Technology often precedes bursts of development. Such was certainly the case for Medellin. Prior to the completion of the Antioquia Railway in 1929, Medellin was a rustic mountain community largely segregated from the outside world. The Antioquian region was know for gold mining and livestock foremost.
What brought change? Innovation.
Fast forward to present day and Medellin is poised to be the springboard into a new era of progress and development for Colombia. Thought the capital is Bogota, Colombia’s largest city has long been the economic engine and home to the country’s largest enterprises.
Nowadays, a fresh influx of innovation and foreign influence has set about to scour away all trace of Medellin’s troubled past and pave the way for a fresh and robust scene for modern investment.
More People, More Technology, More Innovation
It’s natural economics. People and resources flow where goods and services are cheap and there’s value to be had. When it comes to Medellin, the economics of the matter are directly influenced by the governmental initiatives supporting growth.
We needn’t have the chicken or the egg discussion. Expatriots and lifestyle adventures have been hip to the quality of life to be had in Colombia for years. But only recently have the more straight-laced authorities come to accept Medellin as an innovative city on the rise.
With the peso way down on the dollar, the women notoriously attractive, and the Internet widespread (by 2018, the government aims to implement a 63% rate of broadband connectivity throughout the country) people have been trickling into Medellin for years.
But now, the word is out. The flat world economy and fluid nature of information have opened the floodgates of interest in Medellin. The word?
Innovation and technology.
Walk through the hip and already developed neighborhoods of Laureles or Poblado and you’ll observe a sea of young entrepreneurial faces (“digital nomads”) glued to their Macbooks. You’ll hear tourists and businessmen exchanging conversations in multiples languages. Behind these enthusiastic exchanges is the audible and thrum of new construction. Building, both in the tangible and abstract realms, has become a cultural mainstay in Medellin.
Municipal infrastructure, private investment (mostly in the form of renovations or new apartment buildings), online business frameworks, and innovative platforms are paving the way for new golden age in the revived city.
Medellin: Innovative City
“At the end of the day, people just want to be here,” says Michael Puscar. “That might sound trivial, but when you’re talking about doing business, it really matters. It’s a great place to live, a great place to visit. The question then is building on what’s already here and letting people know how much opportunity there is.”
That’s Michael Puscar, a venture capitalist and recent immigrant. Puscar himself speaks to tech-specific initiatives of Medellin itself. He references how the Wall Street Journal crowned Medellín, Colombia the “Innovative City of the Year,” in 2012.
The banking group CITI partnered with the Urban Land Institute to choose the world’s most innovative city based on its economy, urban development, culture/livability, technology and research, among other measures.
Medellin has taken a shine to this kind to this attention, creating a host of incentives to attract entrepreneurial and international startups.
Part of this free sponsorship is “Ruta N.” This massive business incubator on the city’s north side is sponsored by Telecom giant Tigo. It was built to accommodate businesses as small as sole practitioners – lean startups at their leanest. Grounded in the Medellin’s Sevilla neighborhood, a block from the University of Antioquia, is the Ruta N’s green campus (the building is LEED Gold Certified).
Within the shared workspace, Ruta looks to generate “sum is greater than the parts” synergies between established businesses and startups. Flexible and affordable (as low as $60 USD per month) office space is available to meet entrepreneur’s needs.
Apps.co is another, more tech-specific, government program. By 2014, it will have given an estimated $33 million in funding to accelerators and university partnership programs, according to The Atlantic.
Recently, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress gathered in Medellin for it’s annual brain-exchange. Hosting entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and policymakers from over 160 countries, the focus was to help founders and businesses start up and scale out around the world.
The GEC calls Medellin the hub of “the Business of Next” – a place where radical thinking can actually inform a community. The conference hosted personalities from Google, Eventbrite, and MIT.
“There’s a huge opportunity, business-wise, for entrepreneurs who want to build companies from Latin America… [We’re] building the services and technology for the next 3 billion people who go online…. I think the resurgence of Colombia as a political and economic power has allowed it to become a player – investors are now seeing the potential for growth.”
That’s Grooveshark creator Andres Barreto, speaking to why he’s betting on Colombia. Barreto, who made millions by age twenty on his tech platforms, thinks Colombia could skip its “industrial revolution” and develop directly into an information economy.
Esteban Elejaide Jaramillo, 22, is equally optimistic. As a Blokwise app programmer (they made the TNT app for this year’s Oscars) Esteban is proud to be working in his hometown while on the frontier of development:
“If you’d have told me two years ago I’d be able to work as an app designer in Medellin, I’d have laughed,” said the graphic design graduate. “I thought my work here would be limited to business cards and fliers.”
In the eyes of Medellin mayor, Anibal Gaviria, this is the enthusiasm that pays for itself as an indicator of macro-scale growth:
“We’re not innovating for innovation’s sake,” he said. “We’re not talking about exploring the sea bed or going to Antarctica. We’re using technology to attract business and create jobs, and thus to improve the lives of the people who live here.
Countrywide Growth and the Greater Good
Indeed, the entire Colombian government has rebranded itself, seeking to appeal as a tech center for IT services with tax incentives and professional training programs. A hearty $6.8 billion industry has grow roots here as a result; 1,800 software development and IT service companies are now registered in the country.
The government is looking ahead to diversification and innovation taking hold. On top of this tech infrastructure and entrepreneurial scenario, the market is being driven by a robust medical tourism industry and foreign investments.
And the rising tide raises all ships. Medellin stands to gain more resources as all of Colombia takes off.
The Colombian GDP is growing faster than any other in Latin America. It’s currently the fourth fasting growing in the world. Poverty and unemployment are all down thanks to the labor formalization and tech based programs.
Both Facebook and Google have deemed Colombia a worthy market and have opened offices here in recent years.
In comparison to other emergent Latin tech hubs – Santiago, Sao Paolo, and Buenos Aires – Colombia boasts not only the environment and lifestyle tourists and residents love, but also the general structural growth that attracts immigration.
With growth and innovative practices in the hearts and minds of its people, this city is staged to make huge leaps in years to come. Given present momentum, a further influx of tech, tourist and infrastructure is to be expected. Here’s a modern city set in an ancient jungle, it’s given nickname: “The City of Eternal Spring.” With all the innovation and tech afoot, a season of fresh opportunities is very much present in Medellin.