Medellin Startup scene

The Startup Scene in Medellín, Colombia

Cheryl Hammer Medellin

Berraco — in Spanish, it has many meanings. In Medellin, Colombia, the one that comes to mind when describing the startup scene is bold.

As a new member of the digital nomad tribe, Medellin was a draw for me for its emphasis on technology and recent worldwide recognition in innovation and urbanization, beating out global competitors like New York, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, Auckland, Toronto, Sydney, and Vienna. In January, the New York Times named Colombia the number two place in the world to visit although Medellin beats out New Orleans (first place recommendation) with a lower crime rate index of more than 24 points.*

If you’re watching Netflix, you’re probably equating Medellin with Narcos, but nothing could be further from today’s reality. This gem of a city, situated in a valley of the Andes mountains, reminds me of Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Medellin has about 800 startups among its 2.5 million population. Supercharged with energy and determination, but without Silicon Valley’s legendary funding, startup growth is more tempered. At least for now. But the Colombian government and its entrepreneurial residents are working to change that including one such startup, INplaza.

At my first expat meeting, I met INplaza VP of Business Relations, Henry Gomez. Gomez, a native Colombian, started attending expat events as a way to improve his self-taught English skills and it’s paid off. He talked enthusiastically about blockchain technology and introduced me to his CEO, Nathan Brooks, a Minnesota expat. Brooks had already sold his first telecommunications venture before taking up online poker and leaving the short, winter daylight hours for places like Panama and Ecuador. Brooks said that at each stop, people would always tell him that he had to check out Medellin. And that’s what he did beginning in 2009.

Brooks’ background with his family’s 110-year-old produce distribution business led him to help a new Medellin acquaintance sell floral products to London retailers. Brooks made headway after calling 250 florists beginning at 3 a.m. Colombian time over a period of a week or so. Twenty-six of the 250 retailers asked for samples, making the export initiative viable to the business owner. But the logistics of getting the samples to the UK fell apart when only half the orders arrived. It was then that Brooks saw an opportunity for Colombian and other Latin American businesses.

While in Bogotá, Brooks met Jay Daron, a Swede with a wanderlust for travel, who like Brooks had fallen for the lifestyle charm of Colombia. Daron had also experienced the frustrations of exporting Colombian products like coffee and chocolate to his Swedish network that was ready to buy. Like Brooks, the non-existent setup for small exporters made it time and cost prohibitive. Realizing they had complementary visions, they teamed up and co-founded INplaza in late 2016 with Brooks as CEO and Daron as COO.

For small to medium enterprises (SMEs), there is no integrated platform specific to the Latin American (LATAM) market for importers and exporters to connect, deliver samples, maneuver trade laws, and select the best shipping method. Plus, the need to know tariffs, negotiate in different languages, and such make it infeasible for SMEs with annual revenues of $2 million and more. These are the companies that INplaza considers its sweet spot, initially, targeting the $500 billion LATAM trade.

Although stats show the number one challenge for SMEs in importing/exporting is finding foreign trade partners, marketplaces are known to be difficult to grow. That’s where INplaza has a friend in Ruta N, the Colombian public-private venture dedicated helping technology startups. Ruta N offers space, workshops, and connections for growing Colombian startups at its 45,000-square-meter modern structure where international companies like Huawei and Hewlett-Packard have offices.

Ruta N is also investing into an AI Center of Excellence, making Medellin a hub for skilled technology workers. According to INplaza, this is another appeal for Medellin as a home base for development. Its trade platform may fall in the unsexy category like Alibaba, but its product roadmap is off-the-charts futuristic with technology features. This push comes from Daron whose Scandinavian mindset aligns with the likes of IKEA and Spotify and comes with a filter for all things sleek and efficient.

In Medellin:

  • the average college grad makes $500 a month
  • an apartment in Laureles is $300 per month
  • for only $3, an abundance of mini-cabs await to whisk you along the city’s Golden Mile, getting you most places in 10 minutes or less
  • food costs are incredibly cheap and the quality, compared to the States, for example, is much better. It’s one of the consistent comments that I hear from every expat — how less chemically processed the food tastes.

This setting allows INplaza, with a global team who collectively speaks 10 languages, the ability to deliver technology for a fraction of what it would have cost in Silicon Valley.

With the government’s emphasis on raising the bar for all of its citizens, you’ll see free 4G wifi in public parks. It’s no doubt that Colombia and Medellin will deliver on its well-documented vision to be an integral part of the world’s digital economy.

