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The Conglomerates and Oligarchs of Colombia

Many countries around the world are influenced by de facto oligarchies. These oligarchies frequently take the form of multi-generation families that own / control major economic industries of that city, country or region. These families are incredibly influential. They can act as kingmakers in politics and business. They can make or destroy opportunity. They often build empires (or ‘conglomerates’) of inter-related businesses. Sometimes these families collaborate or co-invest with each other; other times these families maintain distaste for each other. Of course, these families and their empires are most often very opaque.

Even large countries like the U.S. are no stranger to this. But because of their size and economic diversity, they have many more families of great financial influence — so things are far more complicated. Yet you still see this in more microscopic examinations of specific U.S. states, cities and regions. Some parts of the U.S. refer to these as old boy networks’. For better or worse, these networks are alive and well and they often influence startup investing. We have on-going research on these networks in certain parts of the U.S. and other countries, and may choose to publish it at some point.

In early 2014, Startup Angels began mapping the Colombian conglomerates and the families behind them, in an interest to better navigate the country. We were planning a startup investing program in the region, and wanted to ensure we said the right things in the right places. We try not to take sides when we work in an investment community, as we believe that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats.’ So this research helped guide our partnership strategies in the country.

We decided to publish some of our maps and research so that others might benefit from the work. This post and some to follow will lay out our view of Colombia’s major conglomerates and, where possible, the families behind. Keep in mind that this research is almost two years old and this information is complicated, so our maps may be outdated or incomplete.

To the extent we could, we traced these conglomerates’ connections to startup organizations of note in Colombia. We kept the analysis pretty high level, focusing primarily on the largest entities. While there are 1000s of corporations in Colombia and many are influenced or partially owned by these conglomerates and families, we chose to ignore the bulk of the smaller corporations to maximize our time. We also came across dozens of smaller families of significant wealth and influence, but did not include them in our maps here as it would have greatly complicated the visuals. We might include them in the future.

One important thing to keep in mind is that many families and individuals of significant wealth prefer to remain anonymous. In Colombia and many other parts of the world, being publicly known as wealthy puts you and your family at risk of kidnapping, extortion, or worse. As a result, wealthy individuals in Colombia are well-versed in the art of staying private. Some friends of Startup Angels in the U.S. refer to these people as ‘stealthy wealthy.’

Lastly, if you find an inaccuracy or oversight, please reach out to us and let us know. We’ll try to correct it in our maps.

We begin with Medellín.

Want to engage us on similar research for your community? Reach out to us to learn more.