How to improve the daily of Panamanians during the pandemic? The challenge of businessmen and entrepreneurs in the City of Knowledge
The past two years have been extremely challenging and atypical for the vast majority of companies in Panama and the world, as they have experienced a considerable amount of challenges, including decreases in income and changes in consumers’ consumption patterns as a result of the restrictions implemented by the authorities. However, not everything has been glum for entrepreneurs and businessmen in the country.
According to a study published last November, 86% of banks in Panama say that COVID-19 accelerated their digitization initiatives and 76% prioritized being able to order products 100% online. Another study published last June, predicts that online sales will reach $270 million in 2024, which would represent an increase of 41.1% compared to the sales registered in 2019.
This scenario has accelerated the demand for technology-related sectors, such as e- commerce, home orders, virtual meetings, customer service, and streaming services, among others, and therefore has propelled growth that’s important to the creators and providers of these services.
Some examples of this growth are some innovative projects that had been developing in our country since before the pandemic and that have seen their main objective materialize: to solve people’s daily problems.
This is the case as Boxit, Fluyapp and Merkadoo, all born and based at the City of Knowledge. Each of these platforms was designed and launched long before the arrival of COVID-19, but that due to their innovation and functionality, it seems that they were created to fit right in this new normal.
Boxit is an international online shopping service that, unlike others, has a structure of smart lockers for the withdrawal of merchandise. These smart lockers are self-service lockers where people can withdraw their packages in an automated way without the need for human interaction.
On the other hand, Merkadoo, which is an application where the user has the option of making purchases from a catalog of local stores and then receiving them at home, minimizing trips from home and, therefore, limiting the exposure outside the family bubble.
Finally, there is Fluyapp, which began as a tool available to companies to efficiently organize their on-site customer service on issues such as queuing, and waiting shifts, among others. However, it has diversified with new functionalities to address customer service challenges based on reducing contact and promoting physical distance.
In this sense, they have developed the creation of ad-hoc platforms for managing virtual appointments. The companies that have this service within the app can find the list of branches, dates, and times available for each organization. They are also shown the types of procedures and the documents required to carry out each transaction. When scheduling an appointment, the system synchronizes with the user’s cell phone calendar, sends appointment reminders via email and notifications, and at the end allows evaluating the attention received.
From the City of Knowledge to the region
Ilan Shatz, the creator of Boxit, Merkadoo, and Fluyapp, explains that Boxit was born in the City of Knowledge seeking to solve a specific need for people who did not have a credit card to make purchases internationally or who find it difficult to receive packages either by physical address or with current courier business hours. At that time, they did not consider how important this could become in 2020-2021. However, the materialization of this idea has had an unprecedented growth beyond the Panamanian borders in highly competitive and demanding markets such as Brazil.
In 2019, Boxit won the top 5 of the most innovative companies in Latin America and with this exposure, enough capital was raised for a great expansion that led to moving its headquarters to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The service has had capital rounds in excess of $4 million.
Ilan estimates that Boxit could be considered one of the most successful companies created in the City of Knowledge for the world, according to the aforementioned achievements.
Following in Boxit’s footsteps, Fluyapp is also looking for a space in regional markets such as Costa Rica and Ecuador. However, starting with Panama, its main achievement has been to provide efficiency to local entities and companies by improving the experience of Panamanian users in the midst of the pandemic. Currently, in Panama, appointments can be generated through Fluyapp at Caja de Ahorros, Banco Nacional, Capital Bank, the National Passport Office or the Inter-American University of Panama, among other organizations. “The service minimizes the risks of contagion and improves the quality of service in each of these places,” says Ilan.
In just four months, Fluyapp has amassed around 50 thousand users and is solving many of the citizens’ day-to-day needs. Today, this platform is looking for its first round of capital with the intention of expanding to Mexico or Brazil.
The secret recipe for entrepreneurship?
Ilan assures that there is no exact formula or golden rule for the success of a company, but he does recommend to all entrepreneurs who start their path in the creation of technological platforms to identify one problem and try to solve it. “Once this process is achieved, it is important to focus on working and growing the business with full commitment to its completion. Keep your feet on the ground and keep your eyes fixed on the objectives,” he concludes.
On the other hand, the entrepreneur highlights that another fundamental factor is having a presence in spaces that provide the necessary conditions for your business to grow through collaboration and exchange with other entrepreneurs, businessmen, entities, and organizations. An ecosystem that encourages networking activities and the exchange of experiences among all its members.
For Alessandro Francolini R., Business Manager at the City of Knowledge, the role of entrepreneurs like Ilan within this innovative community for social change is not only limited to the generation of new projects but, with the support and teamwork, creators like him, embassies, entities, and organizations open doors for local and international talent to expose their ideas, capacities and knowledge to strengthen existing projects or conceptualize new ones, which makes Panama a prominent place in the region as a business accelerator.
Ilan is emphatic in indicating that in such a changing environment like the current one it is very difficult to plan ventures for the next few years. However, he and his team are currently focused on expanding their platforms to more countries in the region and attracting more foreign capital investment.
Fluyapp will soon expand into smart building management services such as turnstile management and entrance with facial recognition. On the other hand, if it continues with its growth rate, Boxit could become a company worth half a billion dollars in the next few years.
Likewise, Ilan and his team have formed a cluster of developers who are creating and researching without a specific goal in mind, in order to have the basis of a structure ready to materialize an idea, waiting for the creation of alliances and connections to continue creating more and better competitive projects for export.
Now more than ever, the City of Knowledge continues to exercise its role as a platform for new entrepreneurs and businessmen to materialize their ideas by contributing new solutions at the service of the country and the world.