As for INplaza, with its next round of funding underway and sights set on delivering a smarter version of Alibaba for the LATAM market, it is showing, like Medellin, it’s berraco, too.

FinTech Conference Gibraltar

Jon Perge Events

On February 28thINplaza was represented at the GibFin Conference in Gibraltar by our in-house counsel Anders Madsen. Many pressing topics were discussed at the event including the FinTech environment in Gibraltar with special focus on the newest regulations on DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) services and the upcoming ICO (Initical Coin Offering) framework. Furthermore the scope and discussed topic were in general about the Blockchain/Crypto landscape of 2018.

INplaza is looking to move the company domicile to Gibraltar, and we are currently in the establishment stages to make this move official in order to settle our core services within a regulatory structure with an innovative attention and a focus on costumer security. We are partnering up with ISOLAS Law Firm in Gibraltar, which is a promising and leading legal partner within the community of Gibraltar, who shall counsel and support INplaza in compliance procedures.

As INplaza continues to scale from a small start up to a rapidly growing international corporation, many people have questioned why we have our eyes set on Gibraltar as our new home. There are countless reasons why this small nation is excellent for business, but some key benefits that INplaza is recognizing are the following:

  • Gibraltar has been a very important trade hub for centuries, because of its location as a gatekeeper to the Mediterranean Sea and here for have been controlling the shipping routes to Asia.
  • Gibraltar is a small community but has a brought international perspective, which focuses on services for the global market, both with regulations and financial facilities.
  • Gibraltar is a part of the British Empire and is located within the European union, which applies to INplaza’s quest for professional and leading business relationships and environments.
  • Gibraltar is the first jurisdiction to present DLT regulations, which allows INplaza to comply with regulation for the creation of a secure service level for our customers.
  • Gibraltar is also the first jurisdiction to present ICO regulations, which again applies one of INplaza’s main priorities to be on top with directives and to present a secure and trustworthy profile.
  • Overall, Gibraltar has a very friendly environment that embraces DLT development and innovation, which involves the whole community including Banks, Exchanges, Legislators and the Government.

One of INplaza’s main reasons for visiting Gibraltar was to meet in person with ISOLAS to schedule and plan in greater detail the continuance of collaboration for the future. Anders was extremely satisfied with the local culture and community of Gibraltar, stating: “The working dynamic in Gibraltar is really world class. Bureaucracy seems to me minimized and the local business community sticks together to ensure ease of doing business and strong foreword momentum, Gibraltar really seems like a perfect hub for the INplaza vision and business model.”

After this enlightening visit to Gibraltar, INplaza is moving forward with numerous amazing settlements. We have established and further developed strategic relationships in the field of finance, tax, exchange, security and ICO. INplaza is confident that the geographic location and regulatory environment are suitable for INplaza’s core business propositions and we look forward to continuing this journey to call Gibraltar our new home.

INplaza at Agrofuturo

Henry Gómez Events

Throughout the year Medellín hosts various important trade shows like Colombiatex and Colombiamoda. Another one is Agrofuturo, which in September 2017, reunited agriculture producers, livestock farmers and service agencies within the trade industry.

As VP of business relations I was excited to be there talking with many of these companies, engaging them in what INplaza really is.

Innovation is part of INplaza, and I found some really interesting companies that also consider innovation important. From eco-friendly pallets to avocado ice cream, but most companies actually lacked innovative techniques and were quite drawn to our idea.

I met Benjamín, a Hass avocado farmer who has been exporting his product to Europe, he told me how excited he was about soon being allowed to export his great avocados to the United States for the first time. A country where the importation of commercially produced fresh Hass avocado from Colombia has been prohibited in the past by the American regulations. This shows how Colombia is making sure of being on the right track to follow international regulations in regards to agricultural trade, achieving a position among the important players in the food supply chain.

As mentioned before, we want to provide buyers with a great variety of agricultural products, Colombia offers a huge potential for us to do so. Tropical fruits, vegetables and different types of great coffee are just some examples of products with high demand worldwide.

We are so excited to join Agrofuturo again in August 2018 in Bogotá. We intend to build potential partnerships and increase our customer base with the 300 companies that will participate during this edition.

As a Colombian I am very grateful for the opportunity to be VP of business relations. Being part of a company that can provide a better future for Colombia.
Let’s put Colombia on the map of international trade. Here, there, today and tomorrow.

Here you can watch a video of our last visit at Agrofuturo in 2017: