Colombia – A Nation in Innovation Swift Motion
by Debra M. Amidon
“Innovators can hold
a situation in chaos for long periods of time
It was impossible to
resist an invitation from Juan Carlos Salazar to visit Bogotá, Colombia,
as guest of the National Planning Department for their 1st National
Conference on Innovation (1er Encuentro Nacional de Innovación). Opened
by the former officials Vice President, Gustavo Bell, and the planning
director, Dr. Juan Carlos Echeverry Garzon. Representatives from
500, public, private R&D development centers, enterprises and
entrepreneurs engaged in intensive panels and workshops convened to
explore the status of current initiatives and architect the foundation for
activity with the new government administration.
A National Innovation System had actually been launched several years previous through their Science and Technology arm – Colciencias under the able leadership of Margarita Garrido, Director General (http://www.colciencias.gov.co/). Now was the opportunity for timely and thoughtful review, so the conference focused the first day on innovations in several industrial sectors and the second day was devoted to developing action plans.
The outcome of the discussions underlined the tremendous potential of the country to launch a sound innovation strategy as a sine que non for entering the knowledge economy, but all efforts should be made to formalize the networking pf the plethora of Colombian institutions involved in one way or another in fostering technological innovation.
To prepare for the
meeting, I was invited to review a recent presentation from the World
Economic Forum on “Benchmarking Colombia’s Competitiveness.” With
data from 4,601 respondents from 75 countries, the BAD news is that
Columbia ranked low in perceived confidence in public officials,
sophistication of financial markets, macroeconomic stability et al.
However, the GOOD news is that Colombia – as a nation – was repeatedly
outranking their peer nations in South America in terms of:
Ø exports and regional sales;
local market competition;
uniqueness of products/services in international markets;
product development, distribution and marketing;
locally developed product designs;
quality of management schools;
public access to the Internet;
quality of competition in the telecommunications and ISP sectors;
government on-line applications;
laws related to ICT use; and
efficacy of corporate boards.
Ø technology based entrepreneurship
In fact, the
sophistication of company operations and strategy sub-index, Colombia
ranked 36th out of the 75 countries surveyed. They ranked 33rd in terms of
corporate boards, 29th in terns of management schools and 19th in terms of
locally based competition. They are well positioned to shift from a
factor-driven economy through an investment-driven economy and into an
innovation-driven economy – the true unique value-added.
The National Innovation System:
Launched in 1996, the NIS is comprised of Technology Development Centers, Regional Productivity Centers and the Technology-Based Incubator. Leonardo Pineda Serna (firstname.lastname@example.org), CEO of Quibit Cluster (www.qubitcluster.com), and international consultant on Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation, and member of the board of the country incubator had managed an electronic nation-wide dialogue for several weeks in advance of the meeting to review the status of current progress. The conclusions were clear: There is a need for a sound definition of innovation; there is a need to better define what constitutes an innovation network; what ought to be the function of a national initiative; and what management concepts and techniques need to be employed to ensure innovation success.
In short, the innovation backbone for the Knowledge Economy is necessary to create wealth for the nation. Entrepreneurs need to better understand how to manage their innovation process as a milestone for their success. Enterprises must realize the true value of networking for managing strategic alliances that build social capital. New managerial standards are likely to emerge. Effectively managed knowledge strategy could be a platform for world peace.
At the meeting, a Working Proposal for managing the SNIC (Del Sistema Nacional de Innovation de Colombia) was carefully reviewed by facilitated work groups. Five objectives outlined the foundation: (1) A society that is open to innovation reaps the benefits; (2) A legal framework - complete with budget for technology development; (3) More coherence in the formulation of policies and strategies; (4) Promotion of an innovation culture; and (5) Better reach with technology to reach a better coherence between the supply and demand of technology by improving the networking links among the academcia, financial and the productive sectors.
By and large it seems evident that the Colombian NIS has played a key role in fostering technology development, but it is also true that is the time to reformulate the ways and means the system is operating.
Manizales – The Knowledge City
Manizales has been in the last two centuries a coffee growing region of Colombia, the world famous mild coffee sort. Because of the world coffee crisis, the region is suffering the consequences of the highly dependence of this commodity for securing economic growth. However, the Region Caldas, and most specially its capital city has other advantages over other Colombian areas, such as the highest literacy rate, the largest number of top universities by population size, and dedicated and motivated young entrepreneur class. This most new political class is fully aware that the present conditions must be changed. This new wind of change is being promoted by INFIMANIZALES, the public funding development institution under the leadership of a young technocrat Luis Roberto Rivas Montoya, Gerente General (www.infimanizales.gov.co ).
At the seminar, Leonardo Pineda outlined the evolution of similar technocities in the United States, such as Route 128, Silicon Valley, RTI in Raleigh, North Carolina and MCC and SEMATECH in Austin Texas. He also described some of the characteristics of CBIRD – the Cross-border Institute for Regional Management (http://www.cbird.org/) – an experimental project operating without a border with designated territory that cuts across both Mexico and the United States.
