In a modern 10-story high rise opposite a sleek Mac store, a Starbucks and an Applebee’s, Unosquare CEO Mike Barrett points proudly to an empty office space as a maintenance worker carefully dusts the window blinds.
“Next year, this will be full,” he says, of developers who will join the 25 in rows of desks at an adjoining office.
Several miles away, in a cluster of offices in a faded indoor shopping mall, 20-something illustrators and developers huddle in front of garish cartoon creatures on over-sized monitors creating video games and movies. Several doors down, developers are creating embedded software to control automobile air bags.
The scene is not San Jose, Hyderabad, Manila or newly hip Brooklyn, N.Y. It is Guadalajara, Mexico, a southwestern Mexico city also known as the hub of Mexico’s tequila industry (the agave plant on which the drink is based is grown nearby).
Guadalajara has used a rich mix of aid from local governments and schools to draw outposts of global giants such IBM, Intel, HP, Dell, Oracle, and Tata Consultancy Services. While the multinationals draw much of the attention, the startup scene is full of the energy, enthusiasm and bravado of any self-respecting entrepreneurial hotbed.
Drawing on the area’s programming and graphic arts talent, “We can deliver twice as fast as anyone else,” boasts Jesus Cochegrus Jaime, director of games and movie designer Kaxan Games. “We want to be the next Pixar,” he says, referring to the Hollywood powerhouse of hit animated films.
Barrett, who draws much of his talent from the area’s larger companies, says the fact the city runs on U.S. central time makes it a great spot to do “agile” software development that requires frequent client contacts.
The startups in the Centro Del Software, one of several “incubators” in and around Guadalajara, draw heavily on talent from the larger, multinational firms in and around Guadalajara.
Those in the animation or multimedia area draw on the creative talent drawn to Guadalajara because of its reputation as more cosmopolitan than other Mexican cities. “It’s is an artsy town, it’s an intelligent town; the biggest book seller in the Latin American world is in Guadalajara,” says Enrique Cortes, executive director of Dell Services for Latin America Cortes.
Calling the startups “seeds” that are critical to growing the long-term capabilities of the market, Cortes says Dell’s local operation tries not to crush them by hiring away their best talent. Barrett is not quite so optimistic, saying that while the larger firms “increase the level of capabilities in the area, they will negatively impact wages and turnover rates.” He does, however, see “companies building expertise in mobility and cloud computing and that could evolve into a technology cluster in GDL.“
Another challenge, says Cortes, is the lack of angel and venture capital investors to put money into startups. “The smart people that fund early stage companies are not aware that Guadalajara is such a rich environment for them,” he says. “They are not aware…yet.”