Monday, July 21, 2014

Drug Cartels Have Given Way to Technology Startups in Colombia

It was not that long ago when mention of Medellin, Colombia, usually involved a conversation about drug cartels, gang rivalries and violence. Today, the city that was once synonymous with drug lord Pablo Escobar was chosen as the most innovative city in the world.

Once the government gained control of the nation’s cities from the drug cartels, improved security allowed Colombia to turn its attention to its abundance of natural resources including coal, oil and mineral deposits to spark an economic resurgence. Annual economic growth is around 4.3 percent, but unlike other developing countries that tied their economic futures to oil and gas exploration and production, the government of Colombia turned to its attention to building and developing its technology sector.

Through its Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications, Colombia is fostering entrepreneurship in digital applications and software development among other high-tech areas. Through public and private initiatives focusing on entrepreneurship, the country has exploded with accelerators, incubators, events and co-work spaces.

An example of the collaboration between the government and the private sector is the Socialatom Ventures incubator. The incubator offers seed capital, shared office space and opportunities to travel to the United States to share experiences and learn from mentors and investors. This is part Colombia’s Vive Digital and programs designed to improve digital literacy and foster guidance and mentoring for entrepreneurs.

Helping the growth of the tech industry in Colombia is its outstanding education system. The country’s education system is responsible for producing a well-educated population that foreign and domestic companies can draw upon for the skilled labor force they require. This did not occur by accident. Colombia committed a great deal of money to education, and it appears to have paid off for the country.

Money was also committed to improving the country’s infrastructure. A government effort to establish Internet access to even the most remote areas of the country was undertaken at a reported cost of $2.5 billion. The results of the government’s commitment are already apparent in Medellin and Bogota where technology startups have turned those cities into destinations development by technology companies such as Hewlett-Packard.

Colombia has benefited from global trend among businesses to outsource financial and administration processes, human resources, customer services and other business functions. By focusing on its technology industry, Colombia is positioned to help and accommodate companies seeking to outsource segments of their operations.

An unexpected bonus to the growth and development of the technology industry in Colombia has been a renewed interest from Colombians residing in the U.S. to return to their native country. Over the course of 11 years, the number of Colombian entrepreneurs rose 247 percent in the U.S. in the high-tech industry alone. Many of them are expected to return, either temporarily or permanently, to their native country to share the skills and knowledge that made them successes in America.