Medellín – Far from Pablo

Work brought me to Medellín twice in the last month. The city, set in a gorgeous valley lush with tropical vegetation and one of the world’s most temperate climates, is a study in change and contrast. Not twenty years ago, the city was the murder capital of the world, with a homicide rate of 6,500 per year (or 11 times Detroit on a bad day) – and things still aren’t so great.

My job was to organize a conference for investors focused on the emergence of the city as a hub of tech and innovation within Colombia (hosted at Ruta N – the cover photo). Along with partners in government and the local private sector, we created a day of programming and workshops with international investors to share their wisdom and experience of building a tech venture ecosystem from the ground up. Pretty advanced stuff, and not just your average investment pitch.

But back up a step. Wasn’t this city again not so long ago the hub of one of the world’s great drug cartels? Yes.

And don’t most people think of Pablo Escobar when they think of Medellín? (you can even go on a Pablo Escobar tour!) Again, yes.

But on the ground investors trust that things have turned around quickly, despite lingering multi-billion dollar drug smuggling operations being busted every now and again.

Now it’s not likely that the average tourist is going to hop on a plane to while away days by the pool in Medellín. But entrepreneurs and investors are coming, and they like what they see.

What they see is a city that has built appealing public spaces, a world-class transport system that includes an above-ground metro/railway linked to dedicated bus lanes and cable cars reaching far into underprivileged hillside shantytowns. It is a city that boasts comparatively low corruption rates, a government committed to economic development through capital improvement and investment, and a collective, decades-long sigh of relief at criminality’s retreat.

I’ll be interested to watch Medellín grow and change, and am rooting for it to usurp from Bogotá its rightful place as Colombia’s business hub.

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