Superman Zip-lining in the Costa Rican Cloud Forest

Continuing on with my list of some of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had and would suggest you add to your 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

Today’s post will be about the Zip-lining in Costa Rica’s cloud forest.

Zip-lining in Costa Rica is a pretty well-known activity for visitors to the Central American country, deservedly so. There are tons of options for you to take a zip-lining tour and you can do it as a single activity or combine it with other tours. Basically, you head up into the rainforest, get strapped into a harness, and fly through the canopy of the rainforest. Not only is it fun to whiz across the zip-line itself, but also you’ll get some great views of the rainforest from up above.

I did a post on this earlier in the Where in the World? blog, which you can check out here for a bit more detail on exactly what I did. You can also watch the video of it here:

One thing that’s important to note, however, is that you want to be sure to choose a tour that offers the “superman,” because this isn’t offered on all of the tours and it’s one of the coolest experiences. This is when you are strapped into a special harness that allows you to be on your stomach in a superman position as you zip through the canopy and it’s the closest thing to feeling like flying that I have ever experienced (though I have never sky-dived or used one of those flying suits, but this works for the fainter of heart).

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. 

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… 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…We 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…We 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’re working very hard and I think that will differentiate us…We [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 Medellín 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 Medellín 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 Medellín 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 Medellín 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.”

 

Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Before the holidays I shared a list of some of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my travels that I thought some of you might like to add to your bucket lists for 2014. The first few Where in the World? posts of the new year will give you some details about the where/why/how of my suggestions.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list:

  • 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

Today’s post will be about the Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is actually home to more than one bio bay, but the one I visited is in Vieques, a small island off the northeast coast of the main island of Puerto Rico. A bioluminescent bay is a bay that contains dinoflagellates or micro-organisms that glow if the water is disturbed. The more dinoflagellates in the water, the stronger the glow, and the bio bay in Vieques has a very high concentration of these little guys.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of myself in the bio bay because when I went I didn’t have a waterproof camera. However, you can see how cool it is by looking at these images I found with a basic Google search by clicking here.

This is hands down one of the coolest experiences I have had and I would highly recommend it to anyone. The bonus with the bio bay in Vieques is that there are also flying fish in the bay, so as you kayak out you’ll see an amazing light show as the flying fish jump out of the water all aglow. When I went, it rained at the beginning of the adventure so the bay was completely lit up as the raindrops disturbed the water and made it look like a bunch of glittering diamonds were dropping into the sea around us.

In order to get to Vieques, you’ll need to head out to the city of Fajardo on the eastern side of the main island of Puerto Rico. From there you’ll either catch a ferry (the option I used) or a tiny private prop plane to get out to the island of Vieques. There are only a few options for hotels and restaurants available and there is really nothing to do on the island besides the bio bay itself except enjoy the beautiful Caribbean beaches, so you definitely don’t need more than a weekend here. I spent two nights on the island and it was the perfect amount of time.

You’ll want to book your bio bay tour in advance because there is limited space. The night of the tour (all tours are after dark so that you can see the glow, of course) you’ll meet up at the tour operator to get a little “safety training” before heading out. The bio bay is actually surrounded with quite a bit of vegetation and it’s super muddy and mosquito-filled where you actually enter the water, so it’s a little unpleasant for about 5 minutes or so as everyone hauls their kayaks to the water’s edge and gets in. Once you paddle out into the bay a bit though, it’s clear and gorgeous.

As you paddle, you will see the flying fish jumping around you and also see the glow around the kayaks and paddles themselves. Plus, I guarantee you won’t be able to resist sticking your hands in to see the glowing around your own fingers. The kayak out is slow and leisurely, probably because everyone is distracted by the glowing fish and paddles, so don’t worry if you’re not in the best shape. Eventually, the guide will have everyone stop and gather in a circle and will allow time for you to hop out of your kayaks and swim around in the glowing water.

Again, this was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life and I would absolutely go back and do it again. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your travel bucket list.

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.

Colombia Startup Overview

I can’t believe we’ve already arrived in the last country of my Startup Nomad journey for 2013! It’s insane how quickly the year blew by. I’m now thinking about where to go for 2014, so please leave your suggestions below!

Colombia is an amazing country and the entrepreneurial spirit has certainly permeated. Colombia is actually the only country along my Latin American tour where I conducted a solid number of interviews in more than one city and spent considerable time outside of the capital. The federal government of Colombia has created initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship, as have a number of local governments, and the decline in violent crime and overall improvement in safety and the economy has created quite the boom in the country. I spent time in both Medellín and Bogotá and absolutely fell in love with both.

