INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
In the innovation and entrepreneurship team we are committed with the innovative entrepreneurs, so that they can reach their highest potential in their companies, through specialized services and financing strategies, based on a comprehensive understanding of their business.
For that purpose we have the following strategic objectives:
1. Strengthen the corporate abilities so the companies are allowed to produce differentiating values.
2. Generate important connections that allow our entrepreneurs to strengthen their businesses.
Outstanding Cases Hyper-Growth Cases
While in the past, a calendar allowed the agricultural sector to forecast rain and drought season, nowadays, the countryside is ruled by uncertainty and sudden climate changes.
Solar Ciencia Agrícola S.A.S., an entrepreneurial project born in Ibagué, Colombia, was founded in 2010 as a means of counterbalancing risks through the development of physiological regulators and pesticides that result from scientific research. What’s so special about this project? Such as neuro-linguistic programming educated people into changing their behavioral and emotional models, this company uses four products to manipulate plants and increase or decrease various processes in their metabolism. The ultimate goal is to increase production of rice, corn, rubber, African palm, sorghum, banana, cocoa and cotton, among many others.
The first product is GEN 10, which combines many physiological regulators with a worldwide cutting-edge technology that preserves chloroplasts (the plants’ solar cells that store the energy) and multiplies cells, causing the plant and its roots to grow without being permeable and vulnerable to pests and diseases. Plants increase their ability to feed themselves and become stronger. “Before the arrival of these developments into the market, growth hormones were applied into plants, making their cells thinner and elongated, the perfect dish for pests and diseases”, explained Germán Andrés Castaño, CEO of Solar Ciencia Agrícola SAS.
The second product is PROSOLAR AMBIENTE, which is applied on fields in order to hold back the chemicals expelled by the plant’s metabolism during sunny days, and reintroduce them on cloudy or rainy days, when plants tend to work at their lowest capacity. In a way, this technique fools plants, which continue their natural processes as if they were exposed to sunlight.
REGULATE is the third product. In Castaño’s own words: “it’s unbelievable, it induces plants into a coma”. What’s the purpose? When a drought is around the corner, plants can store as much water as possible when induced into a coma, in order to avoid losing it through leaves and roots, which are common spots of water-loss at the moment of nutrient exchange with the environment. When the weather becomes more stable and it rains again, the plant gets out of the coma by itself and its metabolism goes back to normal.
This trilogy of clever products corresponds to physiological regulators, whereas the fourth product is a fungicide. This molecule, which is still under patent revision process, controls a disease called Phytophothora spp. So far, there is no other product out there that prevents or cures this disease, such as this molecule does. According to the numbers from the Colombian National Business Association (ANDI), in 2012, 92 million dollars were spent in Colombia in fungicides related to the prevention and control of this disease.
The results from this work have been self-explanatory. In 2010, Solar Ciencia Agrícola SAS had sales of more than 300 million pesos; in 2011 they increased to almost 600 million; in 2012, sales were 900 million; and in 2013 they were hoping to close the year with at least 2 billion pesos in sales.
With farmer genes
Who came up with these creative ideas? A generation of land lovers, that do not only share a name throughout three generations Germán Helí (father), Germán Andrés (son) and Germán Felipe (grandson), but also their love for Colombian agriculture. Although Germán Andrés, CEO of Solar, travelled to England for six months after graduating from high school in order to study business English, he always knew that his place was back home.
“I was raised among rice, sorghum and cotton crops. I enjoy the countryside, and I hope to live in a ranch one day, away from everything”, says the oldest of three siblings. That’s why he hasn’t lived in big cities for long periods of time. After coming back from an exchange program in Cambridge, he went to Medellín to study Business Administration in EAFIT. After three semesters, he moved to Bogotá and transferred to CESA, where studied for only six months.
