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Colombia Looks for Business Allies in Canada

Colombia Looks for Business Allies in Canada

Posted by Juan Gavasa on October 05, 2015

Procolombia and Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology are going to hold in Toronto, on October 28 – 29, the second edition of “Bring It On Colombia”, a forum of technology-related enterprises that will gather 70 Colombian companies, 100 from Canada and nearly 30 from the United States. The event is scheduled to take place at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre and it’s mainly aimed at fostering the important Colombian ICTs (Information and Communications Technology) sector, and its connection with possible investors and buyers from Canada and the USA.

The first edition of “Bring It On Colombia” was carried out last year in New York and Toronto has been chosen this time round because, according to Alvaro Concha, Trade Commissioner of Procolombia in Canada, “after New York and San Francisco, it’s the North American city with the highest level of influence and growth in the information technologies sector and it’s a key potential partner to us.”

The ICTs sector is one of the most booming areas in Colombia and that’s the reason why the country is on the radar of such global companies as Google, Amazon or Facebook. The visit of his founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in early 2015 so as to officially launch his Internet.org app in America, confirmed what many analysts have pointed out over the past years: Colombia is one of the most attractive business environments for technological companies. Nowadays, it’s the third most important economy in Latin America, right after Brazil and Mexico, and the second largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico. Therefore, it plays a leading role in terms of the boost given to Spanish language in the technological ecosystem, especially on the internet and social networks.

According to the latest report issued by the World Economic Forum, Colombia is ranked fourth on the list of countries with the largest number of innovative startups in initial phase, only surpassed by Chile, Denmark and South Africa. The Economist magazine has highlighted it as one of the six countries with the highest rate of global economic growth, thus leaving behind such economic powers as Brazil, Russia, Mexico, United States and Japan. It’s also the third country in Latin America in terms of business facilities and the sixth among those providing more warranties and protection for investors.

Cities like Medellin have become the new benchmark of the startups ecosystem in Latin America. Its transformation from icon of violence in the 1980s to the new Hispanic Silicon Valley, with such initiatives as “Ruta N Medellin” Innovation & Business Center, has fascinated the world. This fact was underlined by Susana Ortiz within the framework of the second edition of Latam Startups Conference, the most important meeting of startups from Latin America, held in Toronto. Ortiz pointed out that the involvement of government, society, university, entrepreneurs and investors “made the Medellin miracle possible”, which is the first Colombian city to generate equity fund.

Susana Ortiz, a member of "Ruta N Medellin" Innovation & Business Center, participated in the second edition of Latam Startups Conference, held in Toronto in summer. Picture: Juan Gavasa / PanamericanWorld

Since 2012 nearly 1,000 Colombian companies related to the development of software and digital contents have exported services to the amount of over 166 million dollars. The main destinations of this "made in Colombia" technology have been Latin America and the United States; Canada occupies one of the top positions in this ranking of buyers, as well as Mexico, France and Spain. In absolute terms, Colombia is the third main exporter of IT services in Latin America, right after Brazil and Mexico, with sales total estimated in 2.5 billion dollars. These are just some of the figures that explain the decision taken by the Colombian government of fostering information technologies as the driving force for the economic development of the country. Gabriela Perdomo, Procolombia’s marketing specialist in the Toronto-based office, explains that the Juan Manuel Santos’ administration “has invested 15 billion dollars in terms of technological training and infrastructures so as to help the country spearhead this sector at world level.”

Bring IT On Colombia: Strengthening Relations with Canada

Holding “Bring IT On Colombia” in Toronto is another step within the strategy followed by the Colombian government, based on the generation of significant resources aimed at boosting the development of this sector. The main goal, Alvaro Concha recalls, is “to clearly show the reasons why should Colombia be considered as a key factor when it comes to investing, looking for partners and generating alliances.”

The first day of the event will be characterized by such speakers as Hussam Ayyad, Communitech; Brendan Dellandrea, DMZ; Andrew Jenkins, Toronto University; Peter Liber, Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure; or Peter Carayiannis, Law Conduit. It’ll be all about training and providing necessary information for Colombian entrepreneurs to make business in Canada and identify differences with the US market in aspects like business strategy or marketing.

The first day will include a visit to some of the most outstanding technological and innovation centers based within the GTA (Gran Toronto Area). It’s important to highlight MaRS Discovery District, incubator DMZ or IBM Canada’s Laboratory. Ten Colombian startups have been chosen to participate in a “Demo Day” and they’ll have 15 minutes to explain the positive aspects of their projects and ideas, in front of a group of potential angel investors. These entrepreneurs will be mentored by Doctor Sean Wise, Entrepreneurship professor at the University of Ryerson and one of the most influential figures in the Canadian startup ecosystem.

The second session will be focused on conferences. The Colombian minister of Information and Communication Technologies, David Luna, is going to participate in a panel with investors and other institutional representatives. The presence of the Colombian minister speaks of the importance given by his government to the event in Toronto as, according to Alvaro Concha, “from a strategic point of view it’s going to be the utmost event of the year, among those held overseas.” A “one-on-one” business round has been scheduled among Colombian companies and homologues from Canada and the United States.

Colombia: An Opportunity for Canadian Companies

The Colombian companies that will be present in Toronto have been divided into two groups: software and applications development in financial, health care, insurance and infrastructure sectors; and companies linked to creative, games, content and marketing digital sectors. But, what’s Colombia’s image in Canada? This is precisely one of the challenges to be faced by the Toronto conference: strengthening relations and putting topics aside. Alvaro Concha assures that “the country’s image is presently better due to the Free Trade Agreements and people think of Colombia as an investing destination.” Miryam Lazarte, director of Go South Consulting, logistic partner of Procolombia, emphasizes that “there are four startup-related Canadian investors interested in investing in Colombia and visiting Medellin and there are other companies that have had the opportunity to realize that there is a quite interesting market.”

Bogota has become a great business center and one of the benchmark cities in terms of information and communication technologies.

Lazarte, an expert on Colombia’s startup ecosystem, points out that Colombian enterprises have been open to make business with international companies for over a decade. “It’s a very friendly market – she says –, although it’s true that they are conservative when it comes to making business, but perhaps this characteristic makes them stand closer to the Canadian business-making style.” Concha explains that the cultural affinity favors business dialogues. “The feedback we receive from Canadian companies that have already worked with Colombia shows that they appreciate the Colombian creativity and see it as an attractive alternative in times when there is certain saturation of other markets, like the Indian one”, he says.

Colombia and Canada Can Join Forces to Go Global

The list of challenges for “Bring It On Colombia” also includes the enhancement of the information Colombians have on Canada. Concha ironizes and admits that Canada looks like it is “very far and very cold.” The notable cultural, economic and commercial influence of the United States is an evident fact, but he’s sure that Canada can be of great interest for Colombian entrepreneurs because in many cases “that will be the best way to later penetrate the US market, especially in the software sector.” Lazarte underlines that “Canada’s market volumes can perfectly adapt to the production capabilities of Colombian companies.” But “the chip is to be replaced on both sides,” and the Toronto event can be the first step.

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