Catamaran Sailing from Colombia to Panama

It’s the final week of my suggested travel bucket list for you ūüôĀ Not to worry though, I’ve still been traveling and I will have some more posts for you as well as some tips for how to make the most of your travel and how to get the best travel deals.

Anyway, back to the bucket list. In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about¬†sailing from Colombia to Panama on a catamaran.

Instead of flying back to Panama to wrap up my journey at the end of last year, I decided to sail there on a 52′ catamaran from Cartagena, Colombia. The journey was 5 days and took us through open ocean as well as through the San Blas islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama.

For more details and info about how to do it yourself, check out my original post about the experience and take a look at this video of the journey:

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 Bogot√°.

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.”

 

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 Bogot√°]¬†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.

 

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Alan Colmenares

The next person I visited in Bogot√° was Alan Colmenares. He’s the Director for the Founder Institute Colombia, Program Director for SocialAtom Ventures, the Founder/Principal at Tropical Gringo, and is an advisor and investor in a host of companies. He’s worked in Silicon Valley, on the east coast of the US, and in Latin America. He’s also the man who almost everyone else I spoke with in Colombia told me I¬†must¬†speak with, so I was very excited to meet him and pick his brain.

Alan is from the United States but has Colombian parents and has been living in Colombia for the past 18 years.

The first thing that Alan had to say about Colombia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem was that,

“it’s really far behind,”

and he thinks a large reason for that is the fact that,”everything is really slow. Things move slowly in general here,” and that includes entrepreneurs. ¬†According to Alan,

“the speed of execution is the biggest difference [between Colombian startups and U.S. startups].”

Along those same lines, he notes that,  

“there is also a knowledge thing here – people want the expert to tell them what to do instead of just going and doing it. They don’t understand that they can do things by themselves.”

 

In addition to these cultural components slowing Colombia’s movement towards a fully developed startup scene, “internet penetration is lagging….[and] it’s harder to convert customers. People are much more scared to purchase, which is not the case in Brasil or even in Chile,” Alan told me.

Despite the setbacks, however, Alan sees Colombia as well-positioned to become a hub of startup activity.

“I actually see an amazing potential, although it has not yet been realized,” he said, “for Colombia to be a great launchpad in Latin America…It’s¬†not a homogeneous region, which makes it much more challenging, but if you can actually pull it off it makes it much more valuable…

If you look at the size, it’s small enough to be something that you can manage, almost like an MVP market, but it’s big enough that it can mean something. It’s really a unique market to launch stuff out of out…

…That’s the promise. Let’s see if it comes to realization.”

Alan doesn’t think Colombia will be able to develop its ecosystem into a fully mature and self-sustaining one in the near future. However, as an investor, he sees great potential right now, even while the ecosystem is still young.

“I think it’s going to take awhile to get there,” he said, “but, in the meantime, in the next 5 years, I think there are great opportunities to invest in people who get it.”

Want to be one of the entrepreneurs who gets it? Alan recommends that entrepreneurs,

“don’t wait for the expert [to tell you how to build your company]…In history we’ve never had a time when you can have so much access to so much information, but people just haven’t caught up in their habits,” he said.

Go out there, find the information you need, and get moving. He also recommends that entrepreneurs let go of their perfectionism so that they can push forward. Today’s startup marketing techniques don’t require the crazy investments of billboards and television commercials, so new entrepreneurs shouldn’t seek perfection before getting the word out. They should get their product in front of as many people as possible and take advantage of that user feedback.¬†¬†

At the same time, new entrepreneurs need to be able to look to the future and the big picture while working on operational excellence and not just trying to come up with a super innovative idea. As an investor, Alan says,

“the biggest obstacle to me is not valuations, it’s deal flow. There’s tons of deal flow but it’s a lot of garbage…I see a lot of people focused on one little thing but they don’t have a clear idea of why that’s interesting…The ones that are interesting to me are guys or women who can create amazing stuff and have a big vision: they say okay, we’re focused on this one little thing now but once we get it going we want to go here and here.”¬†

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Rene Rojas

Next up for Startup Nomad in Bogot√° was a visit to HubBOG, a startup “campus” that includes acceleration, an academy, co-working space, and investment, to meet with Rene Rojas, the co-founder and CEO. He is also an entrepreneur and a mentor and investor for startups and has helped to create a number of programs to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bogot√°.

