Ideathons: Entrepreneurs solve the challenges of companies in Panama


In Panama, the Global Entrepreneurship Study (GEM) revealed that 7 out of 10 people thinking about starting a business are influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic1.

On the other hand, a similar study shows that 63% of entrepreneurs are driven only by opportunity. 88% of them work in commerce and services, and 79% of them do not consider their products or services innovative2.

The reality is that many entrepreneurs spend months and years trying to design a “perfect” solution that becomes the market’s most innovative idea. However, some of these proposals fail to see the light of day due to their inability to solve the real problems of today’s consumers.

Before designing a “perfect solution,” experts point out the importance of identifying a problem that needs to be solved, which has to be known and understood in all its dimensions. After that, experts recommend interacting with potentially affected customers and then, build a viable solution for them.

However, how can entrepreneurs fully understand the needs of both businesses and consumers to create successful solutions in the marketplace?

The Ideathons CAPATEC Program was born to answer this question.  The program’s main objective is to put into practice the concept of open innovation: to become a bridge connecting real needs of companies with solutions designed by entrepreneurs, which are to be carried out with proven design methodologies and endorsed by industry experts.

For the development of this initiative, two members of the City of Knowledge, CAPATEC and Escala Latam, with financing from the IDB LAB, have designed an ecosystem in which different actors from the Government, private sector, educational institutions, innovators, mentors, and experts participate. The initiative seeks to open the way to Panamanian digital entrepreneurship in the areas of finance and logistics.

The companies involved, better known as “anchor companies,” participate by publicizing the problems in their industry that they wish to solve. In addition, they provide their support by participating in the jury for selecting the finalist and validating the digital entrepreneurship to fit their situation and business environment. Likewise, they acquire the commitment to become mentors and guides, and possible partners or investors of the entrepreneur.

For their part, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to recognize, analyze, understand and propose solutions to solve the anchor companies’ challenges. Workshops with experts from Silicon Valley complement the initiative as well as the inclusion in the FastTrack MVP program dictated by Escala Latam on topics related to Open Innovation, Design Thinking, application of Lean methodology, and development of a pitch, etc.

Implementing this program generates benefits for its direct participants and for an entire community by linking companies from the economic sectors and investors with innovators from the local ecosystem, which creates a chain of positive impact by contributing to the generation of new companies and new jobs.

Porfirio Chen, the CAPATEC Project Coordinator involved, assures that the Ideathon is not an initiative solely belonging to its organizers and participants but is rather a country project due to its potential to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Panama and boost the economy. Consequently, participation as well as securing the most significant number of sectors interested are essential to increase the initiative’s scope and results

First Ideathons: New Challenges Equals More Opportunities

The first version of Ideathones began in December 2019 with an expected duration of 4 months and 12 anchor companies and 86 innovators. However, with the arrival of the COVID-19 emergency, the project took on new challenges and changed its work plan intending to contribute to companies from different sectors to their economic recovery. This allowed promoting necessary virtual spaces where different interlocutors converged, such as the Government, educational institutions, investors, and digital entrepreneurs.

Among some of the anchor companies participating in this first version were: Argos, Assa, Banistmo, BPOS Panama Digital Free Zone, Credicorp Bank, Cámara Marítima de Panamá, Copa Airlines, DHL, ENSA, Global Bank, Hutchinson Ports PPC and Morgan & Morgan .

Here are some results from this first edition:

  • 204 applicants
  • 86 innovative teams selected
  • 12 anchor companies
  • 28 challenges presented to solve
  • 27 finalists

 “The realization of this first version of Ideathones allowed us to become a platform to publicize local talent through the union of entrepreneurs and companies. Since it took place virtually, it broke walls and offered us the opportunity to continue despite the pandemic while complying with the biosafety measures requested by the Ministry of Health. A win-win for all participants”, explained Porfirio Chen.

Second Ideathons

After the success and experience obtained in its first version, CAPATEC, together with Escala LATAM, the BID LAB, and the support of the City of Knowledge, launched the new edition of Ideathones. The call is now available for companies and entrepreneurs interested in participating in the presentation and open solutions to challenges in the maritime and fintech sector.

Alessandro Francolini R, Business Manager of the City of Knowledge, acknowledges the participation and contributions of new actors such as the Panama Maritime Chamber and Ampyme.  Francolini also points out that for the City of Knowledge, as an entrepreneurship hub and business meeting in Panama, it is vital to bring together more interested parties to generate continuity and permanence in this type of platform.-

1 Millennials y mujeres lideran los emprendimientos en Panamá Estrella de Panamá

2 Presentan estudio sobre tendencias del emprendimiento en Panamá, Ampyme Panamá

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