Innovation in Tijuana: Eager for the Future, Hampered by the Past

[Corrected 6/3/14, 10:05 am. See below.] One day last year, Oscar Franco, a Tijuana tech engineer, was taking a break from work and noticed an upcoming soccer match between Los Xolos, Tijuana’s team, and Monarcas, the team from the city of Morelia, Michoacan.

With many friends in Morelia, Franco wondered how he might use an app to bet his friends from far away. He spoke to some colleagues and Matchap was born.

The Android app (Android is Mexico’s preferred mobile operating system) would enable friends and soccer fans a way to challenge each other to wagers over upcoming games, follow their favorite teams, view game results, and see, at season’s end, who’d made the best picks.

Franco and his friends figured a market for the app had to exist. “There are about 70 million smartphone users in Mexico and six of every ten Mexicans consider themselves passionate football fans,” Franco said.

But the Matchap founders lacked expertise in marketing and business administration. They also needed contacts in high tech and financing.

They turned to MindHub, a Tijuana-based attempt to cultivate budding entrepreneurs, and that reflects the high-tech startup ecosystem in this rambunctious city of 1.3 million, just across the border from San Diego.

[Corrects spelling to ArkusNexus] MindHub is the brainchild of ArkusNexus, a Tijuana company that designs business management software for U.S. firms.

The idea began a couple years ago as the company’s young owners—Jorge Arroyo, Angel Sanchez and Juan Reynoso—realized that several of their employees had ideas that could be the kernels of future high-tech startups.

One employee had an idea to provide textbooks on computing—hard copies and e-books—to Mexico’s Department of Education for use in the country’s elementary schools. An accountant at the firm had the idea for accounting software that was integrated with Mexican tax law.

In January, Arroyo, Sanchez, and Reynoso figured Tijuana might be buzzing with similarly promising ideas. They announced the company would assist aspiring entrepreneurs whose ideas seemed promising.

Arcos Nexus would help shape their ideas, design marketing, and find seed financing—giving each promising idea $25,000 worth of in-kind assistance. In exchange, Arcos Nexus takes a 10 percent stake in whatever might result, though so far none has gone much beyond the conception stage.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a little bit of philanthropy in what we’re doing,” said Ulises Elias, an entrepreneur who was brought in to lead the incubator part of Arcos Nexus.

In 2012, the company also helped initiate Tijuana’s Start Up Weekend, which brings entrepreneurs together twice a year to brainstorm ideas for a new product or company over one weekend.

Since then, people have come from all over Tijuana with ideas they have tinkered with, but never before saw the chance to make real, Elias said.

The fifth Start Up Weekend, focused on health-care products, takes place this weekend (June 6-8) at Tijuana’s Business Innovation and Technology Center, a space for entrepreneurs to develop and collaborate on high-tech ideas. The MindHub experiment, now five months old, reflects the just-emerging tech scene in Tijuana. The town has a … Next Page »

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Sam Quinones is a former Los Angeles Times reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] or Follow @samquinones7

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