Accelerator aims to open doors for Mexican entrepreneurs
When video-game developer Ricardo Villarreal graduated from the DigiPen Institute in Redmond in 2003, he returned to his native Mexico and...
Seattle Times business reporter
When video-game developer Ricardo Villarreal graduated from the DigiPen Institute in Redmond in 2003, he returned to his native Mexico and started his own company, Xibalba Studios.
Now he's back in the Seattle area with another ambition — to go global.
"I'm here to help us internationalize our operations," he said. Villarreal is one of the entrepreneurs participating in TechBA, or Technology Business Accelerator, a unique program funded by the Mexican government and operated by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation for Science.
TechBA just opened its newest office, in Bellevue, and welcomed the first group of Mexican companies this week for training.
The TechBA program aims to find some of the most promising Mexican businesses and help them expand their markets. It started in Silicon Valley six years ago and has grown to five cities in the U.S.
Bellevue's diversity and open attitude to international business made the location attractive for the program. About 30 percent of the city's population is foreign born. Yet in terms of trade with Washington state, Mexico is still a relatively small player, receiving 2 percent of the state's exports.
Itzam De Gortari, chief executive of TechBA Seattle, said the program's focus matches this region's strengths, particularly in information technology and gaming. The 17 participating Mexican companies get a mix of presentations on the local business landscape, training in subjects such as sales generation, exposure to the latest technology trends and networking with potential partners.
Local partners, including the city of Bellevue and enterpriseSeattle, are hoping to encourage more investment into the region. The Mexican government spends about $1 million a year on each TechBA office, De Gortari said, including leasing office space and hiring 10 local consultants to help the companies.
"We're bringing companies with very specific capabilities," he said. "They will be incorporated here. At the end of the day, they will grow into international companies based here."
A broader goal of the program is to partner with U.S. companies and increase business for both sides, De Gortari said.
While China and India are known for technology outsourcing, Mexico cannot compete with their low prices, De Gortari said. The strategy for its tech companies is to compete on quality and proximity to the U.S., which he called "nearshoring."
"Companies of Mexico will have an office here. If they need more resources, they can be sent from Mexico right away," he said. "Also we share the same time zone. We believe that there is a higher cultural affinity with Mexico than with India and China. We're neighbors. We want to work shoulder to shoulder."
Jesus Cochegrus Jaime, director of Kaxan Games, a video-game developer in Guadalajara, said his company is creating Mexican-themed games for the Wii and iPhone, with titles such as "Fiesta Town" and "Taco Master," as well as short animated films in 3-D.
Cochegrus said the young company worked hard to become an authorized developer in Mexico for Nintendo's Wii games, and is now seeking publishers for more of its titles. He hoped participating in TechBA would help open doors with Microsoft's Xbox.
De Gortari said TechBA companies can also help their partners grow internationally.
"It's beneficial to bring new companies with different capacities here," he said. "We're here to open the market to Mexico."
Longtap, a Chinese company with offices in Bellevue that provides software development and testing for Microsoft, is interested in a partnership with a Mexican company to expand its sales to Latin America, De Gortari said.
Jeff Marcell, chief executive of enterpriseSeattle, called King County "the digital media capital of the U.S."
He advised participants to join the industry here and build up their local presence.
Ricardo Aburto, partner of Abargon, a Web developer, asked how Mexican companies here can distinguish themselves from local companies offering similar services.
"Let's face it, Mexicans are known for being roofers or gardeners or cooks," he said. "We're fighting against that."
Abargon qualified as a Microsoft gold certified partner and its customers include Toyota, Pepsi and Wal-Mart. Still, Mexicans are not perceived as technology savvy, Aburto said.
De Gortari said they have the ability to help open new distribution channels in Latin America.
For Villarreal, who hired a fellow DigiPen graduate as a partner in his startup, the goal is getting beyond the limitations of his home market.
"Our games are created for the North American market, so it's better to promote them in the U.S.," he said.
Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org