Entrepreneur. Journalist. Marketer. Mentor. In the tech ecosystem, Conrad Egusa has worn just about every hat there is. And now, he’s launching his latest endeavor: ESPACIO, a coworking space and entrepreneurial center in Medellin, Colombia.
Egusa founded ESPACIO alongside Edinson Alberto Arrieta Aguas. With the backing of partners .CO, The Founder Institute and Ruta N and the backing of advisors Alan Colmenares and Alex Torrenegra, ESPACIO will promote entrepreneurship in Medellin by fostering a community of encouragement, education and support. Its staff will assist entrepreneurs in marketing, technology and PR, and the team has hired a part-time in-house designer that companies can access for free. Later down the line, Egusa and Arrieta Aguas plan to include an early-stage seed fund in ESPACIO as well.
Beyond his work at ESPACIO, Egusa is a Mentor at The Founder Institute, where he advises entrepreneurs on topics such as fundraising, having received angel investment for his own Silicon Valley tech startup in the past. He draws on his experiences in online marketing and consulting with Brownstein & Egusa and Stacy Blackman Consulting as well as the knowledge gained as a writer for VentureBeat.
We reached out to Egusa to learn more about ESPACIO as well as his impressions of Medellin’s entrepreneurial community in light of his experience in tech ecosystems in Silicon Valley and New York.
Emily Stewart: Given your experience in the startup and tech ecosystem in the U.S., what have been your initial impressions of the state of things in Colombia and Latin America? Is it in line with what you’ve expected?
Conrad Egusa: I can only speak from my experiences in Medellin, Colombia, but I have been very impressed with the startup ecosystem here. There is such a strong culture of innovation in Medellin. When I first arrived in the city, my first thought was how similar it was to Silicon Valley. The culture of opportunity permeates the city, and it is one that rewards those who work hard and who are honest.
When I left the United States for Colombia nine months ago, I thought I would only stay for a few months, but I fell in love with the city of Medellin. I am here because I believe it will become the center of innovation in Latin America. In many ways, people could call it the Silicon Valley of Latin America.
ES: What are the biggest strengths of the startup ecosystem in Medellin, in your view? What about the greatest shortcomings?
CE: I believe the biggest strength is that the people here are opportunistic and believe that tomorrow will be better than today. There are other parts of the world where people may seem a bit fixated on the past. The people of Medellin (the paisas) are also very hard working.
Regarding its greatest shortcomings, I believe Latin America hasn’t had enough success stories for younger entrepreneurs to look to. Having lived in Silicon Valley, I was fortunate to be surrounded by many people who had built million dollar tech companies. That high density of success has not yet occurred in Latin America, and hopefully this will change in the upcoming years.
ES: What do you think that entrepreneurs in Latin America need to do to capture the attention of venture capital in the U.S.?
CE: I believe entrepreneurs in Latin America need to accomplish two feats.
First, they need to show that ventures can scale throughout Latin America. As an example, a venture in Colombia must be able to say, we’ve had success in this country, now we can expand to Argentina, Chile, etc. An example of a company that did this well is MercadoLibre. The reason I mention this is that many of these countries are not large enough markets in and of themselves (unless the company is in a particularly large industry, for example real estate). Collectively though, Latin America is a great opportunity.
Second, Latin America needs to have a number of entrepreneurial success stories, which will not only catch the eye of foreign venture capitalists, but will also serve as inspiration to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
ES: Why open up ESPACIO now? Why Colombia, and why, specifically, Medellin?
CE: ESPACIO was very demand-driven from the very beginning, in that the idea came because so many foreign and Colombian entrepreneurs were asking if I could refer them to office space. My co-founder, Edinson Alberto Arrieta Aguas, and I believe we are the right team, in the right place, at the right time. .CO (which is the company responsible for the worldwide .co URLs) has also been instrumental, as they provided us with an Innovation Grant when we were first getting started.
Medellin is unlike any other city I have been to, and the only region I can compare it to is Silicon Valley. When I arrived in the city, the more I became involved in the entrepreneurial scene here, the more I learned about the great government initiatives (from Ruta N, iNNpulsa), and the active startup scene. Additionally, we’ve been seeing a great deal of migration to Medellin from other countries, including from the US and from companies in the Start-Up Chile program.
I always tell individuals I meet, if you are looking to start a business, there is no better place than Medellin (this is coming from someone who spent the majority of his life in Silicon Valley and New York).
With ESPACIO, Egusa is placing his bets on Medellin as Latin America’s next big tech hub. His work in the community will certainly give it a boost.
Image: ESPACIO. Egusa, left; Arrieta Aguas, right.