Let’s have a flashback to a regular day in the year 2003 in Colombia and how difficult it was to know someone who called himself an “entrepreneur” and more likely, if you said you were starting your own business, you were fundamentally regarded as “unemployed.”
Today, the world stands on the rush of everyday innovations, and entrepreneurs are a common hub between cities – they are organized, move between the public and private sectors and their innovations on products and services, one of the pillars of economic activity in most developed countries.
But how much has changed in Colombia entrepreneurially speaking? Has Colombia evolved as fast as it needs to? And more importantly, are entrepreneurs empowered and incentivized to innovate?
Technology has been a key driver in almost every developed country and it has changed literally everything – from the way we conduct business, learn and interact socially. According to a report from the Colombian Science and Technology Observatory (Observatorio Colombiano de Ciencia y Tecnología– OCyT), in 2003 spending on research and development in the GDP was a mere 0.18% – 10 years later that same index rose to 0.22%. Essentially, this means that over the course of one decade, funding increased just 0.04%. The same index states that during the same period 56,6 % of all investments in research and development came from the public sector, while 40% from private investors and 3,3% from abroad.
These are discouraging numbers.
While the world focused on developing sustainable industry through innovation, Colombia, turned its back on it. This is one of the reasons why the country hasn’t been able to fight efficiently against volatile economic conditions, especially with commodities. The aim for 2018 is to achieve spending of close to 1% of the GDP on R&D – which will not be enough if we want to recover from ten years of abandonment and stagnation.
Government spending is not the only solution for Colombia to get back on the tech track – and truly be a globalized country with an entrepreneur- ial spirit. One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is the lack of capital needed to be operational and in the market; this capital in most cases are not large amounts and could be less than US$10,000. Lending is extremely difficult here and particularly if you aske for a loan from a commercial bank since having a credit rating can be a huge barrier for young entrepreneurs.
Our financial system needs to create strong microfinance channels for entrepreneurs and lend in a large scale rather than by the project. According to the Failure Institute and a document titled “Why entrepreneurs fail in Colombia” six out of every 10 entrepreneurs fail due to lack of financing. Financial inclusion, increase citizen’s participation in financial services and deregulate capital for start- ups should be one of the mains objectives of government in the years to come.
In Barranquilla, mayor Alejandro Char, recently launched a strategic microfinance plan in alliance with Bancoldex to boost capital financing plans for merchants and their small businesses. The idea is not only provide liquidity for tested entrepreneurs but to expand credit lines to young entrepreneurs, and in that way, eradicate informal and beyond the bank lending rates which can cripple entrepreneurs before they even get to the market. The illegal lenders are a response to the risk aversion by Colombia’s regulated financial system.
On the other hand, since 2010, Colombia established a fiscal policy intended to benefit small and medium-size enterprise (SMSE), in terms of exoneration of all or part of their income tax depending on the maturity of the company, their labor force and other conditions. This type of incentives are helping to potentiate a young generation of entrepreneurs and their businesses. This is a fundamental step on the path to consolidate new products and services.
The country is now waking up and giving the importance and resources entrepreneurs need, not only about augmentation of public funding on science and technology, but to try and reinvent a political outlook and expansion of a new public strategy. And recently, the national congress held a debate with the aim of the creation of a Ministry of Science and Technology that would focus on a plan for the next thirty years and help institutions such as Colciencias. Initiatives such as iNNpulsa Colombia will surely be more effective in terms of expanding sustainable innovation throughout the country.
Canada is one nation which leads by example having created a Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Here, the objective is to promote, implement and control the country innovation strategy together with the private sector and provide necessary capital. This way, entrepreneurs will be empowered and can contribute to venture capital initiatives. A Canadian plan would benefit Colombia’s innovation prosperity. Let us hope that these initiatives don’t evaporate into thin air so that entrepreneurs here can become strong contributors to our economy.
About the author: Ernesto Daza Lacouture is an Industrial Engineer with a Masters in Finance from the Hult International Business School, London. He is currently director of corporate investments in a Colombian investment bank and co-founder and CEO of a venture capital firm. He is a member of RedBrit – the network of alumni from British Universities.