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Is Tijuana The New Tech Mecca?

Above: A social media marketing seminar at the BIT Center in Tijuana.

Aired 3/1/13 on KPBS News.

As far as tech expos go, this was no CES, but some at Tech Expo at the BIT Center really believe the border city has a future as an innovation mecca.

— As far as tech expos go, this was no CES, the Consumer Electronics Show held every year in Las Vegas. Here at the BIT Center in Tijuana, there were only a few dozen vendors — a social media firm; a consulting company that helps maquilas manage their inventory and customs paperwork.

But some here really believe the border city has a future as an innovation mecca, like Silicon Valley.

Olin Hyde vice president of business development for ai-one.

“It’s got all of the right ingredients,” said Olin Hyde, vice president of business development for a La Jolla-based company called ai-one.

“Mexico graduates twice the number of engineers per capita as the United States," Hyde said. "We have the opportunity to do cross-border collaboration. There’s already a burgeoning high-tech industry here manufacturing everything from TVs to cyber-security products.”

Hyde’s company just developed an artificial brain that he says can learn in the same way children do. And he hopes Tijuana’s young and tech-minded will find ways to put it to good use. His company is holding a hackathon here in April, inviting developers from Tijuana and San Diego to do just that.

David's Augmented Reality App

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this story, and the accompanying video, stated that “David Figueroa and two of his cousins built the app Spinar.” This is incorrect. Spin Realidad Aumentada (SPINAR), a Guadalajara, MX-based firm, created the Spinar app. Figueroa’s group uses the technology to create 3D animations for educational purposes.

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Avatar for user '98brady98'

98brady98 | March 2, 2013 at 2:44 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Shouldn't you mention the Voice of San Diego or at least give them credit? They published a similar story days before KPBS

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Avatar for user 'Claire Trageser'

Claire Trageser, KPBS Staff | March 2, 2013 at 3:37 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Hi Brady,

The Voice of San Diego story was written by Olin Hyde, the VP of ai-one, who is the subject of this story. We linked to his post in Voice in the body of this story. Thanks for your comment!


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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | March 2, 2013 at 6:48 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Too bad there aren't a bunch of smart kids in the USA who will work for peanuts.
Oh, wait, there are ... so why go to Mexico?
The math education in TJ can't be that much better than San Diego?
That's the real story.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 4, 2013 at 8:26 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Filosofer 3000, pray tell why foreign university students (India and Pakistan especially), EXCEL in engineerings majors at our universities and arrive better prepared than many of our high school grads that go directly to a four-year unviersity--unless of course, you are from an affluent district. I'm thinking SUHSD where they have no computer science classes compared to say a district in OC where they do??? Could it be . . . the money???

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | March 4, 2013 at 8:27 a.m. ― 4 years ago

There is just one problem I see with this... the massive amounts of murder, kidnapping, decapitation, etc. from the drug wars. Besides all that, looks great!

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | March 4, 2013 at 8:36 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Hi-tek in mexico, that equals streamlined corruption, right ?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 4, 2013 at 8:49 a.m. ― 4 years ago

JEANMARC, well, then maybe you should lobby Congress and the Executive to end our counter-productive, failed holy war on drugs???

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 4, 2013 at 8:50 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Mikey, I don't know . . . ask the people from Enron or the Valiatr promoters.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | March 4, 2013 at 9:02 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I wish we could end the idiotic, utterly ineffective war on drugs. Unfortunately, too many people are making money off it, and as we know, the people with money are the people who write our laws, and they do so in order to protect their interests.

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Avatar for user '98brady98'

98brady98 | March 4, 2013 at 9:32 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Thanks, Claire, for explaining

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | March 4, 2013 at 11:20 a.m. ― 4 years ago

It seems to have buzzed by everyone that this could mean a benefit to our region as a whole, especially if the technology is complimentary to our needs (and visa versa).

Does all anyone around here have when it comes to cross border development is paranoid quips and sarcastic comments? As a business owner I see this as growing boon, and frankly anyone who supports free market principles should see this as a market opportunity.

