Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) Colombia is led by Julian Esteban Gutierrez Rodriguez. We caught up with Rodriguez on Colombia's economic setbacks since the emergence of COVID-19 as well as its faith that this year's GEW will continue to expand the entrepreneurial culture in all of the country; and specifically, to the regions most affected by the pandemic, proving the power of innovation and entrepreneurship.
This article is part of a series highlighting successful GEW hosts from around the world.
ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY’S STARTUP ECOSYSTEM
GEN: Tell us about the startup ecosystem in your country. What are its main characteristics? If you could change one thing to make it better, what would it be? Who are the stars of your country’s ecosystem?
Rodriguez: The Colombian entrepreneurship ecosystem has a wide range of actors – among which government entities such as Innpulsa - Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Tourism stand out, who lead public policy issues. We have a strong legislative framework that protects businessmen and entrepreneurs, as well as an active participation of the business sector. They are represented through clusters, unions, regional chambers of commerce and supported from Colombian universities – whose centers of innovation and entrepreneurship collaborate in the strengthening of businesses.
This entire framework is led by the GEW committee, which has representatives from these different national actors and who is responsible for accompanying regional and national processes in favor of entrepreneurship. This year, the committee's leadership is supported by REUNE and Andi del Futuro.
ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION
GEN: Tell us about your organization. What does it do to support entrepreneurs and/or grow your startup ecosystem?
Rodriguez: Reune is the university entrepreneurship network of the Colombian Association of Universities—ASCUN—which seeks to accompany entrepreneurial initiatives and entrepreneurs at different stages of its process. We work in 32 departments of the country, and we have more than 120 higher education institutions supporting the ecosystem. Nearly 30% of these institutions have spaces dedicated to incubation, and in association with different actors, we generate actions that favor the growth of these new companies and the consolidation of existing ones. The network has more than 800 teachers and researchers working for entrepreneurship and innovation, throughout the country.
The network consists of 4 pillars which drive our strategy: entrepreneurship research, training for entrepreneurs and teachers, mobility of entrepreneurs and teachers and public policy.
ABOUT GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP WEEK
GEN: When did you decide to get involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week and why?
Rodriguez: Independently, the universities that conformed our network have participated in GEW since the program was launched in Colombia. In 2014, REUNE, as a network, decided to get involved in the GEW ecosystem committee – aware of the importance to approaching the rural and regional spaces within the culture of entrepreneurship and further, wanting to prove ourselves useful as a university network wanting to transform Colombia's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
GEN: How does GEW support the other work that your organization does?
Rodriguez: The GEW committee is made up of 7 institutions that are detailed below:
- Endeavor Colombia, which provides support and encouragement services to local entrepreneurs by building networks.
- Andi del Futuro, which is the new business unit of the Colombian Association of Industrialists and who is the GEN host.
- Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism + Innpulsa, which are public allies and who are in charge of directing public policy issues in the country.
- Ascun + REUNE
All these institutions represent a sector—whether be it business, public or academic—with which we guarantee visibility for all local and regional actors in our ecosystem. It is important to keep in mind that in all of our dialogues and actions, we always have entrepreneurs present.
GEN: What do you hope to achieve with GEW 2020?
Rodriguez: 2020 is a special year for the humanity due to the pandemic and its impacts. Countries such as Colombia are struggling with economic development, employment rates, competitiveness, and an entrepreneurial development program which represents an alternative to overcome these issues. So GEW become a way to achieve the purpose to continue spreading the sense and power of entrepreneurship as a driver of development for the economy and for our citizens.
Currently we have two defined lines of action. The first focuses on the articulation of our country, through the development of regional and local events, with different actors: business, social and cultural. We hope to develop an agenda of monthly events that allow us to recognize ourselves as an entrepreneurial country. The second focuses on building a fabric in LatAm, for which we will develop various events in coordination with other national GEW hosts, such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, among others, with which we seek to strengthen that Latin American entrepreneurial identity.
YOUR RESPONSE TO COVID19
GEN: How has the COVID19 pandemic impacted your country’s startup ecosystem? What measures are being taken to protect small business owners, if any? — And how do you think GEW will play a role in uniting entrepreneurs during this difficult time?
Rodriguez: From the national government, different actions have been generated with the aim of mitigating the impact of the pandemic. Company rescue funds have been opened and tools have also been designed to help solve the payment of employees. However, it is necessary to remember that we are a country that exports raw materials, including oil, so we are still dealing with the setback from the months of April and May. We are still under lock down, and the quarantine remains in more than 75% of the country. In general terms, we have many economic and humanitarian impacts that we do not yet understand. At the time of writing this text, we have more than 160,000 infections and we have already overcome the barrier of 6,000 deaths. However, we continue to move forward. We continue to push and adapt our structures and minds to continue.
From the business sector, actions are being carried out to reactivate the economy. From the educational sector, the universities, with their centers of entrepreneurship and innovation, have decided to support these entrepreneurs to adapt their businesses to this new reality. Digitization hit us and today, the country is enduring the situation, adjusting and building new realities.
Within this framework, GEW will continue to expand the entrepreneurial culture in all of the country; and specifically, to the regions most affected by the pandemic, making the power of innovation, entrepreneurship and digital transformation even more visible.