Invest Atlanta is seeing growing momentum for its strategy to deepen the city’s innovation ties with Latin America, particularly with two key countries in the region.
The economic development organization led an exploratory mission to Chile and Colombia last fall to better understand the best ways to link Atlanta’s growing tech scene with their emerging hub cities.
Cesar Vence, senior business development manager at Invest Atlanta, said the trip was successful in making contact with potential partner organizations, understanding local innovation ecosystems and “putting Atlanta on the map” in a region where it tends to be overlooked in favor of other U.S. cities.
Aside from a few small companies, most were unaware of Atlanta’s advantages, including its relatively low cost of doing business, thriving Latin American communities, major corporate presence and direct links to regional capitals via Delta Air Lines Inc., Mr. Vence said.
“They tend to gravitate toward what they know, so they look at the Miami, New York, California markets, and one of the things we wanted to do was to start a new conversation about what really makes sense for these companies to do when they’re looking to enter the U.S. market,” he added.
But why these two countries? In a word — “synergies,” Mr. Vence said.
Chile, an open economy and a regional leader on many fronts, has an advanced banking system that has bred a burgeoning financial technology hub, making it a natural fit for Atlanta. The country has also become synonymous with early-stage company support, garnering global recognition for its ambitious Startup Chile program. Each year, participating firms from around the globe get a no-strings-attached capital infusion of $40,000 and other support to bring their companies to Chile and hone their business models.
In the capital city of Santiago, Mr. Vence visited Startup Chile’s offices and met with representatives from the Universidad Catolica de Chile’s Centro de Innovacion. The latter is named for the late Chilean billionaire Anacleto Angellini and is housed in a modernist concrete monolith on the university’s San Joaquin campus.
Mr. Vence believes the center could be a future partner for the Atlanta International Startup Exchange, which is in its third year hosting a fellowship that has brought in innovators from places like Toulouse, France, and Newcastle, England. This year’s program will see four companies each from Toulouse and Atlanta visiting the other city.
Colombia, meanwhile, has a strong services sector and major corporations, many of them headquartered in Medellin, a city that has gone from one of the world’s murder and drug capitals to showpiece for urban transformation and social inclusion over the last two decades.
On a day trip there, Mr. Vence visited Ruta N, a public-private innovation center built in an underdeveloped area of the city. Now it’s home to more than 200 companies from 30 countries including, most recently, global consulting giant Accenture.
In June, he attended the SelectUSA summit in Washington, where he met with a few of the companies he’d met on the initial trip. Discussions are continuing with a few of the firms now eyeing Atlanta as their potential gateway to the U.S.
On overseas trips and at events like SelectUSA, he said, Invest Atlanta takes a collaborative approach, touting the benefits of the entire metro area and working with partners including the Georgia Department of Economic Development on investment recruitment, Mr. Vence said.
In each capital — Santiago and Bogota — Mr. Vence was able to meet with Georgia representatives stationed there to help companies from the state penetrate the markets. The state opened an office in Peru this year.
These offices reveal the deeper ties developing between the city and the region.
“We’re starting to see a little bit more traction around Latin America, which we’re certainly very excited about, because we haven’t really seen this much interest in the region in the past.”
Invest Atlanta is continuing to talk with the local consulate and trade offices (like ProColombia’s Atlanta office) about how to foster more concrete links. Next steps could include inbound trade missions for companies from each country to experience Atlanta first hand. The local Argentine community has reached out to Invest Atlanta to welcome a technology delegation planned for the fall.
Mr. Vence also noted that Mexico is a strategic country for Invest Atlanta.