According to Rene,

“Bogot√° is growing.”

There are two large government agencies (AppsCo and iNNpulsa) supporting the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but both just started in 2012 so there is more work to be done.

“If you compare us to Silicon Valley,” Rene told me, “of course, we are at the beginning…

…I would focus more on the creation of institutions who make self-sustaining business goals [than on government agencies]: companies who encourage people to become an entrepreneur and who help startups or entrepreneurs to go to the next level. We need that sort of company. If we don’t create that type of company here then, when the government closes the tap [of money to support entrepreneurship], everything will be lost.”

“If you compare us to New York, we are closer to NY….

…Mayor Bloomberg is providing services to the startups and companies that really help startups through his policies,” Rene told me. “Here we need more policies, maybe some tax credits or other incentives to develop the industry.”

“If you compare us with Israel, Tel Aviv, it’s very difficult because it’s in the blood of the Israeli population to be an entrepreneur,” Rene said. “It’s a part of the culture. We don’t have that…

…We are very entrepreneurial but we are not startups. We have a lot of entrepreneurs in the areas of textiles or handmade products or services. We don’t have the industry for startups. We have to work on that.”

One of the key areas that needs to be developed in Colombia’s entrepreneurial community, according to Rene, is the business knowledge and capacity of the entrepreneurs and other players in the startup scene.

“In Colombia, we have a lot of very good talent in development and programming and in designers, but not necessarily in business,” Rene told me. “We have a very similar situation, like in other countries, that a lot of engineers create new solutions and new platforms without asking the market what they really need or what they want to be solved.¬†We have to correct that. We have to train new people who want to learn business from a startup point of view.”

And, given the pace of technological growth and adoption of technology to make people’s lives easier such as e-commerce and the plethora of internet services and marketplaces, Rene believes that Colombia will get there soon.

“I think in 5 years – because of the speed of internet and because the government is doing well – we could make bigger spaces like HubBOG and we could have a better future,” he said. “I think we need 5 years; we don’t need more than that.”

Rene’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?:

“Don’t try to get money through your startup.¬†The more interest you put in becoming a billionaire in a startup the closer to failure you are.

…If you put your attention on making money, you will lose.¬†If you put your happiness before money, the money will appear…

…You have to create the curiosity in yourself because you don’t do anything for yourself if you don’t like it. If you create a company, never, never create a company in a product or service that you don’t like. Always create a company in a way of your happiness…

…Happiness is the big issue in human life so find your passion. Passion and then a lot of work…work, work, work hard.”

 

Are you familiar with the startup ecosystem in Colombia or anywhere else in the world? Let me know what you thought of Rene’s interview in the comments section below and if you know someone I should interview for an upcoming Startup Nomad post, drop me a line about that as well.¬†

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Carlos Casta√Īeda

My next stop in Bogot√° was to speak with Carlos Casta√Īeda at Wayra. By now, you should all have a pretty good idea of what Wayra does as I’ve chatted with the Wayra teams in Chile, Argentina, and Peru before making it to Colombia. (If you’re just starting to follow Startup Nomad you can go back and take a look at the interviews with the other Wayra leaders here, here, and here. Instead of rehashing the Wayra discussion, Carlos and I jumped right into talking about what sets Colombia’s ecosystem apart from the others in the region and the world.

**Please note, my interview with Carlos was conducted in Spanish and I’ve paraphrased some of what he said.**

According to Carlos, a lot has changed in Colombia over the last 2.5 years. Previously, neither the government nor the private sector invested in startups so an entrepreneur who really wanted to build a new company had to go to a different country. In the last 2.5 years that has changed a lot, however, not only because of Wayra or because of the support of the government, but also because new investors have arrived in the country.

“We still don’t have an ecosystem that is fully developed,” he told me, “but we have one where we’re growing much faster than other countries on some metrics‚Ķ

The number of people who are thinking about startups is greater and the talent is developing their technical capacity more…the coders are more skilled, the business people understand better how to get venture capital…

We’re raising the level‚ĶI’m confident that we will be the new hub in the region.”

Despite the rapid development, however, Carlos mentioned the same couple of issues that have continued to pop up with the majority of the people I spoke with throughout the region.

