Central America and Caribbean

In November, Panama embraces entrepreneurship

Traditionally a trade hub, Panama aims to step up on innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

Through a week-long, free-for-all series of events, the Panamanian government is unveiling a new policy aiming to improve the country’s entrepreneurial performance.

Beginning today, the SMB Authority of Panama (AMYPYME) is holding a series of events aimed at promoting entrepreneurship, access to resources, and the implementation of a new policy for the promotion of innovation, titled “Panama Grows” part of the National Pact for Entrepreneurship,

Throughout the week there will be daily events bringing innovators, mentors and investors together for the promotion of the entrepreneurial scene of Panama (See agenda here). The events are completely free for all interested, levelling the field for newcomers and established actors to interact and collaborate.

The new initiative and launching event are part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017, taking place between November 13-19 to promote entrepreneurship across 160 countries.

 

“There’s no driving force for economic growth and social mobility more powerful than that of thousands of entrepreneurs developing their businesses,” said Sergio Zuluaga, an expert consultant working in the joint effort between the government and entrepreneurship-promoting entities, in a press release.

Government programs such as Seed Capital, which awards US$ 50,000 to promising startups, and Fondo Emprende, which provides support and funding for product creation and scaling, show the Panamanian government has been making strides to promote entrepreneurship.

Maria Celia Dopeso, Minister of AMYPYME, stated that “the ‘Panama Grows’ entrepreneurial policy does not only unify criteria for entrepreneurial endeavors; it also fosters the country’s economic growth and the well-being of its citizens” in a press release.

The Panama scene

The country’s economy grew a healthy 5.8% in the first half of 2017. With a low cost of living and of doing business, many opportunities for US nearshoring, and an international business culture with dollar as the official currency, it is no wonder why many startups are using Panama as their base.

Some notable Panamanian tech startups are:

City of Knowledge, in Panama City.

  • Criptext, a security suite for Gmail that has secured over $750,000 in funding.
  • ASAP, an app that connects messengers and individuals for courier services.
  • Degusta, a restaurant aggregator.
  • Archimesa, custom apps to help visualize and sell architectural projects.
  • Venmetro, a fintech platform for personal loans.

The country is also home to a growing network of key innovators and supporters of entrepreneurship.

City of Knowledge is a large facility dedicated to knowledge management through innovation. The physical home of an organization with extensive reach via a series of entrepreneurial projects, City of Knowledge is home to a wide array of entrepreneurial projects—from social change to biotech to robotics.

On October 27, the City hosted an important event organized by Panafintech, a diverse community fostering fintech development in the country. Events like these allow Panamanian entrepreneurs to networking and collaborate to seize the unique opportunities that the isthmian tax haven has to offer. Similarly, Workings Latam is a coworking space with several locations around Panama City that has also become a center of business and tech collaboration in Central America.

Beyond tech and traditional entrepreneurship there are plenty of endeavors taking advantage of the unique landscape and agricultural richness of the country. For example, Kalu Yala, a whole ecovillage built on entrepreneurial and coworking principles, has been described as a “startup version of Burning Man, or a tropical manifestation of Summit Series.”

Easy business—little innovation

With the Panama Canal and liberal trade regulations, Panama has established itself well as a trade hub over the past century. The country now faces the challenge of diversifying its economy via innovation, entrepreneurship and technology.

The 2017 Doing Business Report ranks Panama as #79 out of 190 countries for ease of doing business. Not only international trade is extremely simple in the Central American country: Panama was ranked 29 for ease of access to credit, and commended for its efforts to make it easier for businesses to get back on their feet and pay their debts during bankruptcy. Furthermore, it was ranked at #39 for ease of opening a business with a 92% score (with 100 being the best performing economy in the ranking) and zero initial capital.

While doing business in Panama is easy, the Global Entrepreneurial Index tells a different story.

The country ranked high high for networking and risk acceptance, two key factors for entrepreneurship; despite ranking at a respectable #8 among countries in the LatAm region, Panama is severely lacking startup opportunities, tech sector development, and dynamic growth, with figures subpar to the world average and below the increasingly competitive figures of large economies in the LatAm region.

The new policy and similar events within the Global Entrepreneurship Week are a recognition of the issue and a first step forward towards placing Panama in the map of business and tech innovation.

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