Business & Economics

Back to Colombia: Vive La Revolución Emprendedora!

Steve Blank

My co-author and business Partner Bob Dorf spends much of his time traveling the world teaching countries and companies how to run the Lean LaunchPad program. He’s back to Bogota, Colombia this week for round two.

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Back to Colombia: Vive La Revolución Emprendedora!

Lean LaunchPad Colombia starts again today in Bogota with 25 more teams of tech entrepreneurs and at 25 mentors from the country’s universities, incubators, and chambers of commerce.  The program is funded by the Colombian government and modeled after the NSF Innovation-Corps program created and built by my partner and co-author Steve Blank.

In this second cohort, Startup teams were selected from over 100 applicants in Colombia by SENA, a quasi-government organization that provides tech support, prototype labs, and mentoring to Colombian entrepreneurs.  SENA and the Colombian Ministry of IT and Innovation both invest heavily to create jobs for the many skilled, educated and underemployed citizens.   Other than the NSF Innovation-Corps program in the U.S., this may well be the most ambitious government-sponsored startup catalyst effort on the globe.

SENA and the Colombian Ministry of IT: targeting 15,000 young entrepreneurs 
The Ministry hopes to supports to more than 15,000 entrepreneurs who have applied for help thus far, and to do it in varying levels of on- and off-line intensity.  The hands-on Lean LaunchPad program offers the most intense support of all.  In cohort one, 25 teams chosen from a field of 100+, worked fulltime for eight weeks to take their ideas from a “cocktail napkin” business idea to a viable, scalable business model.

While the Ministry would be glad to help develop the next Facebook or Google, the initial first step  is more reasonable — get startups to breakeven or better while employing 15, 20, or more Colombians .  Those who don’t make it into the class are offered a variety of on- and off-line tools, including government-funded translations of Steve’s nine-part Udacity.com Customer Development lectures, excerpts from The Startup Owner’s Manual in Spanish, and they’ve translated a long list of Code Academy courses and other tools as well.  The goal is simple:  to extend the reach of Customer Development and tech training far beyond those whose teams and business models earn them seats in the classroom.

Colombia needs to be ambitious to succeed in this effort, and I’m honored and pleased to be helping to drive it.  The emerging economy faces three critical entrepreneurial challenges.  First, there’s virtually no seed or angel investment capital, since affluent Colombian investors are highly risk-averse and put their money into real estate and established companies as a rule.  Second, technology education is more skill-based, graduating lots of smart coders and IT managers, but not a lot of true development visionaries. And the academic community, while strong, still teaches traditional the business plan approach to startups, rather than Customer Development, so ideas have typically evolved far more slowly. 

The first 8-week Lean LaunchPad Colombia program
We held the first cohort of 25 teams in Oct 2012.  Amazingly by the end of the program’s eighth week, 8 of the 25 teams had customer revenue.  One startup, Vanitech, generated revenue from more than 315 consumers in eight weeks, while a software prototyping startup called EZ DEV closed its first deal and had contracts out for two more.  And while the startup ideas ranged from the pedestrian to the very brave (digital preventive healthcare, for example), the common thread was an intense passion for creating a business that would create lucrative jobs for the founders and their fellow Colombians.

This LeanLaunchPad simultaneously trains entrepreneurs and coaches to guide them.  Each cohort started with a day of coach training. Then the coaches joined their teams for three days of business model development, feedback, and training.  When I headed home, teams fanned out across Colombia to “get out of the building” to validate their ideas. They meet at least weekly with their coaches to process their learning and iterate their business models.

I returned twice more to Colombia for this first cohort:  at the midpoint of the 8-week class to work with the coaches and teams, and at the end for the “Lessons Learned day.”  At the Lessons Learned day, the ten teams pitched to an audience of 650, including investors and the Minister and Vice-Minister of IT. The presentations were a real eye-opener to Colombian investors. The hundreds of customer interactions made each team made their presentations credible.  The difference between startups powered by Customer Development and those built the “old way” was on full display. Another unintended consequence of the class is that, we’re effecting a “technology transfer” by training the coaches, who are starting to run Lean LaunchPad programs for additional teams in smaller cities in Colombia.  Overall, it’s one heck of an ambitious program and it’s starting to catch fire.

Three incredibly entrepreneurial government employees (usually quite an oxymoron in any country) conceived and drive this program, working nearly 7×24 and as hard as any Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, in their eight month old “startup,” the apps.co program.  Program leader Claudia Obando and her two star lieutenants—Nayib Abdala and Camilo Zamora—have worked with us to lay every building block in the solid foundation Lean LaunchPad is providing for Colombia.

And so here I am back in Colombia as we launch this next, more cohort on its eight-week sprint, join apps.co in saying Viva Colombia!”

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