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Innovation finds a welcoming home in Colombia

Article - July 28, 2011
From biology and medicine to anthropology to technology, companies enjoy a conducive environment for innovation
In 1968, scientist Dr. Spencer Silver invented a peculiar adhesive that would softly stick to different surfaces without doing damage, but did not at first see a practical use for his new invention. One day, his fellow choir member, who always had difficulty turning the pages of his choir books because the little markers often fell out, remembered his friend’s invention. The two put the adhesive on to the little pieces of paper. And the result: the Post-it note.

Dr. Silver was a scientist at 3M at the time and the Post-it became one of the premiere products in the successful company’s line, which was famed already for its innovations in Scotch Tape and Scotchgard.

For more than 100 years, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company – better known as 3M – has invented, produced and sold their more than 55,000 products in more than 200 countries.

In Bogota, 3M Colombia follows the inspiration and innovation of its parent company. Its facilities combine a showroom and training and testing areas, where products are continually researched and developed.

This facility is a leading example of the investigation and innovation present in Colombia today. Ana Maria Noreña, president of 3M in Bogota, pointed to diversification and innovation as the motors for constant growth, especially in emerging markets: “These are the countries that are driving the growth in the world. Asia is growing just as fast as Latin America, which is generating great opportunities.”

Other companies follow suit and contribute to this growth and innovation, such as Corbic, a successful healthcare company and research facility focused on the cardioneurovascular system. Founded in 2005, Corbic has obtained international recognition in large part because of its innovations through research in the medical field.

One of Corbic’s founders, Carlos Ignacio Granada, says that Colombia is experiencing a historical moment where it is investing in innovation and is making improvements to move out into the global market as an important player.

“Latin America is gradually emerging as an enterprising and innovative region,” he says. “Right now, when Colombian universities focus on innovation and the development of new ideas, it is very important to design processes for intellectual protection and marketing.”

Jose Alberto Garay, president of Acoplasticos, says, “It is imperative that the country does not stop innovating. To do this, we must make major education projects and large financing efforts. In Acoplasticos, we understood that long ago, and the result of our work on innovation is the Plastics Institute in Medellin that we have.”
Innovations at Colombian universities permeate fields from biology and medicine to psychology and anthropology. Discoveries by researchers at the University of Antioquia have led to anti-venom serums against tropical diseases such as dengue and malaria, both of which can be fatal. Also in the medical field, Colombian researchers found a plant with immunosuppressive properties that can be used in organ transplants, a discovery that received a patent in the U.S.

“Today we have the opportunity to do scientific exchange in biological methods of control about diseases, like tuberculosis, that come back and attack the U.S. population,” says Diego Miguel Sierra Botero, general director of the Corporation for Biological Investigation (CIB).

Meanwhile in agriculture, discoveries made by a team of Colombian university researchers include a substance to combat a disease that attacks the banana crop in Colombia, a major export in the country’s economic market.

Because of its geographic position in the northwest of South America, pre-Colombian archaeological sites shed light on indigenous cultures before European settlement. This location also lends itself to place Colombia as some of the leading researchers on volcanology and seismology.

Innovation and research in Colombia has a persistent history. Small start-up companies, universities and big enterprises alike are all leading the country in the charge for progress. “Colombian human talent is passionate and is easy to work with because they are thirsty for knowledge, to innovate and create, and that makes it very special,” says Ms. Noreña.