EUREKA!

Colombia 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | B2B: INNOVATION

The nation's educated population and the rebranding of certain cities as hubs for innovation are leading to an increased emphasis on new ideas.

Paula Marcela Arias Pulgarín
PAULA MARCELA ARIAS PULGARÍN
Director
COLCIENCIAS
Juan Camilo Quintero
JUAN CAMILO QUINTERO
Executive Director
Ruta N

How do you support innovation in Colombia?

PAULA MARCELA ARIAS PULGARÍN We have carried out an internal restructuring and designed all the internal information systems of Colciencias in addition to refurbishing and modernizing our facilities. It was a tough task, but we have the support of the government and other public institutions. We also ranked among the top five public institutions in terms of efficient use of resources in 2013. As part of our restructuring, the three main areas in which we focused our budget last year were education, health, and innovation. We plan to support 1,300 Master's and 1,000 PhD students in 2014. We have granted over 2,700 scholarships over the past three years of this government, a figure that represents around 60% of all scholarships Colciencias has granted over the past 20 years of our scholarship programme. Thanks to the all-time record Ps65 trillion budget in health we have been able to focus on strengthening existing infrastructure and institutions operating in the country. Finally, we assumed the lead role in innovation and allocated approximately Ps29 trillion in two projects for the development of innovative initiatives. In fact, one of these was aimed at private companies (for which we had over 1,000 applicants) and the other at higher education and research centres. We will be working together with national institutions and centres to factor ideas and vision into the future science and technology policy guidelines for Colombia.

JUAN CAMILO QUINTERO We are the capital city for innovation in the wider concept of the word: the transformation of society through ideas. For example, Medellín's public transport systems are all eco-friendly and have proved to be innovative in many ways. Medellín has come a long way from being the most violent city in the world to being voted Most Innovative City in the World by the Wall Street Journal, Citigroup, and the Urban Land Institute; and in my opinion, the most thriving city in Colombia of the past 10 years. Therefore, our role at Ruta N is to provide the tools to boost capacity and ability within society. Medellín has R&D centers, entrepreneurs, institutions, and private companies pushing very hard for innovation through knowledge and sharing knowledge. In this context, Ruta N tries to strengthen that ecosystem by boosting internal relations and providing certain resources, as well as connecting them to the world. For example, in the last three years, we have dedicated ourselves to researching the best practices in science and technology, and how to bring them into this ecosystem.

What is your general near-term outlook for science and technology?

PMAP The country's defence expenditure is high. If we reach a peace agreement then certain sectors are sure to benefit from reduced military spending. Science and technology firms enjoy greater opportunities, and as we achieve higher levels of security, investment in other sectors will grow. This will push researchers to pursue their careers in Colombia rather than going abroad. I also think that many Colombians will be willing to return from living overseas, and the government is to launch an ambitious program to attract people. Other Latin American researchers will one day find that Colombia is an ideal place to work; the country has all it takes to become a regional science and research hub.

What are some of the main projects you have lined up for the near future?

JCQ Ruta N's annual budget is around $50 million, counting the annual $14 million the municipality allocates to us for science and technology projects. In this context, public companies like EPM, the utilities company of the city, annually transfer around 30% to 50% of profits to the local municipality, with these resources set to reach a record Ps1 billion in 2014. Additionally, we have national mining royalties that account for a further $18 million. We also have co-funding projects with national authorities and institutions. In this context, we are well immersed in the “2021 Technology, Science, and Innovation Plan" that aims at making Medellín the technological and innovation capital of Latin America by 2021.