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Startup Rising: Colombia

This post was originally published here and was co-written with Chris Schroeder, Venture Investor, Internet CEO and Author.

How often in investment history do you see this? A country with the 3rd largest population among its geographic peers; a well educated, growing middle class; and the fastest growing economy in its region. Mobile penetration is fast approaching 100% and two-thirds of the country will have broadband connection within three years. Most travel surveys put one of its leading cities among the top 20 places to visit.

How can this possibly be Colombia, a country so often – and mistakenly – synonymous with drug lords, brutality and corruption?

Because it is.

Over the last decade not only has there been an enormous change driven by crack downs on corruption and some of the most competitive public incentives among emerging growth markets. But Colombia is part of one of the great global shifts in economic history. Ubiquitous access to technology is allowing anyone to connect, collaborate, discover knowledge and innovate to solve problems and great economic opportunity bottom up.

And now is the time for risk capital to explore. Angel investors have a habit of being pioneers. The best-known and most successful are not admired for their investment acumen alone, but because they had the skill and risk tolerance to lead projects and taken advantage of macro shifts that have changed the way we live.

Of course, to be a pioneer, one must also be willing to look where others aren’t. And no where do pioneers have more open opportunity — nor in greater demand — than in the emerging start up hubs of tomorrow.

Alibaba should be a wake up call for us all. Who among us ten years ago would have thought that the largest IPO in history would come from China — virtually with no business IN the West — or that many more are about to come in its wake. It is now almost conventional wisdom that in dozens of emerging economies and once-overlooked cities — in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, The Middle East and Africa — have awoken to the profound powers of technology and entrepreneurship.

Most of them have unique strengths and legacy industries which they’re leveraging to create best-in-class industries of the future. Through the initiative of enterprising individuals, forward-thinking governments, and community-driven organizations like UP Global, Startup Grind and Meetup, many of these cities have laid solid foundations and taken strong first steps. And some are ready to sprint.

And Yet.

While entrepreneurs are everywhere, startup investors are not. Access to seed through A-round funding at fair terms is a perennial challenge for these budding innovation centers. Sure, founders could relocate. Yet time and again, entrepreneurs wish to remain close to the markets they know and love, the customers and the problems they’re solving, rather than move for the sake of capital. These founders want to build the next billion dollar companies at home.

Which brings me back to Colombia.

Bogotá and Medellín are two cities on the verge of a break-out. Colombia is ranked by the World Bank as the 34th best country in which to do business, the highest rank in Latin America. Incubation/eduction groups Apps.co and iNNpulsa are among the most proactive startup-friendly programs enacted by any government. Colombians also hungry; Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Ranks Colombia as one of the most entrepreneurial cultures in the world. These cities hold great promise for the pioneer, with particular momentum in the retail, mobile, media, and agtech spaces — in country, across the region and beyond.

Where to begin? In April, Startup Angels and the Aspen Institute will lead a group of twenty top investors and entrepreneurs to Bogotá and Medellín to learn what can be done to make Colombia’s promise a reality. They are investing thousands of hours of research, insights, and planning to ensure the right people convene to make the maximum impact. This trip is something different. It’s neither summit nor party. This is the first step in launching a long-term partnership with the future of Colombia and its ass-kicking entrepreneurs.

This post is a call-to-arms. We’re looking for people who are curious about the investment and startup potential of Colombia. We want those who understand that opportunity goes far beyond the Valley, that much of this opportunity lies in the soil of emerging economies, in the talent of their rising middle class. We’re seeking pioneers.

Want to join this amazing group? Bring your investment best practices and bold, risk-friendly mindsets. Bring your bleeding edge design approaches and greyhat growth hacks. Bring your excitement and add value to one of tomorrow’s entrepreneurial powerhouses.