The world's best start-up hubs: Guatemala City, Guatemala

It may not be the first place you would think of starting a business, but Guatemala City has a lot to offer start-ups. Especially those in the telecoms field...

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  • Population: 1.1 million
  • Pros: Top level selection of programmers and developers to hire, handy geographical location (time zone wise) and fantastic weather.
  • Cons: It’s still a rather uncertain country to base yourself in, with many challenges to overcome outside of business.
  • Cost: Far cheaper than many American and European alternatives.
  • What to expect: A creative hub with a can-do attitude, it’s a city full of opportunity for a hardworking entrepreneur.

Our recent look into the work of the StartUp Cities Institute resulted in an overwhelmingly positive response towards what the collective were trying to achieve. So much so, we’ve decided to head back to their Guatemala City base and assess its credentials as a start-up hub. In order to do so we sat down with Rocio Pinto, Director of Heuristica – an entrepreneur training programme. Through work as an entrepreneurship ambassador and business model strategist, Pinto has an extensive knowledge of the city’s start-up ecosystem.

What are best aspects of doing business in Guatemala City?

Guatemala is poor and therefore open to great opportunities; the market is unreserved so you can find lots of opportunities to develop new and creative businesses. Don’t look for difficult problems. If you are an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist it is much better to seek the low-hanging opportunities in Guatemala. Guatemala is positioned geographically very strategically. We have access to two oceans with seaports on each and our time zone is EST, which puts us in a very strategic position for import/export and outsourcing. Guatemala is called “the country of the eternal spring” because we have extraordinary weather. You can feel spring almost all year long, this is also an advantage for business.

But our greatest resource is our people. Guatemalans are a talented, outgoing and hardworking peoples. Guatemala ranks first in mobile network coverage, according to a report by the World Economic Forum. Guatemala’s developers, programmers and entrepreneurs are creating amazing new businesses transcending our frontiers with innovative ideas… and we still have a lot coming.

What are the downsides to doing business in Guatemala City?

Most people talk about the insecurity in our country, and this is true. As a country besieged by the war on drugs, our country fights daily against corruption and the lack of certainty. 

What are the costs of doing business in Guatemala City?

Guatemala doesn’t rank well in the World Bank Doing Business Report. That said, I dare say that the costs of doing business in Guatemala City are manageable and well worth your troubles.  Legal and fiscal matters are agile and easy compared to doing business in Europe, for example. Security is an issue and you may have to take certain precautions as businesses did in NYC during the 1970s.

How would you describe the business culture in Guatemala City?

I would say there is a strong business oriented culture in the country, however, the majority of people doing business now have a either a small business or are self-employed.  Also, a very large part of these businesses are part of the informal economy. This business-oriented culture has taught us that we have a lot of talented and resilient people and we can make things happen, but there has to be a transformation in the way Guatemalans perceive the value of entrepreneurship.

We still need to learn to see entrepreneurs with dignity and admiration. That is why over the last few years there have been a lot of entrepreneurial programs and initiatives creating and promoting entrepreneurship and focusing on transforming the way we see entrepreneurship, like heuristica.ufm.edu an entrepreneurial experience that brings together the best ideas with investors, Peoplefund.com a private investment fund backing extraordinary people building scalable businesses around the world, along with many others.

We need a new mindset, we need to see entrepreneurship as the power that one person has and the ability to create something out of nothing. Entrepreneurs are the agents that keep the world in motion and Guatemala offers the unique chance to be in the hot center of the action.

What tips would you give to an entrepreneur thinking of starting-up in Guatemala City?

I would recommend the following steps:

  • Get to know the local leaders of the industry you want to be in, in order to learn more about how the ins and outs of the industry in Guatemala.
  • Look for a local advisor on the legal and fiscal matter.
  • Be creative…we have a white canvas to start a venture in Guatemala. Our telecoms are world class. Your imagination is the limit.

There are plenty of opportunities and you will find the hardest working and most amiable people to work with and enjoy a beautiful country. You can make it big in Guatemala.

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