, the shortages at home mean domestic refineries cannot produce much road fuel.

Some offshore installations in the Gulf of Mexico were severely damaged by Hurricane Ida. (Wikimedia Commons)

Matthew Kohlman, an associate director for refined products pricing at S&P Global Platts, told Zenger from Houston that Ida was not the worst hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast, but it was having one of the longest-lasting impacts on prices.

“Usually, prices run up and back down in roughly a week’s time,” he said. “But three weeks later, there’s still a good chunk of crude and gasoline production offline at a time when stocks of both are the lowest in years.”

Federal energy data last week showed total commercial inventories of gasoline are about 4 percent below the five-year average for this time of year. That, along with storm-related issues, means higher-for-longer prices at the consumer level.

Travel club AAA reported a national average retail price of $3.19 per gallon, a few cents higher than last week. U.S. travel demand usually tapers off after Labor Day, and refiners start making a winter-blend of gasoline in September that is cheaper to produce.

That usually means retail prices move lower — but not this year.

Retail gasoline prices usually start to decline a bit by September, but not this year.  (Wikimedia Commons)

Patricia Hemsworth, a senior vice president at Paragon Markets, told Zenger from New York the situation has been exacerbated even further by reports of an outage at a refinery unit in Texas, which has boosted market prices for gasoline even higher. She said she also expects federal data this week to show even more drains on gasoline levels, which could push retail prices even higher.

Inventory decreases are usually synonymous with improving economic conditions, but lower storage levels this time around are due to industry-wide problems.

Patrick DeHaan, the senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, told Zenger from Chicago that some components that go into gasoline production are not cheap either, so the stars seem to be lining up for higher prices at the pump.

“I do think we’ll start to move lower, but it could be further delayed by hurricanes,” he said.

The National Hurricane Center shows four active storms brewing in the Atlantic.

Edited by Bryan Wilkes and Alex Willemyns



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Augmented Reality App Helps Reduce Fear Of Spiders

Augmented Reality App Helps Reduce Fear Of Spiders

The Phobys arachnophobia app uses augmented reality to help users overcome their fear of spiders. (University of Basel, MCN)

Arachnophobia, an exaggerated fear of spiders and other arachnids, has long been treated by psychologists with desensitization and relaxation techniques, but these may now give way to therapy via smartphone.

At the University of Basel in Switzerland, researchers have developed an augmented reality app for smartphones to help treat arachnophobia, which showed success during the clinical trial. The subjects demonstrated reduced fear of the menacing bugs after using the app at home.


The app, called Phobys, is described in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. “It’s easier for people with a fear of spiders to face a virtual spider than a real one,” said lead author Anja Zimmer. She and the other researchers reported promising results.

Arachnophobia is a common phobia that imposes real limitations on sufferers. Fear of spiders can lead some to avoid social gatherings, limit travel or excessively check rooms for signs of spiders. Even a photograph of a spider or evidence of its presence, such as webs, can trigger responses that include screaming, fainting, sweating and heart palpitations.

The augmented reality app Phobys helps people with arachnophobia become desensitized to spiders. Pictured, a red kneed spider is held at the London Zoo on January 3, 2013, in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Therapeutic exposure to spiders to lessen phobia is rarely used, according to the authors, because patients don’t want to expose themselves.

The team, led by Professor Dominique de Quervain at Basel, conducted a clinical trial for two weeks, using Phobys with 66 subjects. All the subjects suffered from a fear of spiders and, over the course of two weeks, either completed six half-hour training units with Phobys or, in the case of the control group, had no intervention.

The subjects approached a real spider in a transparent box before and after each treatment but only got as close as their fear permitted them. The subjects using Phobys showed significantly less fear and disgust when exposed to a real spider and were able to get closer to it than members of the control group.

Subjects using the Phobys app showed significantly less fear and disgust when exposed to a real spider. Pictured, a cerbalus aravensis spider on the Sands of Samar in the southern Arava desert region of Israel. (Yael Olek/University of Haifa via Getty Images)

The nine levels on the Phobys app allow users to see and interact with virtual spiders. By progressing through the levels, the tasks on the app become more challenging. At the end of each level, there is an assessment of the user’s fear and disgust. But it is the app that decides whether users should repeat a level or move on.

The game-like Phobys app also offers encouragement in the form of animation and sound effects. Users experiencing a mild form of arachnophobia may use it on their own. However, the research team recommends that individuals with more serious symptoms use it under professional supervision.

The Phobys app allows users to test their phobia level at no charge, while training to reduce their fear of spiders can be purchased in the app.

