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Introducing Costa Rica
Located right in the middle of the Americas, Costa Rica encloses one of the most exciting and promising startup ecosystems in the region. Home of visionary innovators, Costa Rica, and its capital city, San José; has been regarded as a hub for amazing ideas and ventures. From creating groundbreaking institutions such as free healthcare and labor securities by the 1940s, and abolishing its army in 1948, to pledging to become the first carbon-neutral nation in the world by 2021, Costa Ricans are surely aiming to set a milestone for future entrepreneurs worldwide.
Truthfully to the entrepreneurial mindset that characterizes the country, the Costa Rican startup ecosystem has been rising in the past years at exponential proportions. Incubators, government organizations, and the very first accelerator and venture capital firm in the region, Carao Ventures, had been working hard to develop the ecosystem, despite of the difficulties yet to overcome.
Interesting startups to look at:
Startups are relatively new to the Costa Rican business landscape, but some have certainly stood out. For instance, these are some of the most renowned startups, as listed:
- BildTek: High-tech construction startup that employs specialized construction software and an innovative light-gauge steel structure solution to help build commercial and residential projects. The startup has successfully received investment in several rounds since its creation in 2013.
- Bellelli: Educational facility offering early childhood education inspired by the “Reggio Emilia Approach.” Its educational philosophy is focused on encouraging the child to become the leading motivator, connecting him or her with collaborative teachers within a relationship-building environment.
- GoPato: A personal assistant and immediate messenger service ready to take any order the user wishes to receive or send.
- HuliHealth: An online community that brings together healthcare professionals and patients, allowing the users to book and organize appointments easily through the web.
- Slidebean: Startup based in Costa Rica and the U.S. that provides a cloud-based software solution that enables the user to create visually appealing presentation slides, requiring only user content input. Part of Carao Ventures and 500 Startups.
- Speratum: A biotechnology company researching the potential of microRNA-based patented therapeutics to treat and reverse cancer development, focusing at first on pancreatic cancer.
Making it big in San José
Not only living in a vibrant city surrounded by beautiful green mountains and volcanos, laying below a tropical blue sky with chirping birds is enough for entrepreneurs to find inspiration in San José. Costa Rica has been working hard to prepare the best conditions for entrepreneurs to set up their ideas.
Regardless of the lack of support and funding provided by the government as perceived by entrepreneurs, which may somehow lean on the fact that local efforts are mostly oriented to a stance that you are either a big company or a small company, leaving startups behind as a concept still misunderstood by some officers, entrepreneurs in Costa Rica must struggle to find their way to success.
It is known that Costa Rica is preparing high level professionals in various areas of knowledge. Several quality universities and institutions, including one of the most prestigious in the region, the University of Costa Rica, graduate hundreds of scientists, engineers, and other professionals every year, making the country a major R&D hub filled with an educated talent pool. Also, Costa Ricans are heavy users of technology. Access to telecommunications is widespread and the gap is lowered every year.
Citizens of San José enjoy a high quality of life in general, with access to many basic social services and resources. Identical to major cities in Latin America, San José still has a lot of problems to struggle with; which also brings a bunch of opportunities for local entrepreneurs. Slowly becoming a cultural center, some neighborhoods in San José have attracted a lot of talented people to claim the city as their home.
The creation of organizations that support entrepreneurship, incubators and programs sponsored by either private, public, or academic funds, along with the creation of the very first venture capital firm that has already backed +12 in 3 years of operations, and dozens of events targeted to the entrepreneurial community, has surely worked to enhance the ecosystem in the city. In what still, up to date, remains a small city in terms of the ecosystem, it becomes very helpful that networks are identifiable by local entrepreneurs.
What’s holding up entrepreneurs in Costa Rica?
The lack of funding initiatives and the perceived scarce support by government institutions is what usually holds entrepreneurs towards starting their ventures. Costa Rica still has a deficient legal and tax framework, not prepared for startups and new ventures. Also, processes for creating and maintaining new companies in Costa Rica are very tedious, time consuming, and expensive.
Recently, open source project called Emprendimiento.cr, in hand with Startup Costa Rica and the Science and Innovation Fund of United Kingdom, mapped the ecosystem, and concluded that Costa Rican culture and social relationships may also affect entrepreneurs. How? Entrepreneurs in the country may have low trust towards their peers and prefer to go solo when starting a venture, making it difficult to create constructive relationships and form a working team.
Important pieces in the ecosystem
There are some organizations that have been promoting the development of the entrepreneurship community in Costa Rica, including incubators, accelerators, and dedicated programs:
- AUGE (incubator) – @AUGEUCR > Incubator founded in 2012 by the University of Costa Rica. They offer support to entrepreneurs, training workshops, and help promote the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Costa Rica.
- Carao Ventures (VC and accelerator) – @CaraoV > The first and only accelerator and venture capital firm in the region. Operating since 2012. Up to date it has invested more than 3 million US dollars in 5 startups, and manages an ever-growing portfolio of startups that include fintech, SaaS, biotech, among others.
- ParqueTec (accelerator and incubator) – @Parque_Tec > Incubator backed by one of Costa Rica’s most prestigious universities. It offers support to entrepreneurs in early stage projects, manages a mentoring network, and helps by creating innovative business models.
- Impactico (co-working space) – @impac_tico > More than a co-working space, they define themselves as a community for entrepreneurs. Founded in 2014 and set close to downtown San José, it has become an innovation hub by itself, handing out several tools to entrepreneurs within the city.
Other agents of the ecosystem include:
- CIE-TEC (incubator)
- Costa Rica Open Future (program) – @OpenFuture
- Founder Institute Costa Rica (program) – @founding
- Sistema Banca para el Desarrollo (funding)
- UNA Emprendedores (incubator)
Also, there are some companies and mentors who have had an important role in the ecosystem, such as EYCA (consulting), Sfera Legal (law firm), Arias & Muñoz Costa Rica (law firm), and Microsoft BizSpark (program), supporting entrepreneurs in various areas of knowledge.
Events for entrepreneurs
- Chivas The Ventures
- First Tuesday
- Get in the Ring
- Global Entrepreneurship Week Costa Rica
- Hardwarethon (hardwarethon.com)
- Seedstars World
- Social Shot
- Startup Grind
- Startup Weekend
About the author
Luis Diego Rojas is Costa Rican and has lived his whole life in this country. He studied Business Management and Advertising at the University of Costa Rica. Has previously worked at a law firm in the Business Development department, and is now part of Carao Ventures, the first venture capital firm in Central America, as Operations Manager. He works directly daily with entrepreneurs and startups, and has an active role promoting the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country.