Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Carlos Castañeda

My next stop in Bogotá was to speak with Carlos Castañeda 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…

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…I’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…[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 Bogotá and Medellín, 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 Medellín,” Carlos said. From his perspective, Bogotá has a much larger population and the people know a little more about startups and the startup process but Medellín now has a program from the city government [Ruta N – you can read that interview here] to support the development of entrepreneurship. Additionally, in Bogotá, the majority of entrepreneurs are still Colombian. Unlike in Medellín where there is a huge population of foreign-born entrepreneurs, foreign entrepreneurs are just starting to arrive in Bogotá. Plus, Medellín is very small and all of the entrepreneurs congregate in one area so if you visit, you will see tons of them. In Bogotá 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 Bogotá? Let me know what you think of Carlos’ thoughts in the comments section below.