Colombia, new land of innovation and entrepreneurs?


locoMany of you have heard about Colombian coffee and Juan Valdez, but Colombian entrepreneurship? That is a different story. However,  the Colombian government has created and articulated several agencies and institutes to promote innovation, and has started multiple entrepreneurship initiatives in the last couple of years. There is actually a state program named “Locomotive of Innovation,” and it has named biotechnology as one of its main components.

We have interviewed some of the main agencies and institutions to understand how biotechnology will be addresed. The Colombian Department of Science and Technology (Colciencias), the national agency of innovation (Innpulsa), the Ministry of Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce – plus local agencies – are all pushing innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2013, more than 3 million dollars of public funding was directly given to scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators from the different agencies and institutions, and $1.8 million of that went to biotechnology.

In the case of Bogota, which is a national scientific and academic cluster, and is a sizable market, Connect Bogota and Invest in Bogota both play a major role in local biotech innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives.

Connect Bogota links academia, research centers and companies to jointly develop and commercialize research and technology. Several companies and more than 20 universities of the city-region have joined Connect Bogota to create a cluster of information, knowledge, technology and opportunities. Diana Gaviria, director of Connect Bogota, says the most important goal is creating a network to accelerate innovation in the Bogota region and to improve trust among the different parties involved in tech transfer and innovation.

Invest in Bogota is dedicated to promoting the city, and identifying commercial and industrial opportunities. Invest in Bogota is a major player in the constitution of industrial partnerships, organizing supplier chains and optimizing resources for production and development of new technologies in the region. These strategies are the result of focus groups on innovation of specific markets and products, including groups made up of biotech and environment-conscious players.

A list of institutions and ministries help distribute the funding to the proper economical segments. However, this has limited effectiveness. The participation of so many agencies makes it difficult for an entrepreneur to effectively access funding, since each agency manages a small budget. Thus, in order to be effective, one has to draw funding from a host of agencies. Basically, the atomization of  public funding lowers the possible impact of public policy on innovation and entrepreneurship in Colombia. Fortunately, this weakness has been identified and there are proposed alternatives and solutions.

Thus, the fertile ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in Colombia should trickle down to biotechnology, as it is a national priority and the country aims to support its high biodiversity. It’s expected that innovation in biotechnology will happen over the next decades, so do not be surprised if you see more companies moving research areas there in the near future. Just be sure to be on the locomotive of innovation before it leaves the platform.

Johann F. Osma

Monica Segura

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Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Biotechnology