“The difficulty here is that we don’t have success stories and we don’t have access to capital,” he told me.“The investors here are more interested in traditional investments. They want to buy another building or something like that, not invest in a risky startup‚Ķ[and] in Colombia there are very few people with a track record. Cases of major success don’t exist. We don’t have a rock star.”

Colombia is also still at the stage that many of the budding startups are still copy-cats of successful companies in other parts of the world. Carlos noted that it’s logical that there would be a lot of copy-cats because the development of things like e-commerce in the country are very low, even the adoption of the internet is very low. As Colombians gain access to and confidence in using these technologies, the opportunities are there for the copy-cats.

“It’s very different to build a startup here than to do it in San Francisco or in Tel Aviv. You have to understand the Latin American culture,” Carlos told me.

We also talked about the rivalry and differences between Bogot√° and Medell√≠n, Colombia’s two startup bastions. “I’m from here, I live here, I love it here, but I’m fascinated by what’s going on in Medell√≠n,” Carlos said. From his perspective, Bogot√° has a much larger population and the people know a little more about startups and the startup process but Medell√≠n now has a program from the city government [Ruta N – you can read that interview here] to support the development of entrepreneurship. Additionally, in Bogot√°, the majority of entrepreneurs are still Colombian. Unlike in Medell√≠n where there is a huge population of foreign-born entrepreneurs, foreign entrepreneurs are just starting to arrive in Bogot√°. Plus, Medell√≠n is very small and all of the entrepreneurs congregate in one area so if you visit, you will see tons of them. In Bogot√° everything is more spread out and there are many more people, so you won’t see the density of foreign entrepreneurs even though they are coming.

And Carlos’ advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “The first thing is to think like your customer. Think like your customer and how your product will solve their problems. Why would they spend their money or spend their time for your product or on your platform?”

 

Do you have experience with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bogot√°? Let me know what you think of Carlos’ thoughts in the comments section below.¬†

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Carolina Franco

After an amazing time in Medellin I moved on to Colombia’s capital, Bogota, to continue learning about the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and what’s going on in the world of startups in Colombia. My first visit was to iNNpulsa, the Colombian government’s program to promote entrepreneurial innovation, where I met with Carolina Franco, a Special Projects Professional and¬†the Customer Relationship and Service Specialist for the Colombian High Impact Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem.¬† Carolina came to iNNpulsa with an international background in the private sector.

Carolina had an interesting take on Colombia’s ecosystem because she sees first hand all of the efforts being made to improve it. According to Carolina, the Colombian government’s national development plan from 2011 identified innovation as one of the key foci, with entrepreneurial development as a core system for supporting and fostering that innovation. From there iNNpulsa was born.

Carolina saw many of the same issues with the ecosystem that my interviewees in Medellin mentioned: a lack of capital and an overall lack of development and sophistication in the ecosystem.

“We need to concentrate at first on our main gaps and our main gaps are strengthening institutions and closing financial gaps,” she told me.

She continued: “there is a big gap in financing early stage entrepreneurs in Colombia, so we have done a lot in that area and we have shown the country’s leaders that there is a lot to do there.”

She continued: “there is a financial gap that is a financial opportunity. This is a big test for the government but it’s also really attractive.”

iNNpulsa’s goal is to address these systemic shortcomings with the long-term impact in mind. At least in part because of iNNpulsa’s efforts, Carolina sees Colombia as poised to become a key player in the entrepreneurship world, but she also thinks that the culture needs to change first.

“We have been an entrepreneurial country,” she said, “but the point is that we didn’t believe that‚Ķ We [iNNpulsa] want to build a conversation about the value of entrepreneurship.”

And iNNpulsa is certainly putting in the effort to make those changes happen through a number of programs. “[The] agency is focusing on a particular type of entrepreneur,” Carolina explained, “those that will create sustainable and accelerated growth.” On the financing side, they want to create a network of active investors. “We have built a national network of investors but they’re not active because of the risk and other factors so we need to educate them about the potential and about financing early stage companies,” she said.

“There’s a big, a big, big opportunity with the startups that they’re missing.”

So far, their efforts seem to be working.

