Wizeline Pushes For Guadalajara’s Grand Tech Transformation

Companies like Wizeline, ventures like the Agave incubator, and an influx of big firms prove Guadalajara is turning from a hardware factory and IT services center to a true hub of technological creativity.

Wizeline helps companies turn data into innovation — and it is doing it partly in Guadalajara. Most businesses burn through their research and development budget by coming up with ideas that never come to fruition. But by giving customers a platform that founder Bismarck Lepe has called a “corporate brain,” leadership can track opinions and feedback from employees across the company and then apply an algorithm that will tell them which products are worth developing and which belong on the cutting room floor.

Its choice of Guadalajara for a new delivery center demonstrates just how the city’s already established tech sector is evolving. Drawing on the big data and analytics trend, the company’s solutions focus on hard data. “We aggregate that info and communicate it back to the whole organization,” said Adam Sewall, Wizeline’s head of marketing and partnerships. The organizational aspects of the software save money and time, and the decision-making process is a way to bring a level of analytical scrutiny to company strategy, something that has historically always relied on gut instincts and guesswork.

Big Name Choice

Dreamt up by Silicon Valley video success story Ooyala co-founder Bismarck Lepe, the company received nearly $7 million in funding last year, and is now serving the likes of media conglomerates News Corp and Fairfax Media. As much as its business, what makes Wizeline stand out is that it is a company founded by an established tech entrepreneur who made the strategic decision to put his core engineering — not just IT services — in Guadalajara. “We might be the only company that has done that,” said Sewall.

Guadalajara is turning the corner and maturing as a pool of engineering

While that is debatable, it is clear that Wizeline’s choice is positively impacting the tech start-up culture of Guadalajara. Since launching in April 2014, Wizeline has hoped to join the likes of local video-game maker and animator Kaxan Media Group to become another Guadalajara star and represents the growing realization that companies can hire top-notch tech talent in the city.

Its moniker as the Silicon Valley of Mexico may be a bit of a stretch, but Wizeline believes Guadalajara is turning the corner and maturing as a pool of engineering. It is finding high-level software engineers and UX developers that do not need step-by-step directions to finish a project. As with high-level talent in California, there are now plenty of people here who can turn an idea into reality with their own ingenuity and skill set.

Wizeline isn’t alone in seeing this. VoxFeed is a local startup that has reportedly raised nearly $2 million in funding to jumpstart the lagging digital advertising penetration in Mexico. Skycatch is bringing drones to the city. And wearable-technology maker Sunu is busy winning awards for its sensor-powered bracelet that helps blind people navigate easier.

Overall, there has been some $100 million in startup investment over the past two year, according to to the state’s ministry of innovation, and Guadalajara is also adding a Creative Digital City project designed to attract creative tech firms.

Creating the Creative City

This undertaking puts its on a list of innovative cities to do so, including San Francisco, Singapore, Toronto, Paris, and Prague, and when Mexico decided to launch this federal initiative in 2012 it also had Monterrey, Puebla, and Tijuana on the shortlist for consideration. But Guadalajara had the most potential, and national investment promotion agency ProMexico set the lofty expectations for the project to generate $10 billion of investment into the area within its first decade and 20,000 jobs in the next 15 years.

People didn’t want to work in startups. They didn’t know what it was. It was a bit of a new thing for Mexico — Vidal Gonzalez

Vidal Gonazalez, head of engineering for Wizeline, is from Guadalajara, and has seen the entire evolution of his city as a technology hub. “Guadalajara kind of followed the same path as Silicon Valley in a sense,” said Gonzalez, “because we also started as a region within Mexico that started doing microchips.” And like its older brother in California already, Guadalajara is moving past its days of hardware production.

He says Continental is developing some of its vehicle computer software here. Intel is doing chip-validation software. Uber has come down. Oracle has hundreds of engineers. Tata has thousands. And HP has accumulated a vast collection of software and backend services after being here for more than 30 years.

The change has been accelerating in recent years. Before Wizeline, Gonzalez worked with Lepe at Ooyala and helped open the company’s local office in 2010. He says that there was some higher-skilled programmers and engineers at the time, but most eschewed startups in favor of securing jobs with better stability at big name firms. “Back then, the story was a little bit different,” said Gonzalez. “People didn’t want to work in startups. They didn’t know what it was. It was a bit of a new thing for Mexico. Now, a lot of people want to work in startups and companies that are doing higher growth.”

