Is Medellin City of the Year?

Finalist entrepreneur spotlight: Conrad Egusa of Medellin talks about the attractions of this Colombian city

General News

Citi and the Wall Street Journal have teamed up to name the "City of the Year," an award given to the most innovative city. Based on a combination of judging from the Urban Land Institute and popular vote, Medellin, Colombia, is one of the three finalists for the title of "City of the Year."

Conrad Egusa is the Co-Founder of Espacio, which is a co-working space and entrepreneurial center located in the heart of Medellin, Colombia. He is currently a mentor at The Founder Institute, and was formerly a writer at VentureBeat. In addition to space, Espacio offers classes, demo days, marketing and PR advice, and access to a part-time, in-house designer.

Visit the City of the Year website to vote for Medellin, Tel Aviv, or New York City.

Q: Why do you think Medellin should be chosen for 'City of the Year'?
Medellin should be be chosen for 'City of the Year' because of its transformation into one of the most promising cities in the world.

Not many years ago, the prospect of Medellin being selected would have been unthinkable. The city was arguably the most dangerous in the world, and it headquartered some of the largest drug organizations on the planet.

However, where bloodshed once occurred, new businesses now flourish. Pillars such as a celebrated Metro system, which reduces Medellin's CO2 emissions by 175,000 tons every year and which was once thought impossible to build, have been erected. The violence that plagued the city has been replaced by world-class educational institutions and by communities bonded together by a belief in a better future. Medellin's best days are ahead of it.

Years from now, many will look back at the city of Medellin and wonder how it was possible that so much innovation developed from the city. However innovation is at the heart of the culture of Medellin.

The people of Medellin, the Paisas, are unlike many from other parts of the world because the innovators and entrepreneurs here are not driven by money or fame. The people here, at their core, are driven by their desire to make meaning.

This desire from the city to make meaning is truly where innovation is born and it is why Medellin should be chosen for 'City of the Year'. This is the desire that transformed Medellin throughout its darkest days, and it is the desire that will propel Medellin forward.

Q: What is the best way you think cities can encourage innovators?
The best way a city can encourage innovators is by promoting them. Innovation is rarely a solo enterprise, however it can certainly feel that way to individuals starting out. As many innovators will readily admit, it is often not financial challenges that stop a new venture, but rather the support of family and community.

The media, in this regard, can become a city's best friend and partner in encouraging innovation. When innovation is celebrated throughout the government and the media, entrepreneurship is able to flourish because of the increased support from communities.

Although it is important that cities be entrepreneurial-friendly with business taxes and regulations, what is most important is that cities be cheerleaders for the innovation ecosystem.

The cities that are most able to promote innovators are the ones that will best encourage them.

Q: How do you think Medellin contributes to innovation?
Medellin contributes to innovation through many initiatives. At the heart of Medellin is Ruta N, which is the innovation center of the city. Through this organization, the city of Medellin will launch its first early-stage Venture Capital firm, a technology district dedicated to innovative startups, and more. This center of innovation helps new businesses through promotion and through the development of an ecosystem of science, technology and innovation.

Even more than their physical structures, organizations such as Ruta N serve as beacons of hope for younger innovators. This is most apparent through the universities and cafes of Medellin, which are now host to entrepreneurial groups eager to work on the next big idea.

In addition to Ruta N, the city of Medellin has sponsored and promoted The Founder Institute, which is led in Colombia by Alan Colmenares. The organization has brought in leading entrepreneurs and investors to help mentor early-stage entrepreneurs.

Other innovative initiatives Medellin has pursued include its Metro station, through which Medellin has become a leader in transportation throughout Latin America. The transportation in the city includes a Metrocable, bus system, a 28-story high escalator which allows residents to travel down, and a bike-sharing program.

Above all, Medellin contributes to innovation by promoting it. The city is a cheerleader of the entrepreneurs and innovators here, and is the first partner the entrepreneurs and I here turn to for help in promoting awareness of new ventures.

It is because of these initiatives from the city, along with the culture of Medellin, that the city has been able to transform itself from one of the most dangerous cities in the world into a center of innovation.

Stay tuned for more City of the Year spotlights featuring entrepreneurs from Tel Aviv and New York City.

For more information on Citi and WSJ's City of the Year competition and to vote for Medellin, Tel Aviv, or New York City, click here.