The strategy driving Colombia’s growing digital relationship with Canada’s tech industries is less “back-office” and focused more on ecosystem integration.
The momentum of Colombia’s IT and digital content industries as a Latin American contender on the global stage has been building for some time. Technology accelerators around the country continue to develop unique private sector collaborations and international partnerships.
Iván Duque, Colombia’s recently-elected President, co-authored the book The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity for the Inter-American Development Bank, a work that is helping to further Colombia’s technology brand by defining the economic nexus of creative and digital industries, blending Colombia’s rich cultural heritage with its high-tech value proposition.
And Canada is noticing. Even as companies across Canada’s economy are waking to this emerging source of IT talent. North America already accounts for 29% of Colombia’s exported IT services, much of it for US clients. Colombia’s government has heavily invested in supporting the growth of the country’s IT-related industries — whether it’s software development, animation, VR/AR, film production, or digital marketing — to take this market penetration to the next level.
Strengthening the Canada – Colombia Gateway
A recent Canada-Colombia market connection program called Gateway to Trade had the objective of utilizing the countries’ free trade agreement to build new, targeted service export relationships for Colombia’s developing economy.
As a partnership project between Trade Facilitation Office (TFO) Canada and ProColombia, the program was supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada. The Gateway program combined services export training for Colombian digital services firms with a targeted Canadian market connection process that raised the awareness of Canadian companies and tech ecosystem players alike.
To add to the local development sustainability, the program also worked with dozens of Colombia-based trainers to expand across the country for future industry participants, including those in other service industry sectors.
For the Canadians who came in contact with the Gateway program, particularly in the SME space, an introduction to Colombia’s digital capacity was an eye-opener. Comprised of roughly 6,100 companies, the country’s IT industry is supported by significant investments in both infrastructure and education, making Colombia’s transformation from political hot-zone to stable high-tech economy in less than two decades a surprise to many.
A Strategic Focus on Two-way Benefits
Perhaps most apparent, however, is Colombia’s tendency to promote the collaborative, mutually-beneficial aspects of cross-border industry development, rather than positioning itself simply as yet another emerging global source of talented tech teams.
It is a strategy that combines the immersion of some of its digital innovators within the Canadian market to gain a real understanding of market needs, with high-level integration between each country’s IT ecosystems in both the public and private sectors. What organizations like ProColombia are ultimately seeking to achieve with Canada is the creation of a pipeline of talent and innovation that supports the growth of digital industries in each market, in both a trade and investment context.
“We are very pleased to see the great results our software and IT companies are having in the Canadian market. We will continue our efforts to strengthen the relationship between Canada and Colombia, promoting business opportunities, and the establishment of operations of more of our companies in this dynamic and welcoming country,” said Flavia Santoro, President of ProColombia.
What Does Cooperation with Colombia Mean for Canada?
Many of the Canadian tech firms that connected with Colombia through the Gateway program were members of Interactive Ontario, one of that province’s most active advocates of the Interactive Digital Media industry. Prior to Gateway, Interactive Ontario has worked closely with ProColombia’s Toronto office to explore north-south opportunities and is currently building on the momentum of Gateway by supporting an early-stage soft-landing project for Colombian tech firms looking to establish a presence in the Toronto area.
Economic developers in the city of Hamilton, Ontario have also noted the potential of connecting Colombia’s tech industries with their own emerging sector in recent years, and also played a key role in the Gateway to Trade program. Hamilton’s relatively swift transformation toward a vibrant, entrepreneurial digital community is not unlike that of cities such as Medellin, where economic necessity and determination have resulted in one of Colombia’s most important centers of tech innovation.
Canada – Colombia: Teaming Up on Digital
Carolynn Reid, Business Development Consultant for the City of Hamilton’s Economic Development Division worked directly with ProColombia and the Gateway program to help establish connections among participating companies, and to advance the dialogue between industry and ecosystem stakeholders both in Hamilton and in Colombia. “Our relationship is very strong with ProColombia in Toronto, and we’ve been doing a number of things since the Pan Am Games (in 2015) to create that interest in Colombia with our own companies, to generate a sense of opportunity…this isn’t competition — it’s cooperation.”
Ms. Reid accompanied a mission of Canadian companies for meetings with Colombian counterparts during the recent Lab4+ Pacific Alliance event in Medellin.
Recognizing that Hamilton’s advancing community of developers, digital content creators, and business incubators must connect to the global community in order to sustain their growth. The city is not only engaged in ensuring a strong local talent pool and attracting Colombian investment, but also on educational and infrastructure co-developments that will lead to greater two-way trade.
“I see this relationship as a natural, given Colombia’s willingness to work with cities like ours, and broker talent back and forth,” explains Reid. “I’ve seen Colombian companies working in certain technologies, that are advancing the space globally — VR and AR for instance — more than what I’ve seen locally in my community. I see a huge opportunity for shared learning.”
“Mohawk College (in Hamilton, Ontario) is building their first VR/AR program, and I see this as a natural fit…not just in bringing in the talent and the education side, but the companies here to help them learn how to work in this space.”
“We also need to provide opportunities for (Canadian companies) to explore world markets — so we’re brokering relationships in Colombia so that our companies could go to Colombia to work with companies as well,” she adds.
From Outsourcing to New Lines of Business
One such company that has recently been exploring the Canada – Colombia opportunity is Hamilton’s Double Barrel Studios, a video and digital media production firm. When Roz Mugford, the company’s CEO, was first contacted about meeting with Colombian digital content creators, looking at nearshore solutions for managing the workload was not a part of their immediate strategy. “When we were first contacted in April (2018) with the idea of meeting with Colombian companies, ‘going international’ wasn’t on our radar,” she says.
Just six months after her initial meeting with Juan Manuel Duque, CEO of Colombian film and animation company, Mambo Estudio, the company is realizing that the relationship is one that not only benefits the Colombian company’s bottom-line, but one that will potentially transform the growth strategy of both companies by offering client services that were not previously considered.
Reflecting on their recent experience, Dale Mugford, Double Barrel’s COO, adds: “We realized that this was opening doors in ways we couldn’t have before…it’s not just that this company is coming in to fill a void, but there are new business opportunities that we hadn’t considered that are now available to us. And it also allows our primarily Canadian customers to enjoy service offerings that we wouldn’t have offered because they would be cost-prohibitive.”
“Where the surprise factor came in for us was not only that — from a skill or talent point of view — it blew our assumptions out of the water. It’s been just as if we found a partner locally and would want to grow or expand our business together. Seeing the ICT and digital media sector in Colombia, the growth and the power, the energy, the excitement…all of those things coming together made us realize that we could actually move our business plan and model more towards greater fulfillment for our clients.”
To learn more about the IT firms involved in the Gateway to Trade program and the Canada – Colombia opportunity, visit https://www.gatewaytotrade.com/canada-colombia.html For further details, contact ProColombia representatives in Toronto at (416) 562-5594 and in Montreal at (647) 627-6390.