The current study is one of several projects in progress at the University of Basel aimed at using new technologies to treat mental conditions.

Edited by Siân Speakman and Kristen Butler



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Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time 

Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time 

T-Ray The Violinist will soon debut his latest work, “Visionary.” (Devonte Williford) 

Juggling a full-time job as a music teacher while going back to school and performing open-mic nights became too much for T-Ray The Violinist. Faced with the tough decision of keeping his 9-5 job or becoming a full-time musician, the talented violinist took a leap of faith. For the last seven years he’s been living out his dream.

Louisiana native T-Ray watched his career emerge from playing at private weddings and parties, to performing for the New Orleans Saints and the NBA Pelicans, as well as opening for some of music’s biggest names, including Wale, Erykah Badu, and David Banner. Riding high on the success of his previous album, “Finally Free,” T-Ray The Violinist will soon release his latest project, “Visionary,” which was four years in the making:


Zenger takes a ride on the journey of T-Ray The Violinist from pupil to teacher to musician.

Percy Crawford interviewed T-Ray The Violinist for Zenger.


Zenger: How is everything going?

Percy Crawford interviewed T-Ray The Violinist for Zenger. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

T-Ray: Everything is good. I actually just got back from a show in Pittsburgh. I went to Houston [to get out of the way of] Hurricane Ida, and it’s been nonstop trying to maintain, keep life together and keep moving forward.

Zenger: Not only COVID, but then we had Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana. For a performer, those situations can be detrimental. How have you handled it?

T-Ray: The pandemic impacted everyone in various ways. For me personally, I was without work for a solid three and a half to four months. I remember my last performance was Friday the 13th, and then I just got email after email saying things were canceled. Just like everyone else, I was in a state of shock. It was something we never dealt with before.

From a business perspective, just having everything taken away overnight… I had a lot of plans last year. I planned on doing “The Unexpected Sounds” tour. That was going to be on the back end of a project that I released in February called “Unexpected Sounds Volume 3.” That got canceled. I was going to release my debut EP, “Visionary,” and that got scrapped. It took some time to recalibrate.

There is always a blessing in disguise from things like this, and for me, it gave me chance to step back and look at life at large, not only as an artist. I said, when 2021 came around, I’m not letting anything stop me. This year has been really good. I have been executing even with the hurricane. September is a busy month for me. It’s a chance to see what we’re made of.

Zenger: I’m sure you have a greater appreciation for your craft.

T-Ray: Absolutely! One of the things I have been blessed in my seven years of being a full-time performer is my ability to perform in a multitude of capacities, including weddings, birthday parties and private events. I transitioned to doing shows, and started getting calls to do festivals. It really did make me appreciate everything that much more because last year was supposed to be that transitional year of me becoming a full-blown recording artist with my debut EP. Instead, I had to mentally prepare myself to again doing certain types of performances. I knew it was temporary, I knew it would eventually pass. I just didn’t know when.

Zenger: Your journey started with you being a full-time music teacher, while furthering your musical education, going to school, and booking shows at night to perform. A lot of sleepless nights, and then eventually you leaped out on faith, and it worked out. Tell us about it.

T-Ray: That’s interesting you bring that up. I was a full-time teacher in St. Tammany Parish [in Covington, Louisiana]. Between the time that I graduated from UNO [University of New Orleans] and the time I got hired in St. Tammany was about seven months. I was working two or three days a week with what is now known as “Make Music Nola” in the Lower Ninth Ward [in New Orleans]. In between that, I was doing open-mic nights, weddings and things to build my brand.

Once I started teaching, it was like, OK, I have a job that is an anchor for me, financially stable, and I’m able to build. If I wanted to continue doing these extracurricular activities, I could do so. But there was always something inside of me that said I need to make a decision. I took that leap of faith and went full-fledged with being an artist. It really was just putting myself in all these different spaces.

One of the opportunities I got early on was to play in the Bayou Classic Fan Fest November 2013 [in New Orleans]. I was still teaching at that time. People were still hanging on to CDs, so I remember sitting down in my apartment, me and my best friend, and we burned 200 or 300 copies of “Unexpected Sounds Volume 1.” We just gave them out. It was covers of, Jill Scott-“A Long Walk,” Jay-Z-“Tom Ford” and Jhene Aiko-“From Time.” It was songs that were hot at the time, and I figured while I had the platform of the Bayou Classic, I should give these CDs out for free. It spread like wildfire, and I started getting more and more calls. It was a get-it-out-the-mud situation as far as building a brand outside of education.

A nudge from the son of a famed New Orleans violinist got T-Ray re-energized about playing the instrument. (Courtesy of T-Ray The Violinist) 

Zenger: What made the violin your instrument of choice?