In addition, this event sponsored by UNDP United Nations Development Program (http://www.undp.org ). Dr. Lorenzo Guadamuz Sandoval presented the Education Program of the government of and based on this experience hr proposed some line of actions for Manizales, such as a large Telecenter to attend communities with no or little access to Internet.
convened an introductory meeting where executives from government,
academia, industry and NGO’s discussed the issues and opportunities
related to intellectual capital protection and leverage. The group was
able to learn of the programs and services of this organization founded in
1966 – now boasting 5,000 members and a program dedicated to the South
America region. The 1st Pan American Conference scheduled for December in
Brazil will bring (brought?) together representatives from all the Andean
countries. The core questions, of course, were how to develop a support
infrastructure for the commercialization of Colombian-based technology.
Martha C. Rodriguez D., former Director, provided a briefing on the agency (http://www.agenda.gov.co) that is responsible for the ITC infrastructure of the country. She outlined the 6-prong strategy with (1) the legal and regulatory framework, (2) formal and informal training/education programs, (3) putting companies on-line, (4) Providing incentives for the IT industry, (5) Managing the content in Spanish language, and (6) Putting the Government on-line. What began as an IT initiative has quickly evolved into one of creating a society of knowledge: The main objective of the Agenda is to promote the massive use and application of ITC and Internet technologies as a mean to enter into the knowledge economy, modernizing public and private institutions and the corresponding appropriation of information by the community.
They have initiated a
variety of creative programs used to incentivize use and serve as the
portal for the Colombia IT industry. For instance, there is a program
called Project INTELLIGENT - the first phase of 5,000 units in 10-12
cities and with 13 Colombian institutions. Students receive loans for
their training and certification. If successful, they receive 60% off
future courses. If they work in an incubator, they receive 20% more.
Expectations are that there will be 25K certified over a period of 5
years…not to mention the businesses that may be incubated! There are
similar programs to generate software-related companies, provide virtual
education courses, link 860 companies to strengthen bi-lingual commerce
This is and educational
network that connects 18, 000 PCs of public schools (primary and high
schools) of the Capital City, Bogota. The Project was initiated in in
1997, linking 16 offices and a headquarters into a learning system
providing training for teachers, education information, and how to use
technology. Around one million students access the network during school
Under the direction of
Cecilia Maria Velez – former Secretary of education of the City of
Bogota, and now the new Education Minister for Colombia, the program with
an investment of $ 30 million USD(, has created baseline
evaluation program with 150 variables and seven performance indicators.
The goals include increasing access, connectivity, use, public awareness
and advancements on the pedagogical use of technology.
As a guest of Juan
Carlos Botero, Executive Director of one of the Incubators in Bogotá, (http://www.incubarcolombia.org.co)
we visited with young entrepreneurs developing businesses from knowledge
exports, simulation and analysis to contemporary packaging. In a forum
about what venture capitalists seek, we outlined that a new company today
should be funded based upon their capacity to innovation – not funded
for a specific technology. These kinds of structures have evolved in
Colombia since 1994, and now there are about 13 incubators in the country,
which illustrates different levels of success. To-date, we can count over
250 new business develop by this new business models. We can find in this
incubators young entrepreneurs, like the case of Mantix, a young company
created by two brothers (one of 21 years, the other one of 23 years) that
change their life from being delivery boys to entrepreneurs and now they
are making business in amounts of USD$30.000. What is needed is more
financial capital to provide the talent of Colombia to spread its
influence – good ideas and deeds – throughout the region and the
Video and TV Studio
We visited Teleamiga, a
local TV Network that works in Bogotá, in where we were in a program
called Embrión that showcases new developments in entrepreneurship and
innovation. In this space, they demonstrate to the audience what is going
on in innovation in the world, which are the new trends, and what could
people do to be more competitive in this Knowledge Economy. They have 3
shows based in these interviews, each one 30 minutes long. This is
one way that the success stories of entrepreneurs can be widely
disseminated to help build an entrepreneurial culture that spawns economic
return for the nation.
The 7I’s Summary
In my own closing
remarks after witnessing the scope and intensity of the conversations, I
offered the following insights to the audience. We are only as strong as
our weakest country; and so the world is dependent upon your success. This
is what I heard:
It seems as though
Colombia has a real opportunity with the new government to develop a
knowledge strategy for the nation that would help transform its economy
and position it properly as a leader in Latin America and beyond. With an
integrated initiative to harnesses their national innovation program, they
may effectively protect their intellectual property, provide incentives
for R&D tax credits, document modern progress indicators, promote
entrepreneurial success and attract foreign capital to help (re) build
Dr. George Kozmetsky has always talked about “courageous leadership,” but the term may never apply elsewhere as it does for the talent inside this nation. Someone asked why I had visited the country when there were warnings for US travelers. I told the officials that I believed that the people in Colombia who are creating positive initiatives deserved our visible support. And the time is now…
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