Raul Eduardo Rodriguez
Raul Eduardo Rodriguez is the CEO of the Colombian Entrepreneurship Corporation (CEC). His organization is the first one devoted to developing entrepreneurship in Colombia. CEC is dedicated to research, formulation and implementation of entrepreneurship projects in Colombia. CEC identifies and solves different business issues in several sectors promoting development in Colombia.
One of the main achievements of CEC was the creation of the first laws for entrepreneurship in Colombia. They have worked with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in Colombia and the Presidency of the Republic of Colombia. In 2005 they received the prize for being the best organization at the National Competition held by the Ministry of Commerce in the category of sustainability in goods. Raul Rodriguez has participated in many international summits in Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay, Panama, Argentina, USA, Sweden, Egypt, and Switzerland among others. He was a judge in 2011 at the Development Fair organized by the World Bank in Colombia.
Today Raul works with many trade unions developing entrepreneurship in different social sectors.
What is your opinion about entrepreneurship and the impact of it in developing economies?
Entrepreneurship is a life style that allows people to achieve their goals and create businesses value of services and goods. Doing entrepreneurship means generating a commercial opportunity based not only on a need but a real opportunity to trade. The market, not the entrepreneurs that want to do business, determine this need.
In Colombia, as a corporation that works with entrepreneurs we identify two kinds of entrepreneurship. First of all we have entrepreneurship that is the result of the entrepreneur’s need. Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America. In this case, entrepreneurship is the result of a physical need to feed a family. In this category you find people that have no knowledge and unfortunately they are incompetent to get to thier potential market.
The other kind of entrepreneurship is the one that is a result of research done with real consumers and it is related to innovation, technology, shared value and competitive advantage.
In Colombia, people are being forced to be entrepreneurs because of the lack of opportunities and the broken social system. For this reason even uneducated people decide to be entrepreneurs to find their way in this unequal economic system.
This is the way entrepreneurship works in Colombia. On one side we find entrepreneurs as a result of subsistence, because people need to eat and survive. On the other side there is the “entrepreneurship of opportunity” that is not for everybody but for the ones who have the money to do the market research and those who want to create an enterprise and generate employment. In the short and long run those enterprises will generate sustainability in the market.
Do you think that it is possible to make a fusion of both?
It is complicated. Maybe it is possible if we do capacitation for those who are in the category of the entrepreneurship that comes out of the need, so they can be in the cycle as providers in the supply chain. In this way a good or service can be provided for the entrepreneur that comes out of the opportunity that is enhancing enterprise based on information technology, innovation and a big amount of investment made.
For example, the first kind of entrepreneur buys cookies and resells them. The second one buys the formula of the cookies, and analyzes the consumption trend understanding what the consumer wants and develops the strategy until it arrives to the suitable one. Each one has a different time.
But it's difficult. There is a big education gap.
Another thing that we have to take into account is the culture. Maybe the first kind of entrepreneur does not want to do better and he is happy with the way his business is doing. They do not want to leave their comfort zone. The second entrepreneur however, needs those providers as any other element in the business development. Those are different life styles: one wants to eat and feed his family, the other one wants to become rich.
Could you please give some advice for entrepreneurs or investors from other countries that want to do business in Colombia?
The starting point has to be the consumer. Many times the starting point is the need of the entrepreneur. This is one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs do. The consumer is the one that makes the demand. For this reason we have to take into account what people need or like and the market trends. It is important to do real market studies and observe the real behavior of the consumer. It is important to go to the place and understand the local culture. Finally it is necessary to develop innovation. Take advantage the added value that we offer being competitive plus the conventional elements such as price and quality.
Could you please talk about the business opportunities in Colombia?
There are many industries to invest. Colombia has many opportunities in the agricultural sector but there is some limiting factors due to infrastructure and normatively not even by the one demanded here but the one for countries of destination. If I were an American investor I would import product with added value, but always thinking about the entrance laws in the United States.
Colombia has a trade agreement with United States. The trade agreements are a really efficient mechanism for the international commerce. It generates competitive advantage when we talk about tariffs and all the procedures. Nevertheless it becomes a problem because of the normatively that is not the same one for both of the countries.
I believe that in a trade bilateral agreement, after the safeguard and the protection of markets. Is when the real opportunity of importation and exportation comes. As I said before, there is more opportunity for the Americans because of the normatively. Surely, USA meets the requirements.
Other sectors that are growing are tech, applications and services that are a big opportunity for an American company that wants to do business with Colombia. Different from what many enterprises do, a big opportunity is not only buying the raw materials but the finished product, because the costs are cheaper.
Colombia's GDP in 2013 was $378 Billion which is almost quadruple the amount in year 2000. Though that amount is just less than the GDP of Virginia, it is still a place with incredible opportunity. In 2013 'The City of Eternal Spring', Medellin was named the most innovative city in the world beating out Tel Aviv and New York City. South America is the tree of opportunity which is ripe for the picking and Colombia is one of the juiciest fruits it has to offer. Don't take our word for it, see for yourself.
By Natalia Cotres Toloza, Chadwick Burnaw