We define an innovation ecosystem as a collection of entrepreneurs, universities, investors, and organizations with an enabling Infrastructure, a culture that supports innovation, and a mindset that fosters the development of new business ventures. The infrastructure includes the following:
- organizations that provide funding, programs, and services to launch, incubate, and accelerate new businesses;
- mentors with a strong knowledge base on the start-up process and industry/markets; and
- policies and regulations that support new ventures.
As drivers of growth, ecosystems
- create an active flow of information and resources, foster interactions, and facilitate symbiotic relationships among entities
- ensure future sustainability by fostering connection and trust between entrepreneurs, universities, investors, corporations, and other stakeholders, and
- encourage the development of new technologies, processes, and systems.
The innovation ecosystem can empower an organization – or country – to change the path it’s on. In collaboration with clients, we work to strengthen their innovation ecosystem to become the connective tissue that allows innovation to thrive.
For several years, we worked with a larger RTI International (RTI) team to understand Guatemala’s innovation ecosystem and create a roadmap to support that ecosystem. In Guatemala, RTI and the Universidad de Valle de Guatemala were partners in the Sustainable Economic Observatory (SEO), an independent research center/think-tank run by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The SEO’s role is to increase the participation and contribution of civil society, the public and private sectors, and other stakeholders.
Why the interest in Guatemala?
Global indicators showed many challenges in Guatemala: stagnant economic growth, low GDP, high crime, low levels of literacy and education, and numerous legal hurdles that restrict entrepreneurship. At the same time, Guatemala has a small, motivated community of innovators. Many in the private sector and in academia identified an opportunity to connect the country to the global innovation community and add value to Guatemala’s economy.
Creating an innovation roadmap
We embarked on an extensive project—summarized here in the interest of time and space—to create an innovation roadmap in Guatemala. First, we reviewed research and assessments, organized workshops, and hosted interviews with partners nationwide from government, nongovernmental organizations, private sector, and academia. Next, we identified the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in Guatemala’s existing innovation ecosystem. Finally, we defined five pillars of action, wherein stakeholders must focus their efforts to address weaknesses and gaps. Within each pillar we organized activities by time frame—short-, medium-, or long-term—and identified the responsible organization.
Defining the five pillars of action
Improve human capital
People are the foundation of any innovation ecosystem, and innovation begins with education. Stakeholders identified the need to train Guatemalans to innovate and improve the ecosystem foundation. This goal would be achieved primarily by improving education at all levels.
Strengthen university-industry alliances
At the time of our work, university and industry communication in Guatemala was limited. Increasing collaboration between the two groups will lead to improvements—human capital development, technology transfer, industry-led research, and knowledge transfer—that are critical to innovation.
Modernize legal structures for innovation
Modernization was needed to improve innovative business competitiveness and innovation output. Efforts to modernize include the following:
- Incentivizing R&D through mechanisms that simulate innovation
- Modernizing the IP protection process
- Updating laws that protect minority investors in startups
- Streamlining laws to ease entrepreneurship
Develop a central platform to unite and coordinate activities
It’s important to have someone who will coordinate the activities defined. This role ensures consistency when there are changes in the government. It also keeps work moving forward, avoids duplicate efforts, and facilitates relationships in a fragmented ecosystem.
Build knowledge and capacity in the ecosystem
Here the focus is on skill-building, workforce development, and knowledge transfer through mentorship, training, and communities of practice; as a result, experienced innovators can help ensure those with less experience avoid the mistakes of the past.
Building an ecosystem to bring economic benefit
The roadmap defined actions that Guatemala’s stakeholders can take to improve their economic prospects and quality of life. At the time of the roadmap’s publication in 2019, many of the activities identified across the five pillars were underway.
When we connect clients—commercial and government—to their innovation ecosystems, we also solidify their competitive positions. This is one reason our work in Guatemala has been so rewarding. We defined a plan that connects ecosystem actors and will bring economic benefit to an entire country—an approach that helps organizations of any size innovate better and faster.