When on the topic of start-up hubs, it is commonplace to immediately direct your thinking toward places like Los Angeles, New York City, and, the most notorious, Silicon Valley. This is natural, and there are likely quite literally over a thousand and one reasons why.
Another region often overlooked, though, while increasingly deserving of its own respect in this particular conversation is Latin America – where the rules for success can be just as simple as anywhere else. Colombia, in particular, is a country where entrepreneurs are truly starting to show off their strengths.
While Colombia is still a reasonable way off from garnering the success and attention of the aforementioned hotbeds, an ardent group of entrepreneurs are prospering in putting in the necessary work to create an atmosphere conducive to successful startups in the region – many in industries key to its rather desired development into more secondary and tertiary production for the sake of future Colombian prosperity.
In a city that often feels as if its most significant stumbling block is its almost ever-present traffic, innovations in Bogota’s commercial transportation were always going to be accepted with open arms. It’s because of this that Mi Águila has seen such success in offering cost-effective and transparent transportation services to businesses across the country. Already servicing over 580 business domestically and currently growing by around 20% monthly, Mi Águila provides an app-based platform enabling Colombian companies to make use of the company’s transparently-priced vehicles while also cost-efficiently managing their transport finances. Something in particular that potentially gives Mi Aguila a competitive edge is the heavy-vetting process of drivers. Security concerns can, at times, be rife in Colombia. and so provision of a service in which one can place more trust than the next service seems to be an advantage worth exploring. Having already extended their services to Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena, Mi Aguila plans to expand abroad to Peru, Ecuador, and Paraguay as part of their medium-long term plans.
Another area particularly open to innovation in Colombia is the market for fitness & exercise. A few fast-starters have already begun capitalizing on Colombia’s desire to stay in shape by placing fitness centres all across the country, but it’s FitPal that has seemingly gone the extra mile to add extreme convenience into the mix. Dubbed by some as both the “universal passport for fitness” and “the Uber of the gym world”, the FitPal app allows its users access to over 50,000 classes across 410 gyms for a substantial range of activities from boxing to ballet. Users simply choose their city, their desired exercise type and a time of day before the app does the rest of the work. As it stands, the app benefits those living in Medellin – where it was created – as well as in Bogota and Cali; with only around 5% of the population being owners of memberships at fitness centres, there is a massive opening to get more people in the gym doing the specific activities of their choice.
With more app-based enterprises comes a higher demand for smartphones, which for a country with only around 40% smartphone penetration, leaves a large opening for anybody who could help get more smartphones into the hands of the rest of the population – such as Celucambio. New smartphones do not always fall into the budget of the average Colombian due to import taxes and higher production costs. For that reason, Celucambio’s online marketplace for used smartphones could plug the current smartphone gap – allowing users to trade in their old phones and get ‘credits’ towards their next phone through the marketplace for much cheaper prices than they would otherwise pay. Allowing users to carry out transactions using both cash and card also caters for the large unbanked population, which is around 30 million in 2018. Considering Latin America has over 160 million people without a smartphone and many millions of people who would likely be interested in buying a new version once they no longer want their current, there is a considerable amount of growth potential for start-ups like Celucambio.
Perhaps this recent surge in successful start-ups is encouraged by the economy which has seen consistent growth over 2% for over 17 years running. Statistics like that make it difficult for foreign entrepreneurs and investors to look elsewhere in Latin America, while still, the whole region is becoming a more attractive place to do business with each day. This is exactly what has allowed Biz Latin Hub to create a bilingual B2B service to support foreign direct investment in Colombia and beyond. Biz Latin Hub is a leading provider of market entry, back office and company incorporation services.
Although, the age-old obstacle for the majority of aspiring investors isn’t the legal affairs involved but simply a lack of finance. Cheap credit also isn’t the easiest thing to come by in Colombia, which is exactly what MesFix have sought to take advantage of. The web platform, having already helped over USD$10 million worth of investments, connects companies with cash-flow needs with a community of people interested in investing for a return – and are not necessarily seasoned investors. Also ensuring transparency by processing all transactions through a third-party payment gateway, the MesFix startup plays a seemingly important role in Colombia’s current start-up environment, given that a large number of start-up companies face cash-flow issues during the early years.
Granted, Colombia may not be the first place in mind when thinking of a competitive, growing startup community, but it would definitely make sense to take heed of the current happenings where innovation is concerned. The country is quickly establishing itself as a home for fresh creativity, profitability, and international potential – already host to more than 250 American companies – with many of the companies featured in this article already having or in the process of developing a presence in multiple countries. Excitingly, the companies listed above only represent a snapshot of Colombia’s current start-up environment which, unless there is an uncharacteristic serious blow to the economy, is sure to continue flourishing.