Back in Ibagué, he worked with his father, Germán Helí, for one year, at Insumos Tropicales, their first family business, which allowed them to become the biggest agrochemical distributors in the country. This 57-year-old Agricultural Engineer, specialized in distribution, has dedicated his entire life to the Colombian countryside, and his love for land has driven him to promote a campaign, along with ANDI, to relocate agrochemical warehouses in order to reduce contamination, among other achievements. He also built the first agroindustry park, Los Ocobos, meeting all national and international regulations for the manipulation of agrochemicals. Today, this family manages three businesses: Solar Ciencia Agrícola SAS, chaired by Germán Andrés; Efitec S.A., specialized in plant nutrition (where his brother Juan David works at); and Nesta Bio Ciencia, which focuses on organic products (where his other brother, Diego Felipe, works at).
The legacy started by his father allowed Germán Andrés to pursue further studies. He began studying Literature at Universidad Javeriana and Advertisement at Unitec, at the same time. Though he finished both majors, he never claimed his Literature diploma, since the acquired knowledge was more than enough for him. Instead, he chose to go back to his farm and grow rice, an experience that later on led him to an economic backlash due to the rice sector crisis that he had to face. “When I fall, I stand up faster and more willingly”, says Germán Andrés, father of two kids: Germán Felipe (11 months old) and Sara (4 years old). And, in fact, after this crisis, Solar Ciencia Agrícola SAS was born.
iNNpulsa, a strategically
That entrepreneurial momentum allowed this firm, with the help of Ibagué’s Chamber of Commerce, to win the EDI 007 bid, promoted by iNNpulsa Colombia, and the 309 million pesos award in 2013.
It was clear from the beginning how the money would be spent. It will go directly into finishing the construction of two plants (pesticide and physiological regulators and additives), endowing them with machinery, registering them at ICA, and bolstering commercial ties with their vendors in China, where they are already networking.
“iNNpulsa Colombia changed our lives. I had estimated all this for a period of at least five years and, thanks to this initiative, I’ll manage to do it in one”. It seems that neuro-linguistic programming ultimately worked for Andrés: “I was always convinced that these resources would be ours. When it still wasn’t a fact, I would tell my team: when we get the money from iNNpulsa…” Because thinking and wanting something make words come true.
The project consists on the productive development and strengthening according to the design, production and distribution of modified starch-based functional food for national raw material use in the food processing industry, thus decreasing imports.
Load trucks with tracing devices hidden under merchandise and containers; tanker trucks with devices that detect any fuel volume variation; vans with refrigerated real-time monitored storage units to preserve products at exact temperatures; a platform that controls the location of technical staff, sales to cities, and manages cabs, ambulances and cranes; all these seem Hollywood movie technologies, but in fact they are some of the services that WideTech provides in over 20 countries around the world.
Seven years ago, the use of GPS in Colombia was obsolete, and it wasn’t useful for anything beyond locating stolen cars. At that time, Jaime Arbeláez was the Technology Director of the firm that dominated the market. In 2008, the company was liquidated, and Jaime was left unemployed, with a check of a few million pesos as a compensation for his 9 years running the firm.
At 38, he decided to take six sabbatical months and spend more than half of that money in a trip to Asia, hoping to reconsider his life and, in the meantime, go to fairs, events and meetings about the latest developments in the technology he was passionate about: global positioning devices and their various uses in different industries. After traveling through Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, China and Hong Kong, he came back to Bogotá with his bags full of sophisticated devices and the idea of establishing his own business.
“Five years ago, all I wanted to be was self-employed, to invest my own time in creating new things and discovering other ways of applying my knowledge into this type of technology”, says Jaime, who never imagined the magnitude of the business he was about to discover. His first client was an oil company that needed to trace the trucks that carried drills for 10 to 12 hours throughout remote and dangerous roads across the country.
Jaime hired Johny Alfonso, a former colleague and currently his business partner, in order to develop a platform that allowed oil companies to know the location and real-time speed at which their trucks were driving. It was possible due to a portable tracker that drivers carried in their pockets, and it became a logistics control system that made oil operations more efficient and dynamic.