T-Ray: I grew up in Baton Rouge, and when I was in elementary school, they had what was called the Pullout Program that had a visual arts teacher and a music teacher. In my case it happened to be music. They would come to our school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and pull us out of class, bring us to the auditorium, and we would learn how to play the violin.

At first it was just an outlet to get out of class. But it transitioned in me developing a passion for playing the violin on a deeper level. However, we’re talking about the early ’90s. Being a black kid, having the perception of that instrument being a feminine instrument, drove a lot of my peers away from doing it. The cool kids were playing, and then once they realized it was going to be a lot harder and take a lot of dedication, they didn’t want to play anymore. I happened to be one of the kids that stayed in class and the repercussions from that was, I got picked on. It drove me away from it after sixth grade.

When I got into high school, my best friend was Shaun Ward, and his dad is a well-known contemporary violinist, Michael Ward. He had just finished his CD “Continuum.” Shaun brought his CD to school, and that’s when I got back into orchestra. That was my sophomore year. Listening to this project, it was contemporary R&B. That sparked my interest, and from there I enrolled in strings again, and I found out about NOCCO (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts).

I auditioned at the center, and I was able to do the weekend and summer program my junior and senior years. I was in the jazz department. It was a different type of atmosphere, but it was inspiring and motivating. I thought I was going to be a bass player, but the violin just happened to be the instrument that I had the initial experience with, and it was also one that yielded a lot of opportunities for me.

Zenger: “Finally Free” can have so many different meanings to so many different people. When you named your last project that, what did it mean to you?

T-Ray: I’ve been a full-time artist for seven years. I’ve had a multitude of different experiences during those years. One of the things I’ve been blessed with is to have people along the way who saw something different in me tell me, “You got it!” On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve been in situations where I’ve performed and I felt like I was there and playing, but people weren’t really hearing me. At times, it made me second-guess myself.

I’m thankful for all the opportunities I have had, but one of the things I realized is, I knew I wanted to be a performing and touring artist. That takes me recording my own music, producing my own music and just putting it out there in the world to attract those type of opportunities. I felt like it was time to literally just free myself. I was sitting in the airport in Houston, and the title just came to me: “I’m finally free.”

It’s crazy because a lot of times we put these restraints and restrictions on ourselves. It’s all a mindset. I continued to battle with the mindset and mentality of “I have to be doing this. I have to do everything from A-Z.” When really, if I just concentrate on two or three things, and hone my sound, hone my skills in this particular area, the opportunities will start to manifest. I felt that “Finally Free” was that cleansing and that capstone of being able to move forward.

Zenger: On Sept. 24 we are finally getting your long-awaited project, “Visionary.” You will be cataloging the journey in documentary form as well. I am sure you are excited to finally be releasing this body of work.

Like many artists, T-Ray The Violinist used the pandemic lockdown to think deeply about his next career moves. (Devonte Williford)

T-Ray: “Visionary” has been four years in the making. It’s another stepping-stone within the journey of being a full-time artist. I had a band from 2015 to 2017 and we just went our own way. I sat down and really had to figure out what direction I was going to go in. One of the things was, “OK, I play the violin, cool, but I also produce. What is my sound production-wise?”

After figuring out what that sound was going to be, I just finally found the name for it, eclectic fusion. After I found that sound, I said, “OK, I need to record a project and I need to put it out, and make my sound and my voice heard as T-Ray The Violinist, not just T-Ray The Violinist who plays the dope covers of the hottest songs.” It was a process of recording the string quartets. I had someone come in to transcribe the string parts that you will hear on the project, aside from the lead violin. There are a couple vocal features on there, as well: Sybil Shanell, Alfred Banks and Gladney.

It’s a very eclectic-sounding project. It has hip hop elements, R&B, soul and house elements. But they all culminate and are reflective of my style, from a production standpoint, but also from a violinist standpoint. Raj Smoove, my big brother— I call him “Mr. Miyagi” — helped me break down all the tracks. When I moved to New Orleans, he was the first person that I worked with. I feel like this is a really good debut of who I am to the world — not just as T-Ray The Violinist, but as my given name, Trenton Ray Thomas.

Zenger: I can’t wait to hear it, good luck with all of your endeavors. Is there anything you want to add?

T-Ray: On Sept. 25, I will be in Biloxi, Mississippi, opening for Frankie Beverly & Maze at the Gulf Coast Soul and Comedy Fest, so it’s like the perfect storm for that weekend, no pun intended. We don’t need any more storms (laughing).

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff



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