* Note published for the blog “From the Valley to Silicon”
A renowned Colombian businessman invited me to talk about a project in order to make a reality that Medellín is the most innovative city in the world . The view we had from the meeting place evoked in me the same image that I saw when I arrived in Silicon Valley in California: A green valley, a dense forest interspersed with an urban area surrounded by mountains. That view I had in Medellín prompted me the same question when at a single glance I could appreciate all of Silicon Valley How much is this place worth? How much wealth is generated here? In the lower image (Silicon Valley) I do know the data, 4 trillion dollars is the market value of the companies that that forest produces. In the image above (Valle de Aburrá) I do not know this information, but what I do know is that it has the potential to generate enormous wealth. The Santa Clara Valley, California contains the city of San Jose which is the third city in the world with the highest per capita income , Medellín is number 285 in that ranking, but it is 46th in the world in economic growth for the year 2013-2014 and the first in Latin America in that category. This shows a thriving city with great potential but …
Only one thing is missing
Like many emerging cities in the world, Medellín is not the exception in promoting a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation and the fact of having obtained that title as the most innovative city for the implementation of its social programs and the design of infrastructure corroborates this. .
Before traveling to Colombia my expectations about the country and the city of Medellín were very different. Undoubtedly very influenced by his past events that the media have disclosed. I also confess that my surprise was due to my “excess” of ignorance and my own limited and centralized vision only in my country of origin, Mexico.
My hosts in Medellín will not let me lie about the shock and amazement caused by walking the road from the airport to the city while contemplating the natural beauty of the Aburrá Valley and the mountains that surround it. I just want to emphasize those aspects that Medellín lacks, which are also scarce in my country of origin and which stops it from unleashing its full potential.
Before going on to list them, I just want to highlight something that Bill Gates has mentioned about Latin America and that is collected in the book “ Enough of Stories ” by Andrés Oppenheimer. Bill Gates comments that Latin America lacks humility to know its lag. Undoubtedly, these words hurt my pride initially, but after developing my professional activity for more than a decade between Silicon Valley and now Tel Aviv (from where I am writing these lines) I definitely agree with Bill Gates, although with a different nuance. This way of proceeding of ours is due to the fact that normally we have not been exposed and present in a massive way with the rest of the world, that is, we are very local. That is to say, we are stuck in each of our Latin American cities like small fish tanks, all of them within the ocean of the global world and few fish dare to leave them.
I do not intend to compare the infrastructures, legal system or educational level of these development poles versus those of Medellín and the rest of Latin America. What I want to highlight in my comparison is what other emerging regions of the world are doing from Silicon Valley for their respective countries by connecting professional networks.
The total population of the cities that comprise Silicon Valley is about 3 million inhabitants, of which almost half are foreigners and where they speak close to 100 languages. . This cultural mosaic influences the way we do business and approach problems from very different angles. The biggest benefit of being there is that in just a 50km radius around Stanford University you have access to a professional network that connects you with literally the whole world. Phil Labin, the founder of Evernote says that “ to improve the chances of obtaining fortune and being lucky it is necessary to open the mind, connect with many people, change the routine, learn from experiences and have the guts to take risks. a> ”
Without much effort, like the one that any entrepreneur puts in Medellín to develop a project for his local or regional market, that same effort if executed from Silicon Valley becomes global and as a result business sizes of greater scope.
The problem with pro-entrepreneurship attempts in Latin America is that despite the fact that we all speak practically the same language and understand basic Portuguese, we do not leave our localities, sometimes not even in our own countries to discover, offer and solve problems. spanning wider regions. The solution is not necessarily to make all companies global, but if you really want to make a city or region an important development pole, it is necessary that it be connected to larger markets and unfortunately despite the many free trade agreements that We have among Latin American countries these focus on the exchange of “commodities”, raw materials, manufacturing and not necessarily the exchange of entrepreneurial talent.
Continuing with the figures
Of the almost one million two hundred thousand foreigners in Silicon Valley, about 300,000 are Mexican, in fact it is the largest minority by far, but only 0.5% of all startup founders in Silicon Valley are Mexican when about 28% They are from India. Another 0.05% of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are from the rest of Latin America (not including Mexico). In other words: for every Latin American entrepreneur there are 8 Asians of the yellow race and 3.5 from India. The vast majority of Mexicans in Silicon Valley are of very humble origin and with basic or no training, who perform manual and service jobs. They are the ones that represent Latin America in the world Capital of innovation. Unfortunately also, by not being on the Silicon Valley radar, added to the general ignorance or low culture of the “geeks” in Silicon Valley, they see that all of Latin America is exactly the same from Mexico to Tierra de Fuego. On a recent trip to Bolivia, some friends from California asked me, where in Mexico is Bolivia?
Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Decennial PUMS, 2008 American Community Survey PUMS http://siliconvalleyindicators.org/pdf/index2010.pdf
In a meeting with Tim Draper, one of the most recognized investors in Silicon Valley, who has invested in companies such as Tesla Motors, Skype, Hotmail, Baidu among many others, he told us about his good connections with Colombia thanks to the nanny with whom His children have grown up, and he has been working with them for 25 years, he is from Colombia. I wonder, if one of the largest venture capital investors in Silicon Valley has the concept of a country like Colombia through the nanny, when is he going to come close to investing in Colombia? But it is not the nanny’s fault, she is already doing her part by leaving her homeland and from there sending remittances back, rather I wonder where are the representation of the best entrepreneurs in Colombia who should approach people like Tim Draper ? The same question applies to the rest of the entrepreneurs in Latin America.
This same phenomenon occurs in the low presence of professionals of Hispanic origin working in the most representative companies in Silicon Valley. The following graphic demonstrates this :
By chance of fate in 2009 I went to live in Silicon Valley to work in a startup. It didn’t take me long to notice the little presence of Mexicans in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, so I decided to found an organization today called SV Links with the mission of increasing the connections and presence of businessmen, investors and entrepreneurs from Mexico in this place. However, the constant contact with people from all over the world, I learned that this problem was present throughout the Latin American region and not only in Mexico. Thanks to this international “networking” available within a radius of 50km around my house, we managed to have our organization have a presence and impact in 21 countries in just 18 months. Now I ask myself the question, what would have happened if this effort had been done only in Mexico? I don’t know, but we would hardly have had the impact and connections in the rest of the Latin American countries.
Thanks also to this, I met a first level professional “paisa”, trained in one of the best schools in the world in Computing and who works at Google. As a result of that, I also got to know the city of “Eternal Spring” and the businessman I mentioned at the beginning who intends to make Medellín the most innovative city in Latin America. I am sure that he will achieve it, my only recommendation is that to help accelerate this, you have to leave Medellín. More extensive professional networks must be established. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read the book “ Secrets of Silicon Valley ” at least the prologue so that they can see the benefit that startups can bring to their countries if they are they leave their countries. It sounds counterintuitive apparently, but I’m just seeing this phenomenon in Tel Aviv, where many of the startups have Silicon Valley connections, offices, mentors, investors, clients. Undoubtedly the history of the pilgrimage of the Jewish people, although very painful, today is bearing fruit, despite being deeply rooted in Israel they have connections throughout the world thanks to those diasporas of the past and present.
A final note about the beloved city of Medellín that I cannot leave out: nowhere in the world have I been able to experience the warmest of receptions and a sense of unmatched hospitality. That warmth must undoubtedly be learned by Silicon Valley.