Colombia pursues exchange with Puerto Rican IT sector
NEW YORK — Colombia, a country that in the first quarter of 2014 saw an economic growth of 6.4 percent year-over-year, is aggressively pursuing business opportunities in the Americas through commercial agreements with a spectrum of sectors.
To that end, Proexport Colombia — the country’s official agency in charge of promoting tourism, investment and exports — recently sponsored a business matchmaking forum in this city focusing on Information Technology, pairing up its own providers with companies in the U.S. mainland, Canada and the Caribbean to spur new activity.
Present at the event were 115 buyers from the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, which met with 65 Colombian exporters one-on-one to discuss potential opportunities.
Among those would-be buyers were two Puerto Rico-based companies, whose executives agreed in separate interviews that they believe conversations with Colombian providers will help them expand their operations in cost-effective ways.
Aury Curbelo, founder of Digetech, a security-consulting firm that helps companies secures electronic, physical, intellectual, and financial assets, said Proexport’s event in New York is the push she needed to be able to break into the Latin American market.
“This is a matchmaking event through which you have the opportunity in 30 minutes to expose your company or service and see what kind of a business relationship can develop,” said Curbelo, who met with 12 would-be Colombian business partners as part of her participation in the matchmaking event.
“My expectation is to leave here with several negotiations underway, or partners,” she said. “Puerto Rico has a lot to offer in the IT sector, but the opportunities haven’t been exploited.”
Although she lamented the fact that Puerto Rico has so far done little to help small companies like hers break out of the island’s geographic boundaries, Curbelo said with Proexport’s “well-placed infrastructure,” her company, as well as others like hers in Puerto Rico, will be able to enter the Latin American country.
While Digetech will likely benefit from agreements to represent Colombian companies in the U.S.’s highly regulated information technology and online security markets, Curbelo said her company will in turn be able to buy cloud-based as well as mobile applications services.
The appeal, she said, is in the cost factor.
“Labor is significantly cheaper in Colombia, by at least a third,” she said. “I like to hire people from Puerto Rico for the services that my company needs, but if you have programmers that will do the same for less … then the choice is clear.”
Meanwhile, Rubén Guzmán, systems director for Guaynabo-based Professional Hospital, made the trip to New York to expand its supplier base for a number of services the private facility needs.
“In terms of security and mobile programming, Colombian companies are a step ahead,” he said, who had six meetings set up for the day. “My expectation is to be able to reach agreements with companies that work with security and data bases, and can offer the services at a lower cost of the hospital.”
The facility, he said, is already online regarding medical e-records. However, he said if the hospital needs to migrate a database, it would have to hire local or stateside companies that represent a burden when it comes to costs.
“We have to try to maximize what we have and I see an opportunity in this expo to be able to make arrangements with companies that have worked with U.S.-based standards,” he said. “I’m not in urgent need to establish anything, but rather to find opportunities to open that supplier base. Colombia is a good prospect for that.”
Guzmán also noted that Puerto Rican companies would be smart to check out the benefits available through the Free Trade Agreements in place with the U.S. and Canada — which include the island — to do business easily with Colombian providers.
“Few people in Puerto Rico know there’s an FTA between Colombia and the U.S., which includes us. They’re close, they speak Spanish, so doing business is easy,” he said.
‘Colombia Bring IT on’ campaign
Following the matchmaking event, Proexport unveiled its newest campaign aimed at promoting the growth of the country’s technology sector in the international market and raising awareness around Colombia’s competitive advantages in the industry, known as “Colombia Bring IT On.”
“With the rapid growth of Latin America’s technology industry, Colombia has successfully established itself as a major player, particularly in the IT services, software and digital content sectors,” said Maria Claudia Lacouture, president of Proexport Colombia.
“With competitive advantages including our highly skilled, flexible workforce and government support in the form of state policies that strengthen the sector, there are significant opportunities for those interested in partnering with and investing in Colombia’s IT industry,” she said.
Meanwhile, Colombia’s Information Technology and Communications Minister, Diego Molano-Vega, said the government expects the sector’s figures presented in 2013 to triple by 2018.
“For perspective, in 2013 we had 1,800 registered software development and IT service companies, and their sales totaled nearly $3.2 billion,” he said during the presentation.
Within the country, demand for services such as business risk management and supply chain management solutions from the telecommunications, banking and financial services, government and manufacturing industries “has contributed to the maturity of Colombia’s IT industry, now in a prime position for foreign investment,” he added.
Colombia is Latin America’s third largest economy, after Mexico and Brazil, according to Capital Economics, a research firm.