The visionaries will leave you in the dust...

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | March 4, 2013 at 12:27 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Really123 how can we have cross-border integration or cooperation on things when the border is closed and tightly controlled? To have a free flow of information and collaboration there needs to be a free flow of people too. Even for people who can travel across the border freely, there is usually a 1.5-2 hour wait time each way. Who can waste that much time sitting in traffic on a regular basis?

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | March 4, 2013 at 1:24 p.m. ― 4 years ago

JeanMarc. I agree with you wholeheartedly. But to specifically answer your question, many people can and do. I travel to TJ about once every two weeks, sometimes more often if the project dictates it. (In fact I'm going down next Monday) By the volume of "Americans" I see at the MX Customs Office buying work visas, quite a number of others do as well. I'm talking about a hundred every time I'm there buying my own.

Now I have a Sentri, so I zoom over on the way back to the company van. But sometimes I have to wait for co-workers and they take upwards of 45min to 90min to cross. This is a hinderance to cross border commerce.

I don't know what the answer is, every time you think you come up with something good, there's a hidden thorney issue just inside. But I can tell you that both sides of the border are making money off each other now. It could be a lot more in my opinion. The real business people that I work and cross with take precautions for safety, but they are not deterred by the percieved crime, although it has diminished drastically (I think, you can never tell with reporting these days).

I can't help but feel like this is something good and it's about to happen. We need to just hope no-one ends up headless and tied to an overpass in the future. That IS bad for business. (and families, and human rights....)

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | March 4, 2013 at 1:46 p.m. ― 4 years ago


This isn't about innovation, although Tijuana attempts to package it as such. It is about low paying manufacturing jobs in maquiladoras.

That doesn't benefit anyone. Not American workers who are laid off because their factory moved to Tijuana. Not Mexican workers who are underpaid and overworked. Not California or San Diego who see tax revenues decline.

Ahh, but it does increase profits of big corporations. Glad to know which side you're on, Really123.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | March 4, 2013 at 3:05 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Really123 I suppose my answer was a little flippant. I guess I let myself feel emotional that Tijuana, a place I enjoyed as a child, has been virtually destroyed by drug gangs.

I do agree that it is good, definitely it is good that they are growing their technology centers and highly educated population, and it will inevitably benefit both sides, even if cross-border travel is difficult. After all, this is the digital age, and the internet doesn't suffer the same national borders. People can communicate and work together over the internet pretty easily these days.

As for the maquiadoras CD... I don't think we're talking about t-shirt printing here. I mean, do they have maquiadoras full of highly skilled computer programmers and database engineers and such working for a few bucks a day?

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | March 5, 2013 at 8:08 a.m. ― 4 years ago

JM: Absolutely, you can't imagine how often we use net-meeting. I just remembered, we have a design team that comes here from TJ every day. Can you imagine crossing the border every day? Lots of people do it who are stronger than I.

CD: I'm sure some of those maquiladoras are sweat shops. I don't see it as black and white though. If outsourcing is going to be done, if we are going to move jobs out of our borders, I believe that Mexico is the right place. We, the US, will benefit immensly from a solid middle class in Mexico. This isn't going to solve all the problems, but it provides my co-workers a great wage compared to thier neighbors. They can buy houses in Playas and vacation in Jalisco. This is a big deal for them. Ask them if they feel taken advantage of... Of course my socialist friends in Mexico City don't like it, but they don't like anything. (I am clearly not a socialist)

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | March 5, 2013 at 12:14 p.m. ― 4 years ago

JM and Really123,

Maquiladoras don't produce middle class workers, they reinforce poverty and deteriorate society. Their workers, mostly uneducated women, work for less than a $1 an hour for 60 hours a week in hazardous conditions. Don't gloss over their plight.

If you want to create a solid Mexican middle class, American companies need to pay a middle class wage. But, if they're going to do that, why outsource American jobs in the first place?

Maquiladoras are about corporate greed and depress quality of life on both sides of the border.

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