Firms from the United States have also stepped up recruiting in the area. Gonzalez says giants like Google and Amazon are now coming down to poach talent, and he has seen several very good engineers decide to go work in the United States. “There’s good talent developing here — good-enough talent that the big players on the scene are looking to this area,” he said.

An Easy Talent Search

Still, he believes it can be easier to find — and, importantly, retain — top talent in Guadalajara than in California. “In the Silicon Valley it’s a bit difficult to hire and a bit difficult to retain that talent just because the system is doing so well right now,” said Gonzalez. “They’re leaving just to find another company because they got a better offer. People aren’t staying as long as they used to.”

Even amid increased competition, Wizeline is not trying to keep all the local spoils for itself. In just a short time in the market, the company is already convincing others to come benefit from all Guadalajara has to offer.

There’s good talent developing here — good-enough talent that the big players on the scene are looking to this area — Gonzalez

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One of its biggest customers, News Corp, recently reached out to the company to see if it made sense for the media giant to set up a local office. Wizeline sold its executives on the location, but News Corp decided it would be easier to contract the work to its partner.

So Wizeline set up Wize Services to handle News Corp’s product development needs, setting up a new shop in July that will soon have a sizable team of up to 100 workers. “We’re recruiting aggressively for that team,” said Gonzalez. He said that this wasn’t an expected venture, but it isn’t out of the question that Wize Services will lead similar product development for other customers.

Wizeline now thinks the old stodgy tech firms down here that are only looking for backend services and call center help are missing out. And if all goes right, there will only be more talent here in the future. Several multi-partner initiatives are trying to promote coding and programming literacy to the next generation.

Growing Talent

Code GDL is a one such movement. Founded with a partnership between Wizeline and two local schools, it offers free programming classes to expose high-school students to the computer world and find internships for the enterprising. By the time most ambitious students are seniors, they usually already have a plan. They will go study law or medicine. So Code GDL tries to reach them earlier and let them know that coding is another career option that can be rewarding — financially, creativity, and in terms of the freedom such skills can give you to travel and explore any part of the world.

The knowledge itself — like learning the ins and outs of CSS or Javascript — is helping teens advance their understanding of computer science. But the soft lessons are invaluable. While enough IT companies have moved over the last few decades to show kids that call centers are a good career option, few have been empowered to believe they can actually be the designers and tech entrepreneurs of the future. So imparting this mindset early on is critical, the type of seed that can flourish exponentially in the mind of a young student.

iTuesdays aims for the older crowd, and dozens of local entrepreneurs, tech workers, and other stakeholders gather on the first Tuesday of every month to network. Hackers & Founders picks up the slack a few weeks later, offering an with speakers, panels and presentations on the final Thursday of every month for a similar crowd.

Agave Labs is another endeavor attempting to grease the wheels for the future. As an incubator, it is looking to invest in companies with good ideas and a need for capital. Its presence is much needed in Mexico, where there is a prevailing belief that most people with money are risk averse because they made their fortunes through traditional avenues. Such success breeds a certain way of thinking, so it can be hard to get some of the well-to-do leaders of industry in the area to open up their wallet to fund a new-age idea. They don’t always see the upside of risk taking — even when the investment is relatively small — in an industry that hasn’t produced success stories locally.

Wizeline is looking to change that. Even Gonzalez, who spent three years working under him at Ooyala Mexico, was taken aback when he first heard about Lepe’ plans for his new company. “It surprised me that he wanted to do this, especially to do in Guadalajara,” said Gonzalez. “We definitely had shown there was talent here and that you can build a company here but not the way we [are doing it] with Wizeline. It was a good feeling to know that the work we did was appreciated and that we could repeat that story and continue to invest in this area.”

Guadalajara hasn’t reached its full potential — yet — but companies like Wizeline, ventures like Agave, and the influx of other firms are evidence of its transformation. With a long history and its current momentum, soon the city won’t just be building hardware and providing tech services. Guadalajara will be helping to design a new future.

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