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Medellin-based software whiz-kids Jorge Soto and Santiago Villegas just won recognition in the prestigious “Endeavor Entrepreneurs” competition at Endeavor’s 79th “International Selection Panel” (ISP) in Louisville, Kentucky.

Soto, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Medellin accounting software pioneer Alegra, and Villegas, the chief technology officer (CTO) of the company, competed globally against dozens of start-ups to join 13 other companies in the Endeavor winners circle this month.

“’Endeavor Entrepreneurs’ gain access to comprehensive customized services, including introductions to local and international business mentors and volunteers from Fortune 500 consulting firms who will help them address key needs,” according to global startup-promotion organization Endeavor.

“Endeavor Entrepreneurs have had a significant track record of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, generating billions of dollars in revenues, and building sustainable growth models in their home countries,” the organization added in a May 10 announcement.

Explaining the award announcement, Endeavor cited Alegra’s clever niche: “Small businesses should not have big bookkeeping problems, and yet, 95% of the US$6 billion Latin American micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) market still manages invoices and administration by hand.

“In 2017, Colombian and Costa Rican governments followed the lead of seven other Latin American governments including Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, by mandating that all businesses, irrespective of industry and size, must issue 100% of their invoices electronically by 2019. In January 2018, Panama followed suit with a pilot program; in April 2018, the Dominican Republic did the same.”

Responding to these challenges, “Alegra is alleviating a major pain point for 25,000 daily active users in nine countries by providing an easy-to-use, cloud-based software for Latin American MSMEs to efficiently manage their businesses under these new regulatory standards,” Endeavor noted.

Alegra History, Expansion Plans

Asked to elaborate on the company’s origins and evolution, Alegra told Medellin Herald that CEO Soto is an administrative-engineering graduate from Medellin’s Escuela de Ingenieria Antioquia (EIA) University, as well as a political science student.

“In his career as an entrepreneur, Soto created five companies -- and in some of these he failed, but he knew how to get up and take advantage of the experience gained. Thus, he discovered the needs of companies and created his sixth venture, Alegra.com, a software in the cloud for small-business administration.

“Soto realized from experience that one problem that small business owners have in common is how to invoice and keep accounts. Thus, he was given the task of finding a solution:

“First he tried Excel, but found that the margins are unbalanced, the invoice numbers are duplicated and in general it becomes chaotic. Then he used a traditional accounting software and found that these are complicated, expensive systems, made for the [professional] accountant and most are more than 20 years old.

“The third option was to use foreign software, but since it was not adapted to the legislation and requirements of the local [Colombia] tax authority, this generated inconveniences and more work. These options did not solve the needs of administration of the micro and small companies.

“With this idea, the team of Alegra got together to start working on the project, and after a year of development they went on the market in January 2013. The reception was very good from the first month -- and since then they have not stopped growing.

“After one year of the launch in Colombia -- and already with a number of important users who had validated the product -- they thought of scaling up to other countries. So, in 2014, they released versions for Panama, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, where they found very similar situations, and where Alegra solved the same problems.

“Today, five years after going on the market, Alegra has 120,000 registered companies on its platform, a presence in 16 countries, and a team that makes the platform and service better every day.

“Unlike other startup ventures, Alegra has not been part of any incubator or accompaniment process, which has enabled them to grow autonomously without having to resort to funds or venture capital to leverage growth.

“The next objectives of the company are to launch versions for the countries that are missing from the Latin American region, such as Argentina, then continue with countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, as Alegra seeks to be the first and best option for small businesses in developing countries,” according to the company.


Canada-based Gran Colombia Gold reported May 10 that profits from its first quarter (1Q) 2018 gold mining operations here in Antioquia rose to US$5.4 million, up from an $800,000 net loss in 1Q 2017.

The company credited “higher gold sales volumes, realized gold prices and lower total cash costs per ounce” for the year-on-year profit boost.

On the other hand, Medellin-based gold mining giant Mineros SA announced May 11 that its 1Q 2018 net profits dipped 17.9% year-on-year, to COP$19.8 billion (US$6.9 million), down from COP$24 billion (US$8.4 million) in 1Q 2017.

