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Profit & Prowess: Mexico’s Very Own Silicon Valley

Mexico’s second-largest city is undergoing a technology transformation. In recent years, Guadalajara has turned itself into a tech-friendly state, drawing global attention for its innovative engineers and savvy programmers.  Start Ups, fickle in nature, are enjoying the modest operating costs and generous government stimulus the Jalisco region has to offer.

Flocking in hordes to a handful of 2nd-world outposts, Silicon Valley’s newest generation finds a great deal of upside to the spread of its industry to countries like Mexico, India and Korea. However, it’s not exclusively foreign powers cashing in on Mexico’s tech-boom.

While profit and prowess are arguably the defining characteristics of entrepreneurship – they are often achieved at the expense of developing regions and poor, rural people of the world.  Similarly to the gold-crazed men of the 1850’s, executives like Jeff Bezos of Amazon have already put boots on the ground in in Queretaro, Mexico, cutting ribbon on a state of the art distribution center in early 2018.  Congruently, many Latin American states have begun promoting, subsidizing, and investing in their own homegrown tech scenes. 

There is a continent-wide movement to incubate capital and commerce internally, rather than incur risky debt or shallow alliances from auxiliary investments and spheres of influence.  Mexico’s top universities, including Universidad de Guadalajara and Tecnológico de Monterrey, are at the frontline of educating and preparing students for the tech world of tomorrow. One third of Mexico’s population is under 25 years old, and out of that third, 120,00 engineers graduate annually. 

A government-aided program called Reto Zapopan, is a relatively small venture capitalist firm betting on a boastful Mexican reputation in the global marketplace. With a burgeoning middle-class and a substantial recent investment into its tech sector, Mexico has the potential to be a global-leader well into the future.  A spokesman for US firm, Goldman Sachs who is foreseeing huge growth says,

“Mexico will be the world’s fifth biggest economy by 2050.”

There is hope that this emerging industry won’t fall victim to the crony, capitalistic tropes and pitfalls born out of Dependence Theory.  Within this novel ecosystem, there are even more novel contributors.  Take Bismarck Lepe, a California born Mexican-American, who could be pinned as the proverbial white knight in Guadalajara’s recent tech-boom.  He was born and raised in Oxnard, California to migrant-farmer parents who had immigrated to the United States from Juchitlan, Mexico in 1979.

Bismarck Lepe
Bismarck Lepe, 2017

Having graduated from Stanford in the midst of the ’90s tech boom, Lepe was in the right place, at the right time.  Within a few years of graduating, he landed a modest position working for a very small and new company at the time: Google.  Lepe worked at Google as a Senior Product Manager; he was responsible for the development and launch of products for the Google AdSense network. While at Google, Bismarck launched over 25 massively successful products – singularly focused on SEO monetization, completely revolutionizing the industry.

Lepe eventually departed from Google, and founded Ooyala in 2007 – a benchmark pivot for his career.  Ooyala is a privately owned video marketing firm – holding contracts with some of Latin America’s largest companies.  As the founder, he has since stepped down as CEO, but remains on the board, sans burnt bridges or severed ties.  It was not long after the success of Ooyala that Lepe observed a growing trend in the global tech marketplace: Latin American Tech Potential.

Lepe acted quickly, hiring for Ooyala in Mexico and creating Wizline, which has since started craft.com, a leading interface and organizer for Project Managers.  With the success of these Guadalajaran born companies, he has since created the Startup GDL.  The nonprofit organization is helping attract Silicon Valley startups to Guadalajara and promoting the city’s many benefits to local startups as well. The state of Jalisco is home to 40% of Mexico’s IT industry.

Jalisco houses 16 technology institutes and 12 universities, graduating more than 8,000 technical and engineering students every year.  Global IT companies with offices in Guadalajara include Toshiba, IBM, HP, Oracle, Cisco, and Intel.  Startup GDL was launched as an independent, non-profit organization in 2016.

“The dreamer. The disruptor. The risk taker. That restless soul possessed by a vision for a better world who ventures into unchartered lands without maps or guideposts, navigating risk and uncertainty. Again and again. All for the joy of creating new life and new value for the world” – StartupGdl.com

Bismarck chose Guadalajara for five main reasons: 1: its long standing, well developed high tech manufacturing base coupled with strong academic institutions that produce thousands of high tech engineers and entrepreneurs each year; 2: its stable and globally integrated regional economy; 3: its business-friendly and visionary public institutions and leaders; 4: its strong cultural, economic and geopolitical ties with the U.S. and 5: its low cost, high-quality of life.  At his core Lepe, may see himself more as a mentor than a mogul, stating:

“I believe that sharing your own experiences — and making clear that a similar path is open to anyone who is smart and willing to work hard — is the best approach for encouraging greater minority participation in the tech world.”

While some may argue that the colonial spirit of today’s tech boom has slowed any parallel strides toward global wealth equality, with companies like Apple and Amazon at the forefront of workers rights issues, Bismarck and Startup GDL stand out as a luminous silver lining.  The group of daring investors and visionaries are bringing value and equity back to a region that has long been denied valuable business opportunities.

Lepe, and many others not include in this piece, are contributing to an invaluable reverse of the typical labor exchange the North-West long had with its neighbors to the South.  Stay up to date with his organization & Get Involved at Startup GDL.

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