“People that come here are very impressed with what we’re building,” she told me. “It’s not known in the whole regional ecosystem, all the things that Colombia is doing, but for those that saw all of the opportunities, they’re coming and coming and coming‚ĶWe want them to see Colombia as a launchpad. Colombia is very strategic.”

Given Carolina’s international work experience, I was especially interested in her thoughts on how the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colombia compares with those in other countries.

“Each particular country and each particular ecosystem has some particular similarities and some particular differences,” she told me.

Some of them, for example, have a very good business environment that makes it easy and attractive to do business there. “Setting up a startup company there is very, very easy and the government has worked so hard to make that easier. It’s an institutional strength that they have to make the doing business environment more attractive. Colombia is not far from that. The main difference is that probably they have incentives such as tax incentives and other regulations that increase the amount of startups‚ĶWe need to work more on that. We need to increase those incentives.”

“Another difference that I think is a plus for Colombia,” she said, “is our bets on financial strategies to close the gaps. There are not a lot of countries helping to build more funds. In terms of attracting investors I think we‚Äôre working very hard and I think that will differentiate us‚ĶWe [also] have a plan to create joint venture strategies between two countries and to have joint financing between the two governments.”

So what’s Carolina’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?:

“Work hard for whatever you believe,” she said. And, “build your relationships, your networks. Relationship can be a big part [of success], and not just on the national scope. Always thinking big is something that I can say that good entrepreneurs do. Don’t just think of your networks and relationships on the national scope.”

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Cesar Cortes

My next stop in Medellin was at Ruta N, an amazing public non-profit that is playing a huge role in Medellin’s rapid acceleration into a major Latin American startup hub. While there, I met with Cesar Cortes, the Director of ICT in Science, Technology, and Innovation Plan for Ruta N. Cesar is ¬†a Colombian who spent many years in the startup world of the United States (Boston, DC, and Silicon Valley) before moving back to Medellin in late 2012.

He gave me a tour of the absolutely gorgeous building where Ruta N is housed and let me pick his brain about the startup ecosystem in Medellin and its rapid growth. Below, you’ll see my interview with him as well as a video showing the Ruta N space because it was such a beautiful office building that I couldn’t help but let you all take a peak.

Unsurprisingly, Cesar had a lot of the same observations of the ecosystem as some of the other players in the scene with whom I’d already spoken. He said that currently,

“there is a lot of excitement [around entrepreneurship]…there are a number of co-working spaces being established around the city, a number of Meetup groups,¬†a lot of foreigners coming to Medellin.”

While Cesar recognizes that Medellin is still in the early stages of developing its ecosystem, “this is a very fertile ground,” he said.

“This is the right time to be here, the right moment…It’s still at the very early stage but there are a lot of resources and initiatives and money that are being invested in the ecosystem at various levels…In 10 years Medellin will be recognized as one of the most innovative cities in Latin America.”

Because the ecosystem’s development is still at it’s early stages, however, “there are a number of gaps that we still have to fill,” Cesar said. “One of the gaps that we have is access to mainstream capital.” This access to capital is one of the gaps that Ruta N seeks to fill with its numerous programs and is, in fact, a lead investor in Velum Ventures, one of the first venture capital firms in Colombia, whose founding partner I interviewed as well.

Ruta N is also a key player in promoting Medellin as an entrepreneurship hub and has a program to help foreign companies bring their business operations to Medellin – complete with office space in their incredible building – along with their many other programs to help foster entrepreneurial growth and innovation in the city.

So what’s Cesar advice for new or aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Dream big; think globally, and really get to know the programs that are available to you [no matter where you’re located] because there are a lot of resources available.”

 

Here’s a look at the beautiful building where Ruta N is housed:

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Esteban Mancuso

I hope everyone’s off to great start for 2014. We’re back in action here at Startup Nomad, so let’s dive right back into the interviews:

My next stop in Medell√≠n was at Velum Ventures, one of the few venture capital firms in the country, to speak with one of its founders, Esteban Mancuso. Esteban is actually an Argentinian who has relocated to Colombia and brought his vast experience with startups to Colombia’s ecosystem. He’s been a founder, CEO, partner, mentor, or advisor at a host of companies and is a major player in the development of the startup ecosystem in Colombia.

He sees the environment for business as much healthier and more stable in Colombia than in his native Argentina.