When Jaime attempted to charge his first service, he had no legal way of doing it, so in record time he established a company and organized administratively. WideTech was born to fulfill this need. By December 2008, the company had already sold nearly 300 devices to two clients, for almost 200 million pesos. When he became aware of this potential, he looked for a strategic investor, and he found Alberto Ruiz Llano, a well-known businessman that bought part of WideTech for a considerable amount.
Each product they develop is based on everyday needs of potential clients. In 2009, after closing many deals with oil and gas firms, Jaime traveled to an international security fair in Miami, where he met his first foreign client. The police of a Central American city was interested in buying WideTech’s technology to monitor patrol cars and police officers. By the end of 2009, WideTech had 15 employees, 2.000 active track units, and sales of over 1 billion pesos. “At first you feel scared of reaching out to clients outside Colombia, but the opportunities are huge”, Jaime explains.
In a Proexport mission to Mexico, Jaime met companies from diverse sectors that were interested in adapting WideTech’s platform to their particular needs. Multinationals such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola wanted to monitor their distribution trucks to improve operational efficiency while decreasing costs. TIGO and Movistar needed the technology to locate employee and user mobile telephones, and security companies such as ADT/Tyco and G4S wanted to provide asset-tracking services to their clients. They found all these logistic solutions at WideTech, which led Jaime to travel to Mexico and Argentina looking for commercial allies.
This experience proved to him that the best business model for his company was franchises. Many technology distributors were interested in selling WideTech’s services to their clients. Nowadays, the company has 150 franchises in 18 Latin American countries, and the platform has been adapted into English and Portuguese in order to satisfy customers from Brazil, the U.S. and Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Tobago. As an employee, Jaime constantly disagreed with his bosses because they didn’t let him go any further: “I’m a nonconformist. I want to go two steps ahead of what life is giving me”, he says. That accumulated frustration could finally be channeled for the benefit of his own company, which reported sales over 2 billion pesos and 8.000 active tracking devices in 2010, three times as much as the previous year.
In 2011, WideTech reached a landmark when it expanded its service portfolio and created the four brands that are currently offered. CargoShield monitors cargo trucks, containers and merchandise through padlock (and other objects) camouflaged satellite devices. One of their most important clients is the Government of Buenos Aires, Argentina, which uses WideTech’s platform to protect thousands of containers shipped daily.
EyeControl locates field staff, sales and technical service employees in cities, and verifies that they perform their duties. One by One is the people counting system to measure passenger volume of a massive transportation system, and TaxiFinder allowed more than 7.000 cab drivers in Colombia to give up radiotelephones and pick up passengers through a more efficient satellite system. For this product, WideTech won the Innova 2011 award handed by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT), giving the company more visibility and significant investment resources for research and devopment.
This award allowed them to compete and be pre-selected as “Endeavor Global Entrepreneurs” by this international organization that supports high impact entrepreneurship from developing countries such as Colombia, providing mentoring and acceleration. In December 2012, at the Selection Committee hosted in Miami, WideTech was chosen along with other 39 firms as part of a select group of businesses with the potential to revolutionize their industries on a world scale, a privilege that gives them access to an exclusive network, capital funds and consultants.
During WideTech’s expansion process, Jaime constantly travelled to technology fairs in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the U.S., and he realized that many of the devices he was still conceiving did not exist yet. He decided to use Innova’s money to create a business unit and produce the hardware that would solve issues that oil and gas clients have when monitoring fuel levels while loading their tank trucks, as well as preventing theft, and issues that dairy product companies have when controlling real-time temperature and moisture of refrigerated trucks.
WideTech’s history is still not even halfway through. Unimaginable goals have been achieved. Last year, the company sold more than 5 million dollars worth of products and services. Jaime Arbeláez just moved with his family to New York, on one hand, to start operating in the U.S., and on the other, to take advantage of Endeavor Global’s network and find a high-level managerial investor who would like to acquire 30% of the company.
Quinoa is a worldwide trend. It has become a highly sought-after ingredient in supermarkets from the United States, England, Canada, France and other developed countries, due to its nutritional value, good taste and versatility in different culinary recipes.