My time in Colombia was chocked full of interviews and events and I’m going to leave it to the locals to explain what’s going on in Colombia through the interviews you’ll see over the next few weeks. Nothing I can say would do it justice, so I won’t try, though you can check out a couple of graphs below that I pulled from the GEM data visualization tool to get an idea of how the entrepreneurial activity there compares with the U.S.

Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) Colombia vs USA
Percentage of 18-64 population who are either a nascent entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business
New Business Ownership Rate Colombia vs USA
Percentage of 18-64 population who are currently a owner-manager of a new business, i.e., owning and managing a running business that has paid salaries, wages, or any other payments to the owners for more than three months, but not more than 42 months

See you next week as we jump into interviews in Colombia!

Sailing from Colombia to Panama

While I am an avid traveler and am pretty relaxed about most of traveling’s annoyances, sometimes I hit the wall and cannot deal with another airport. That’s how I felt when it was time to leave Colombia to head back to Panama so, instead of a quick flight, I opted for a 5 day sailing aboard a 52′ catamaran and stopping in the San Blas Islands.

The first time I was in Panama I heard quite a bit about San Blas but never made it out there and, as a former cruise ship worker, I love being out on the open ocean so I thought the sailing would be a great way to see the islands while giving me a welcome break from the airport.

I booked through http://colombiapanamasailing.com/ aboard the Santana and then headed off to Cartagena to meet the ship. Now, I am not a backpacker but this was a backpackers’ sailing so it was quite a bit more rugged than I am used to but I had an amazing time. While I was sailing solo, I especially recommend it for couples as the open ocean and sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous and romantic. The living quarters are cramped and there is nothing to do but enjoy the view, swim, tan, and snorkel so be sure to bring a good book, but if you like the water you will have a fabulous time relaxing on this trip because you are completed disconnected.

You start in Cartagena and meet the boat’s captain and the other passengers the day before you set sail. Then your journey begins with 2 days of sailing before you arrive in the San Blas islands and get to swim, snorkel, and explore a number of different islands in the area as well as a ship-wreck. The last morning you’re up early and dropped off in Puerto Lindo where you can catch a bus to Panama City.

Check out the video below to get a quick taste of the ship and the sailing:


 

Peru’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Karen Weinberger

My final interview in Lima was with Professor Karen Weinberger who runs the entrepreneurship program at Universidad del Pacifico in Lima. Universidad del Pacifico has been leading the charge to build Peru’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and has a variety of courses, events, programs, and services to help entrepreneurs build their businesses and build the ecosystem and community around entrepreneurship and startups. Because she works directly with students, Professor Weinberger has a unique view of the next generation of entrepreneurs and the building of the ecosystem.

She notes that the improvement in Peru’s economy has actually drawn young people away from entrepreneurship, at least temporarily.

“Now that it’s a very good economic climate and a very good labor market,” Karen said, “students prefer to go out, get a job, and then later start their businesses with their own savings.”

The trouble is, once they start working, it becomes difficult for young people to walk away from the security of their jobs.

“People want to invest in businesses and want to have businesses but they don’t want to give up their salaries to do it.”

Despite the temptation to stay at a bigger company holding back some potential young entrepreneurs, Karen sees the overall environment as positive in Lima.

“It is very easy to start a company,” she said. “Small businesses have a special system for taxes – you don’t have to pay full taxes if you’re a small business” and, “in Peru, there are a lot of people that have money that want to invest in companies…Local entrepreneurs know that there are very good opportunities here.”

However, she does identify some negatives, mostly associated with the newness of the ecosystem.

“There’s a very informal mentality and I think we still need to work on that,” she said. 

“For example, you see students that think they have an extraordinary idea and are ready to go look for investment but if you talk to them they haven’t done very good research on the market, they don’t know the size of the market, and they think they can just sell based on a feeling.”

Additionally, a focus on bringing in sophisticated investors from the outside isn’t going to have a very large impact because, “startups usually don’t look for venture capital here. They look to family friends, their own families, their own savings. It’s not very common to have young startups or young entrepreneurs with venture capital.”

So where does Karen see the ecosystem in five years?

“Five years ago people were talking about entrepreneurs and not enterprises,” she said. “In another five years I hope that people should be talking about enterprises and not entrepreneurs…because we need many more small and medium companies than so many startups with entrepreneurs who do it more for the experience than because they have the passion, skills, and experiences to be good entrepreneurs and to build good enterprises.”

 

 

Are you connected to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Peru? Let me know what you think of Karen’s thoughts in the comments section below.