The United States-Mexico Foundation for Science (FUMEC) was created in the U.S. by Congressman George Brown, as part of the NAFTA treaty activities. The idea was to make Mexico a better business partner for the region, and the science, technology, and innovation field was the main focus of the foundation to achieve this.
Being established around 24 years ago, the foundation now has operations in Mexico and the U.S., as well as Canada, Europe and Colombia. We spoke to Iván Zavala, IT Industry Development Coordinator and New Media Coordinator at FUMEC, to find out how the foundation is developing Mexico’s IT ecosystem, at home and abroad.
Mexico IT: What kind of initiatives does FUMEC currently have in place to develop Mexico’s IT Industry?
Iván Zavala: With the support of the Ministry of Economy, we created Tech BA, the technology and Business Acceleration program, ten years ago. When we created Tech BA, the focus was to take Mexican technology companies to develop business worldwide, but the main market was the U.S. and our first accelerator was in Silicon Valley, with a focus on IT companies. In 2005, we had 25 companies, 20 of which were IT and the others were automotive and biotech.
For the last ten years we have been working with technology companies in every segment, trying to nationalize them and enable them to access new markets. We have created accelerators in different locations to achieve this. In the U.S., we have Silicon Valley, Austin, Seattle, and Detroit, Michigan. In Canada, we have Montreal and Vancouver, Madrid in Europe, and Colombia for South America. Each of these branches have their own sectors of interest.
In total, we have worked with 600 technologies companies the past ten years, so the easier way to measure the impact is through sales. The average growth in sales for a company supported by Tech BA is 30%, primarily through exports. Companies are not generally exporting anything when we take them on, but we end the process with them becoming a bi-national company, at least.
Basically, we are looking for highly disruptive companies or those with products that have interesting market opportunity outside of Mexico. We then help them to access new markets through consulting services, mentoring, business development, and those kinds of things.
Having such experience in so many markets, what would you say differentiates Mexican IT companies from those in other regions?
What I find with clients in the U.S. and Canada is that they see Mexican IT companies as creative ones that can solve problems. They see that Mexico has the capabilities to solve any problems and to be more involved in the innovative side of the product development process; they are not only there to write lines of code.
From my own experience, I think we also have strong technology development capabilities. For example, the Guadalajara Advanced Prototyping Organization (GUAPO) from HP Enterprise has a group of data science PhDs that have been researching data science and data analytics, leading to five U.S. patents. This shows that you can have both highly talented staff and innovation processes in Mexico that you might not necessarily get from other regions.
What kind of advanced manufacturing R&D is FUMEC helping to develop within Mexico’s IT ecosystem?
This is a huge topic right now. We are working with some IT clusters to help companies understand the advanced manufacturing market and then helping them to develop the right products and services. Our main goal there is to connect IT companies with manufacturing companies, first in the national market, but later breaking out the products on an international scale. Our dream is to become as complex as Germany, if we can.
In terms of the manufacturing process and intelligent management in factories, we are definitely getting there. We have some interesting activities, both from IT companies and from research centers, such as the National Laboratory of Advanced Informatics.
In what ways is FUMEC’s multinational relationship helping with company financing? How much support comes from Mexico and how much from outside?
We have an endowment that comes from the governments in both Mexico and the U.S., which is used to create and define projects. After that, those projects have to find their own financing. Here in Mexico, that money comes from CONACYT or the Ministry of Economy, while in the U.S. it comes from the National Science Foundation or the Small Business Administration, those kinds of organizations.
Usually, we try to work with government money and help governments in both countries to develop public policies. We receive a little funding from private organizations, like Microsoft, for example, but that is based on the size of our operations. From 2010 to 2014, Microsoft was a huge investor in FUMEC in different ways. It would help us to support companies with Microsoft Consulting Services, as well as software donations and a cloud platform. We’ve also had that kind of relationship with IBM, Intel, and Qualcom, with the idea being to get different products or services from them to benefit small businesses supported by FUMEC.
How does FUMEC help to develop talent for the Mexican IT industry?
In 2015, we were asked by CANIETI to create an analysis of human resources needed in the digital media or creative industries, and from that we understood the needs of talent development. For the last year and a half, we have been working with the Ministry of Education and some universities to promote the need of human talent development, and proposing curricula updates for technology inclusion, Internet of Things, video games, etc.
For the first years of education, FUMEC has a program called INNOVEC (Innovation in Science Education), which works with half a million kids around the country, developing their interest in science and technology. Then, for high school we also have a program that guides students into engineering studies instead of social science, not because social science is bad, but because we need more engineers and more IT human talent at the various levels of software development.