“In Colombia, the government is fostering innovation and startups,” he said.

He also sees Colombia’s position within the market as advantageous for entrepreneurs saying,

“As a market there are a lot of opportunities. We have a lot of stability. The middle class is growing. There is a lack of many business models that already exist in Spain or wherever and are successful, so why not come to Colombia and then expand to Peru, Ecuador? Maybe go into Mexico. Maybe go into Chile.”

And he’s not the only one who sees this opportunity. A theme throughout all of my interviews in Medell√≠n was that foreign entrepreneurs have been falling in love with and moving to the Colombian city in droves. According to Esteban, there are a lot of foreigners that came to start businesses in Medell√≠n because “they like the city, they like the climate, and they can buy a house for cheap.”

He sees this as a great opportunity for Colombia to take its place as a leader in the growth of Latin American entrepreneurship and, more selfishly, recognizes the benefits for his own fund.

“What we are realizing is that there are many entrepreneurs from Argentina or Chile or Mexico where there is also a lack of early stage financing who are willing to come and live in Medell√≠n for many reasons,” he said.

The city, the climate, and the universities all rank high. Additionally,

“there is a lot of talent here and the human resources are still cheap compared to other countries for coders and designers,” he said.

There are some hurdles that Colombia still needs to overcome if it wants to create a truly thriving and sustainable ecosystem, however. Many of those hurdles ring true throughout Latin America, and Esteban recognizes that the region, as a whole, shares these hurdles, a major one being a lack of investors.”I think all the rest of Latin America [excluding Brasil and Argentina] is in the same situation,” Esteban told me. “Lack of funds, lack of professional investors.” He continued:

“One of the problems we have in the region, at least in Colombia, is the lack of investors, the lack of angels. Because traditional business people in Colombia are related to traditional industries…and they are not interested in investing in innovation. They’re interested in investing in traditional assets.”

Additionally, it can be tough to attract outside investors that do have experience because the risk is greater in the region due to lower deal flow and lower valuations.

“Valuations in Colombia and in the Andean region are not high,” Esteban said. “You are not going to find acquisitions for more than $30 million in the region [with the possible exceptions of Brazil and Argentina]…because of the size of the markets…When you see the valuations in exits you realize that it’s impossible to get a relationship of 1 hit in 10 companies that you invest in, you need to invest in 10 companies and have a success in 5 to return something interesting…Because the exits aren’t high you need many more exits,”

Therefore, entering the early stage market here can be very risky business and¬†“there is not enough deal flow right now in Colombia to invest a $50 million fund or a $60 million fund in a few years.”

That’s probably at least partially why, according to Esteban, “nowadays there are only 3 or 4 VCs: one focused on impact investment, another one more focused on BPO, and another one really active in VC and they’re the only fund in Colombia that has exits.”

That also means there aren’t examples of successful entrepreneurs for new entrepreneurs to look up to and to learn from.

Despite the hurdles, however, Colombia seems to be poised for growth in the startup ecosystem and Medellín in particular is becoming an international hotbed of entrepreneurial talent.

So what’s Esteban’s advice for new entrepreneurs?

“Entrepreneurs have to be much more prepared, to understand what it means to take a company from zero ¬†and make it grow in 3 or 4 years, in 4 countries…being really excellent in execution.” They need to¬†“prove much more and be much more in the market. You don’t build a company from behind your Mac coding.”

Finally, if you have the newest hottest app, don’t go knocking on Esteban’s door just yet. “We don’t invest in applications,” he told me. “We won’t invest in applications. We invest in companies.”

 

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Conrad Egusa

I began my Startup Nomad adventures in Colombia in Medellin. This is the first non-capital city I visited for Startup Nomad in Latin America and that’s because its entrepreneurship community simply cannot be ignored. It’s rapidly growing and is attracting lots of interest from entrepreneurs and investors from outside of Colombia.

Case in point: Conrad Egusa of Espacio, a co-working space in the heart of Medellin. Conrad is from the United States, has founded multiple businesses, and had experience in the startup scenes in Silicon Valley, New York, and Miami before moving to Colombia. Once he touched down in Medellin he fell in love and never left!

Check out the interview below to hear why he loves Medellin so much and how he thinks the entrepreneurial ecosystem there compares to that in the U.S.’s startup hubs.