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Canadian tech companies courted by Colombia

Canadian tech companies courted by Colombia

Posted by Juan Gavasa on July 24, 2014

A business event taking place in New York City today will bring together top Colombian companies with firms from Canada and the United States looking to establish partnerships, expand their operations, or start working in Colombia in fields related to IT, software and digital services.

The Business Matchmaking Forum will host 70 of the top Colombian firms, along with about 24 Canadian vendors, and a larger number of American ones, and is being organized by Proexport Colombia. The Canadian office is headed by Alvaro Concha, who has also occupied the post of Colombia’s Trade Commissioner to Canada since 2011.

For a country that has been shedding the image of drug-related violence and a low-level civil war with leftist guerrillas for the past 20 years, Concha says Colombia is looking to “raise awareness about its unique position to offer services” in IT, software and digital technologies. It has quietly emerged as the leading country in Latin America for IT and software development, but he notes that the ultimate goal is to be a digital hub for all of North America and Western Europe, not just South America.

It would seem the numbers bear this out. There were over $3 billion (U.S.) in total sales for the country’s software and IT sector in 2013, according to IDC. That’s expected to double in just four years. Total sales for the software and IT sector in Colombia in 2013 (IDC) surpassed USD$3 billion, a number expected to double by 2018. Canada now ranks as the country’s fifth-largest trading partner, with exports to the Great White North having grown by 158% in just the first quarter of 2014 alone.

It was with that in mind that Colombia is branding its IT potential with an initiative called “Colombia Bring IT On” as a way to attract more foreign investment into the country.

“The maturity of the IT industry and developed infrastructure of the digital industry also includes international recognition of Colombia as the third-largest and most important market in the Latin American region,” says Concha in an interview.

“Canadian companies can offer Colombia an entry point to a demanding and high purchasing-power market in North America. They can also offer expertise. For instance, Canadian companies Nelvana and Pipeline Studios are currently doing business and developing training centres in Colombia, therefore helping increase the skills of the Colombian labour force.”

Canada signed a free trade agreement with Colombia that went into effect in August 2011. This opened up opportunities to meld Canadian expertise and investment with a burgeoning digital industry in Colombia, and its advantageous geographical location in the middle of North America, South America and the Caribbean.

The Canadian companies taking part in the Forum aren’t household names, but include a mix of cloud-based services, digital content creators, app developers and enterprise software companies. Most haven’t worked with Colombian counterparts, and would be meeting with them for the first time.

Some interesting tidbits Concha points out include the “neutrality” of the Spanish language in the country. Unlike more distinct accents in other Latin American nations, Spanish-speaking call centres based there could service them all because of its easier comprehension.

The World Competitiveness Report ranked Colombia as having the largest qualified labour in 2013, beating out established regional stalwarts like Brazil, Argentina and Chile. And the fact it sits in the Eastern Time Zone is another plus, he adds.

But as impressive as the growth has been, Colombian firms need stronger ties with Canadian and American vendors to be more dynamic and competitive. Regional rivals have already had a head start in forging these types of connections, so the government is trying to spur Internet connectivity in the country as much as possible. It’s expected to hit 97% penetration by the end of 2014, among the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere. A government investment initiative called Vive Digital aimed to bring high-speed access through the use of kiosks in rural areas, bringing them closer to the type of access urban dwellers enjoy.

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