Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Andres Waldraff

This week’s interview is with Andres Waldraff. He is the Founder and Business Developer of NeXT Capital, the Founder and Editor of TECHcetera, a mentor for entrepreneurs at HubBOG, and a serial entrepreneur who has lived, studied, and/or worked in Latin America, the U.S., and Europe. I met him while I was at HubBOG to interview Rene Rojas as he was there giving feedback to entrepreneurs on their pitch presentations and I was excited to hear his thoughts on Colombia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and startup scene. He had some pretty unique perspectives so it was a very interesting conversation.

With all of his international experience, Andres told me that, “the entrepreneurial environment here [in Bogotá] is built on the same idea that Israel built.”

“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “I think most of it is working. What I think is not working is that they’re making it a little bit too easy for the entrepreneurs…

…There is a lot of money floating around. So-called entrepreneur experts which don’t add any value helping you apply for the funds..it’s a little too easy to get the money so what happens is entrepreneurs just go for the money and then they abandon their idea.”

Additionally, Andres argues that there are a few issues (ones that I have heard in my interviews throughout Latin America) that continue to hold Colombia back.

“Part of it is talent,” he said. “Part of it is access to certain resources. More and more people are speaking English but not everyone speaks English so if you are in the Bay area in the United States you go on the internet and you find a lot of resources. If you speak Spanish, you don’t get to have the same conversation.”

At the same time, “Colombians, for the most part, are not early adopters,” he told me. “We are followers here. So it makes it hard for the guys that come up with great new ideas to sell their innovations. People are not willing to test ideas here. We have a lot of mistrust. This country’s built on mistrust.”

The interest is definitely present in the city,however. “There are a lot of people coming back from other countries with great ideas, not willing to go into the corporate world, willing to work with entrepreneurial concepts,” he told me. However, just like throughout Latin America,

“we don’t have exits. We need someone to get big… Part of the problem is that most of the startups that got a head start don’t solve any particular big problems that the corporate world sees…not something that the corporate world is going to buy.”

Andres does see major potential for that to change, however and believes that the education industry will be first. “There is a lot going on in the education world,” he said. “I think education will give the first push, then healthcare is going to follow, then probably government.”

He also sees Colombia as having great potential as a starting point and/or base for companies to test and prove their concept before going after the larger Latin American market. However, he cautions that entrepreneurs must remember that Latin America is not a homogeneous region as they begin to expand.

“The markets are different; the particularities of every country are similar but not the same,” he told me. “Latin America is not the same; a Mexican is not like a Chilean. [However], if you do it in Colombia, which is a medium-sized country in Latin America, if you can make it work you can probably translate it to Brazil or to smaller countries later on to make it a pan-Latin-American company.”

Interestingly, Andres was the first person I spoke with that believed most of the new startups were NOT copy-cat companies imitating ideas already proven in the United States or Europe.

“Most of what I’ve seen is new ideas,” he said. “When you look at stuff, they end up being similar to other stuff that you’ve already seen, but they are not exactly the same. I think people here actually make an effort to ‘tropicalize’ the concept.”

Over the next few years, Andres hopes to see more entrepreneurs focusing on solving problems that have a major impact on Colombia and Colombians. Right now, he notes that most entrepreneurs are focused on a small subset of Colombian society. “Who has access to technology? The highest income segments,” he explained. “That is why everyone comes back with ideas for those segments, but that’s less than 5% of the population…There are some things that you can do that can have a huge impact in this country. I mean, we’ve had the same health system for almost a decade and a half and it still doesn’t work. The opportunities are there. How do you get people access to healthcare? How do you get people access to banks and banking?” 

Those are the questions that Andres hopes entrepreneurs in Colombia will begin to answer.