When you think of “Smart Cities”, which ones come to mind? Perhaps San Francisco, Boston, or Singapore. According to Newsweek, although these are all extremely innovative and tech-driven cities, none outdid Medellin, Colombia in this year’s ranking of the world’s smartest cities as part of Newsweek’s Momentum Awards.
The decisive factor was the degree of difficulty Medellin has been faced with to achieve its smart-city status. Just a few decades ago, the city was considered one of the most dangerous in the world, with astronomical rates of homicides and other violent crimes. In large part, this was due to the presence of powerful drug cartels and gangs ruled by Pablo Escobar until he was killed by police forces in 1993.
This was a crucial turning point for Medellin. Government, academic, civic, and corporate leaders united to find ways to rebuild the city after such a dark and dangerous period. The focus was on providing basic services like public transportation, education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for all citizens, especially those in the poorest areas of the city.
Technology and Innovation: The Heart of Medellin’s Transformation
One of the first and most emblematic innovations is Medellin’s gondola or cable car system of transportation that connects some of the most disadvantaged communities, found on the city’s steep hillsides, to its economic center in the valley. This system, combined with the city’s metro lines, tram lines, and outdoor escalators have all greatly increased access to employment, education, and other cultural activities.
Other important initiatives have focused on improving the education system by training thousands of teachers in innovative teaching methods, providing free afterschool programs focused on culture, science and technology, and language learning. Rates of enrollment in higher education in Medellin’s 30 universities and technology training centers have also risen significantly over the last three decades.
A major driver of Medellin’s smart-city efforts has been Ruta N. Established in 2009 as a public-private joint venture, this unique organization’s goal is to contribute to improving the quality of life of the city’s residents through science, technology, and innovation. Ruta N provides modern office space, seed funding, and a range of other services to help start-ups bring their innovative business ideas to life. The organization has helped attract hundreds of companies from all around the world, which have provided thousands of jobs in science, technology, and innovation for residents.
Attracted by the impressive transformation of the city as well as the support of the local and national government and Ruta N, in 2014, TEAM International decided to establish our first delivery center in Latin America in Medellin.
TEAM Medellin’s first office was located in Ruta N’s complex and received support from their “landing” program. This program provides modern office facilities with flexible financing, facilities relationships with local authorities, and provides a range of other services to help new businesses succeed.
Thanks in large part to the support of the government and Ruta N in addition to relationships formed with top universities in Medellin and other cities in Colombia, TEAM Medellin has grown quickly from just 3 employees in 2014 to now over 160 with strong growth perspectives for the coming years. By providing these IT and software development employment opportunities, TEAM has become an important contributor to the economic growth and innovation in the city.
To expand our contribution to Medellin’s tech- and innovation-driven transformation, TEAM Medellin has begun sponsoring education and community service initiatives focused on supporting the youth of the local community.
TEAM’s Top Gun Lab offers free IT and software development training courses to local university and technical students, allowing them to gain hands-on experience with the latest tools and technologies and gain highly demanded skills in the growing local IT and software development industry. The courses are developed and taught by TEAM’s most skilled IT professionals and the top-performing students are invited to perform their internship with TEAM. The goal of this unique initiative is to contribute to increasing the number of students that choose technology-focused career paths in Medellin.
We also sponsor community service and educational activities with local orphanages and children’s’ foundations. One of our newest programs, known as Top Gun Route, is focused on teaching underprivileged children basic programming skills through Scratch, a programming language specifically designed for children. The main goals of these community service and educational initiatives are to accompany the children through the difficulties they may be facing, provide role models to look up to, and motivate them to continue studying programming and technology, which will give them the tools to succeed into adulthood.
Although there is still much to be improved, we believe that the future of Medellin is bright. The key lies in continuing to support innovation and technology-focused business and educational initiatives that help improve the lives of all of Medellin’s residents.
In the coming years, TEAM International plans to continue growing in number of employees as well as the variety of innovative services offered from our Medellin delivery center. We will also continue to look for ways to serve and provide educational opportunities to the wider community to help contribute to Medellin’s ongoing transformation, driven by technology and innovation.