In New York City Pitch, Argentina IT Elite Asks Observers to Look Past “Baffling Economy”

Can an animated film about foosball players that come to life also tell the story of Argentina’s tech services industry? At a promotional event recently in New York City …

Can an animated film about foosball players that come to life also tell the story of Argentina’s tech services industry?

At a promotional event recently in New York City to boost Argentina as a provider of high-end services to other parts of the world, they showed a clip from Metegol, a feature-length cartoon produced by Telefe Argentina using local animators in Buenos Aires. It was the largest animated film yet made in Latin America and did very well at the box office. Universal Pictures picked up its distribution rights in the region and in Spain, while other distributors bought it elsewhere.

Watch the trailer and you’ll see the quality. Visually speaking, only someone like Comic Book Guy could tell it apart from a Pixar or DreamWorks movie.

Like animated hits Toy Story or Frozen, Metegol tackles familiar themes of overcoming obstacles and learning to work together and never giving up. The movie has a lot going for it. It was directed by Juan José Campanella, who had earlier won an Academy Award for best foreign language film. It looks great; clearly the local animation talent is top-notch. The Metegol team operated as a lean machine, light on executives and layers. They hired less expensive local computer artists and paired them with more experienced mentors. If you’ve talked to software development companies in Argentina, this approach will sound familiar.

Value for Money

But one thing that sets Metegol apart from Hollywood computer-animation blockbusters is that it was produced for about US$22 million. A comparable project would cost three to four times more if done by a Hollywood studio, according to one estimate, and huge hits like Cars can run to $100 million.

So, here we have a world-class movie that has done well with a limited audience. Far from Animation Valley, a talented team completes a complex project on a budget that’s lower than a “top-tier” studio would spend. But, as The New Yorker asked in a great piece, can this nearshore underdog compete with Hollywood?

The parallels with some of Argentina’s tech services providers are probably clear. At last week’s event, sponsored by Argencon — a group of companies that wants Argentina to export more knowledge-based services to global clients — Metegol was held up as an example of local skills. Executives from HP and IBM and other firms also praised the local talent (“No mañana attitude!”) while talking up the services they deliver from Argentina, including airline reservations systems and engineering solutions for the mining industry. They want to sell more of these services to businesses outside Argentina and the region.

So do homegrown tech innovators like Globant. Globant started reaching out to global clients not long after starting up in 2003, and they now count Coca-Cola, Cisco, Google, and JWT among them. The software developer has 25 tech centers in Latin America and around the world, including in Boston, San Francisco, Austin and London. Earlier this year it became the first Latin American software company to launch an IPO on the NYSE.

Tough Times

If you follow the Latin America tech business, you will know that Argentina has a solid reputation for IT, BPO, and media services, a certain luster, even. Big players continue to set up tech hubs in Argentina.

But it’s been a rough year for Argentina. Its baffling economy has suffered setbacks like default and high inflation and temper tantrums. And if you really want something to cry about, there was that disaster in Rio.

So, you can’t blame Argentines if they want to think about the future instead. The NYC promotional event was called “The Future of Argentina.” At the beginning of the panel discussion, Argencon President Roberto Alvarez Roldan, a former Accenture exec, announced, “we will not talk about inflation.”

Can you blame him? But if the government doesn’t get it together, a big gloomy cloud of financial uncertainty could keep some global companies from investing in Argentina. No one at the promotional event was going to bash the government in Buenos Aires, but one economist there did refer to a need for “institutional and policy changes.” That’s one way of putting it.

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If Argentina wants to increase knowledge-based exports and grow its tech service opportunities, then it will have to produce not just more tech workers, but high-level tech workers who can speak multiple languages. The country gets a new president next year. Boosting tech and knowledge-based exports probably won’t be near the top of the to-do list, but getting the economy something like stable can’t hurt. If little metal football players from a foosball table can come to life, maybe politicians and business can work together to clear the way for innovators. Argentina has certainly had grimmer things to deal with.