Mineros cited a 6.1% drop in gold-equivalent production corporate-wide, including a 13.9% decline in Colombia. That was partially offset by a 1.8% production boost in Nicaragua.

Cash cost of operations also rose in Colombia, to US$764/ounce, compared to US$596/ounce in 1Q 2017.

For the remainder of 2018, Mineros forsees continuing volatility in world gold prices, while its gold production is likely to come-in at between 195,000 to 215,000 ounces this year.

Gran Colombia Balance Sheet Improves

Commenting on its 1Q 2018 results, Gran Colombia executive co-chairman Serafino Iacono noted: “We have reached another milestone with the successful completion of our debt refinancing, which will shortly conclude with the full repayment of the principal amount of our 2020 debentures and 2024 debentures.

“We are also pleased with the continued improvement in the operating and financial results we are reporting today. With the enhanced liquidity made possible by the debt refinancing, we have a stronger balance sheet that, together with our internally generated cash flow, will allow us to forge ahead with the execution of our strategy to create value by exploring, developing and modernizing our mining operations.”

Gran Colombia added that 1Q 2018 total gold production hit 52,672 ounces with a further 16,119 ounces produced in April 2018.

“Fueled by continued growth in the company’s high-grade Segovia [Antioquia] operations, the company’s trailing 12-months’ total gold production increased to 187,485 ounces as of March 2018, up 8% over the total for 2017 of 173,821 ounces and within the company’s guidance range for 2018 of between 182,000 and 193,000 ounces,” according to Gran Colombia.

“Revenue increased 42% in the first quarter of 2018 over the first quarter last year to US$64.8 million, positively impacted this year by the increased level of gold production as described above and 10% better realized gold prices in the first quarter of 2018 as spot gold prices rose 9% compared with the first quarter last year.

“Total cash costs and all-in sustaining costs (AISC) averaged $670 per ounce and $896 per ounce, respectively, for the first quarter of 2018, down from $748 per ounce and $941 per ounce, respectively, in the first quarter last year.

“Adjusted EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] doubled in the first quarter of 2018 to $27.4 million, compared with $13.6 million in the first quarter of 2017, bringing the trailing 12-months total adjusted EBITDA at the end of March 2018 to $89.3 million, up 18% compared with 2017,” the company added.


Medellin-based international electric-power transmitter and highway concessionaire ISA announced May 9 that its first quarter (1Q) 2018 net income rose 24% year-on-year, to COP$297 billion (US$103 million).

Gross revenues climbed 3.6% year-on-year, to COP$1.6 trillion (US$558 million), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 12% year-on-year, to COP$1.06 trillion (US$351 million).

The profit improvements are mainly due to the entry-into-operation of power-transmission projects in Colombia, Perú and Chile, tax refunds in Colombia and Brazil, additional revenues from recently boosted stakes in the TAESA and IENNE power-transmission affiliates in Brazil, and corporate cost reductions, according to ISA.

Profit margins corporate-wide rose to 18.2%, versus 15.2% in 1Q 2017.

Investments by ISA and its affiliates for full-year 2018 would total COP$3.79 trillion (US$1.3 billion), mainly in power transmission (87.8%), followed by highway concessions ((7.4%) and telecom (3.2%), according to the company.

“In the first half of this year we continue on the path of growth with profitability,” added ISA president Bernardo Vargas Gibsone.

“Among the most important events of the [first] quarter was the awarding of a [power transmission] connection for the modernization project of the Talara refinery to our ‘Transmantaro’ subsdiary in Peru -- a project that will generate annual revenues of US$3.5 million,” he said.

“In Chile, the Ministry of Public Works awarded a concession contract for the execution, repair, conservation and exploitation of the ‘Rutas del Loa’ concession road project, which will increase our operation of roads in Chile to 1,018 kilometers, which consolidates us as the main operator of interurban highways in that country.

