Over 965,000 foreigners call Colombia home, according to most recent census figures from Colombia’s statistics agency DANE. Of those, 4,863 are from the United States, the country with the second highest number of immigrants living in Colombia after Venezuela.
There are a number of reasons entrepreneurs are attracted to innovate and build their businesses in Colombia. Highly skilled tech talent; government backed funding for entrepreneurs; and even the government’s investment in cutting edge technologies, such as the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies’ recent pledge to educate over 4,000 students in Artificial Intelligence, to name a few. These factors, along with welcoming people, warm weather and a similar time zone to the US make Colombia an attractive location for doing business.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered a list of the most influential innovators with roots in the United States that have launched businesses, or furthered existing ventures, here in Colombia.
Wenyi Cai is the founder and CEO of Polymath Ventures, a “company builder” that launches and scales its own ventures in-house and facilitates venture capital investment through a network of investors. Launched in Medellín’s EAFIT University in 2012, Polymath has since moved its headquarters to Bogotá, and currently counts over half a dozen portfolio companies. Before starting Polymath, Ms. Cai was COO of a startup that was acquired by eBay in 2010, and a consultant with McKinsey & Company. She studied physics and philosophy at Harvard University.
Amyn Gillani is the CEO of Talos Digital, a multinational software development company with offices in New York City, Miami, Montreal, Medellín, Manizales, Cartagena, and Rio Negro. The firm works on cutting-edge development as well as e-commerce solutions for SAP Commerce and Magento. Talos Digital’s team of over a hundred developer’s service large corporations including Pepsi, CISCO, and Royal Dutch Shell. Spending time between Miami and Colombia, Mr. Gillani has over 20 years of experience in the information technology sector. He has started numerous companies and is a mentor at the Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed stage startup accelerator.
Alan Colmenares has been an influential figure in Colombia’s innovation ecosystem for over decade, and in greater Latin America for much longer. Mr. Colmenares started his career working with large technology corporations like Compaq and Intel, and would go on to work for the latter’s venture capital arm in Mexico and Brazil, before settling back in Colombia in the late aughts. Although he’s spent some time working for other large corporations such as Microsoft, Mr. Colmenares is best known in Colombia as the “Tropical Gringo,” an influential figure who has acted as a conduit between Colombian tech startups and Silicon Valley. In 2011, he launched the Bogotá and Medellín chapters of Founder Institute, an accelerator that back then was in 16 cities and now counts over 185. He’s also a mentor at Endeavor, was an advisor for Tappsi, a taxi cab booking app, and is currently founder and CEO of Zwapp, a mobile rewards platform for Latin America’s workforce.
Jennifer Poole is the head of client acquisition at Publicize, a tech-enabled public relations startup based in Medellín. Since arriving at Publicize in 2018, Ms. Poole has built a team that has contributed to 340% growth in sales, year over year. She’s also the co-founder of Those Coffee People, an innovative coffee startup that is committed to socially sustainable, direct trade sourcing of coffee beans from Colombia. She’s built a network of buyers in areas around the world, and has a particular presence in Arab nations including Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Before moving to Colombia full time, Ms. Poole lived in Kuwait as the country manager for Oxford Business Group, a global publishing, research and consultancy firm.
Andrew Ng, a renowned artificial intelligence (AI) expert whose accomplishments include founding and leading Google’s deep learning artificial intelligence research team Google Brain, electrified Colombia’s tech community last year when he announced he’d open offices in Medellín for his Deeplearning.ai, Landing.ai, and AI Fund companies. Together, the suite of companies help make AI education accessible globally, consult with corporations about how to best leverage AI, and build new AI companies from the ground up. In a statement from August, Mr. Ng, said he was “proud to bet on Colombia,” and lauded its recent accomplishments, such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) naming Medellín as a center for its Fourth Industrial Revolution. Previously Mr. Ng was chief scientist at Baidu, often called China’s Google, and he co-founded Coursera, a pioneering online learning platform.
Alan Gongora has been helping foreign innovators take root in Colombia for nearly a decade as a managing partner at Langon Colombia, a law firm. The firm, with offices in New York City and Colombia, specializes in comprehensive legal services for businesses, mergers and acquisitions, to international expansion strategies for tech companies. For the startup community, Mr. Gongora’s firm has become a go-to firm and has helped many companies with business formation, regulatory approvals and cross-border capital acquisition strategies, helping to make more robust the innovation ecosystem of companies here in Colombia.
Loren Moss, a publisher and analyst from Ohio in the United States, has been providing technology companies and investors with the data and business intelligence they need to succeed in Colombia and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean for years. His company, Unido Digital, based in Medellín, provides research, data analytics and due diligence to tech companies as well as governments and other entities. It counts a number of digital publications including Finance Colombia, an English language publication dedicated to Colombia’s business sector. One of Mr. Moss’s first intelligence gathering missions in Latin America was in the early 1990s for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the largest industry trade shows worldwide. According to Mr. Moss, he was tasked with identifying every Latin American electronics retailer in South America to invite them to a trade show in Mexico, and he did so without the modern day convenience of internet searches.
Carmen Angel is one of Colombia’s most renowned restaurateurs and is often credited with innovating Medellín’s fine dining landscape. Starting with her very well regarded Carmen in the upscale El Poblado neighborhood of Medellín, Mrs. Angel and her husband Rob Pevitts, created an elegant dining experience that fused traditional Colombian ingredients and recipes with a more modern palate. Since its opening in 2008, the area has seen scores of other fine dining establishments sprout up, following Carmen’s success. Mrs. Angel has even launched a venture combining her love of sushi, and her cat Moshi, in the sushi bar Moshi, situated next door to Carmen, in addition to her restaurant Don Diablo. Carmen graduated from UC Santa Cruz in California.
Brent Mauriello is a the co-founder of the Medellín Entrepreneurs Society, a group of foreign and Colombian entrepreneurs living in the country. He is also the CEO of Flexfire LEDs, an LED strip lighting solutions company with operations in Medellín. Originally from California, Mr. Mauriello received his Masters degree from EAFIT University in Colombia’s second largest city.
Jim Glade is a Principal at Espacio Media Incubator, a media incubator based in Medellin, Colombia. He was earlier an Editor at Colombia Reports, a media organization founded by Adriaan Alsema, and he has contributed to publications including the Rolling Stone and The Atlantic. In the tech scene Mr. Glade serves as a Mentor at Parallel18, the accelerator supported by the government of Puerto Rico that provides $40,000 USD grants to startups, and as a Board Director at the publication SocialGeek. Mr. Glade is a Media Advisor at Horasis, an international think tank headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland.
David Dorr is the Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Dorr Asset Management, a specialist multi-family office that focuses on two core areas; global macro investing and sophisticated cross-border estate planning. He is also the Co-Founder of Coro Global Inc, a Miami and Medellin based fintech company on a mission to create a new financial system where gold can be used as currency in everyday transactions as easily as fiat currencies.
This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company.