Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Carolina Pereira

My last visit in Colombia was to Carolina Pereira, the Chief Organizer of the English Startup Weekend in Bogotá.

Carolina sees the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colombia as growing, but still in its infancy.

“The [entrepreneurial] ecosystem in Colombia is still just starting,” she told me,  “at least in terms of technology and innovation entrepreneurship. The majority of the entrepreneurs are still either lifestyle entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs out of necessity and work in the informal economy.”

While she believes that the ecosystem has the potential to mature fully and to become vibrant, she sees a couple of major hurdles holding Colombia back.

Firstly, she identifies a lack of cultural acceptance of entrepreneurship as a legitimate career choice.

“We have a high level of education,” she said,  “but, in general, you’re not going to become an entrepreneur because the examples you have seen encourage you to get a good job, an established job. You study, you practice, you learn English and then you’re supposed to get a good job at a multinational company…If your parents pay for you to go to school to learn and to get a career, it’s not so you can start a business, it’s so you can get a good job.”

Secondly, Carolina says that there is a lack of capital for early stage entrepreneurs because most investors see startups as too risky an investment.

“Here, what you would call an angel investor really practically doesn’t exist,” she told me.

“Most of the people that have made money are industrialists. They’re more traditional and they don’t know startups and startup investments don’t interest them…”

She does admit, however, that,

“if you ask entrepreneurs, they will say there aren’t enough investors and there isn’t capital, but, if you ask investors, they will say there aren’t enough entrepreneurs with good projects.”

Even if the entrepreneurs are right about the lack of investors, that seems to be changing with the generations  as Carolina continued to say, “…but their [the traditional investors’] children are interested. They’re people that know technology, have studied outside of Colombia, and they’re trying to create a space for this type of investment.”

Additionally, as the ecosystem grows, “there is also another type of investor who was an entrepreneur, and loves entrepreneurship, and wants to help with mentoring, etc.” Combine those two trends with the heavily-funded government support for entrepreneurship and you can see that this capital crunch may be able to fix itself in Colombia in the near future.

So, where does Carolina see the entrepreneurial ecosystem in 5-10 years?

“There will be sustainable businesses. There will be successful businesses,” she said, “but, if we can get a home run, if there are 1 or 2 Colombian companies that are global successes, this will drastically help to improve the ecosystem.”

Carolina also feels that where Colombia’s ecosystem ends up depends greatly on who happens to be in power in the Colombian government.

“The government is supporting entrepreneurship with a lot of programs right now, but that could change. It will depend a lot on who will be the next president,” she said.

Overall, however,

“I’m optimistic,” she said. “I think that the growth is going to continue. I hope entrepreneurship will be an option for many people here, for many young people.”