“And finally, a few days ago, we announced the first issuance of ‘green’ bonds in the capital market made by [subsidiary] group company, ISA CTEEP, which is also the first company in the energy sector to use this financing instrument in Brazil,” Vargas Gibsone added.


Medellin-based construction giant Conconcreto reported May 9 that its first quarter (1Q) 2018 consolidated net income dropped 86% year-on-year, to COP$2 billion (US$698,000).

Consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) also dropped by 36% year-on-year, to COP$33 billion (US$11.5 million).

Colombia’s relatively weak economic growth, recent volatility in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Colombian peso, plus uncertainty over the possible impacts of this year’s upcoming national elections have penalized the construction and housing sectors, according to Conconcreto.

Consolidated gross income also dipped 18% year-on-year thanks to completion of infrastructure projects last year and lack of enough new projects to generate offsetting income, the company added.

Meanwhile, the company expects the Antioquia government to deliver a feasibility report this month to Colombia’s Treasury Ministry regarding the proposed COP$911 billion (US$318 million), 13.8-kilometers-long, “Doble Calzada Oriente” (DCO) divided highway project just east of Medellin.

That project -- in which Conconcreto would take a 60% financing stake -- has already won route approvals from the local Cornare environmental agency, according to the company. The new route would connect the existing Las Palmas highway near the Sancho Paisa roundabout -- as well as the nearby El Escobero highway in Envigado -- to and through the El Tablazo municipality, finally terminating near the San Vicente de Paul Hospital alongside the Jose Maria Cordoba (Rionegro) international airport highway.

Another proposed project – the Darien International Port in Antioquia – awaits finalization of negotiations with potential Port clients. That ocean-freight port project earlier won backing from Brazil-based private equity fund Patria, in partnership with U.S.-based private equity fund Blackstone.

Meanwhile, in Conconcreto’s existing housing and infrastructure construction portfolios, current backlog totals COP$2.4 trillion (US$837 million), equivalent to 1.7 years of work, according to the company.

The company also is a major contractor on the US$5 billion “Hidroituango” hydroelectric dam project in Antioquia – now nearing completion of the largest, initial phase.

Conconcreto also is working with the “Pactia” commercial real estate development partnership on the Corferias Hotel (Bogotá), the El Ensueño Shopping Center (Bogotá), the Chamber of Commerce of Medellín building, Blu Logistics, and others, according to the company.


Medellin-based textile giant Fabricato announced May 1 that it posted a COP$11.6 billion (US$4.1 million) net loss for first quarter (1Q) 2018, 13% worse than the COP$10 billion (US$3.5 million) net loss in 1Q 2017.

Sales also dipped 13.6% year-on-year, while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) dropped 45% year-on-year, to COP$1.8 billion (US$637,000).

However, the 1Q 2018 business environment improved compared to the immediate prior quarter (4Q 2017) thanks to relatively low inflation, low interest rates, rising oil prices and an improved consumer confidence index, according to the company.

In addition, Colombia’s textile sector “is beginning to see the positive effect of [government] measures taken at the end of last year against illegal competition,” including “intensification in the fight against contraband [clothing imports] and especially the antidumping measure taken against denim imports from China,” according to Fabricato.

In addition, the start-up of the new free-trade agreement between Colombia and the Mercosur nations enables favorable flow of fabrics at zero tariffs between Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, the company noted.

Meanwhile, Fabricato continues to transfer operations from its shuttered “Riotex” factory in Rionegro, Antioquia, to its centralized Bello, Antioquia, production facilities, hence boosting productivity. Completion of this operational transfer is expected by July.

Reviewing 1Q 2018 results, Fabricato highlighted what it termed as a “bad January, but a good February and March, with EBITDA positive, to a level aligned with our budget.”

In addition, “another relevant factor is our new business model, under which the volume of production is aligned with sales expectations for the period, instead of employing the concept of maximum capacity utilization,” according to Fabricato.

“This has reduced product inventory by 25% in [Colombia Peso] terms and 32% in volume terms, year-on-year,” the company added.


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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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