Luis Carlos and Mario Chaves lived the first years of their lives 200 meters from the park of Liberia and grew up in a typical Liberian family with uncles who ranched and went to public high school in the 1970s. Back then, not even universities in the United States offered majors in computing or information technology, but today the two Liberians are owners of one of the oldest tech companies in Costa Rica.
In order to understand how they achieved this and what their relationship is to the province, we spoke with Mario via videoconference. He has lived in San Francisco, California for 16 years. We also spoke with Luis Carlos at his office in San Jose. Mario says that Avantica, the name of their company, derives from the French word avant (onward) and tica, a Costa Rican diminutive. “Oward in Costa Rica,” he says.
Mario left as a child with his uncle who worked in the U.A. Air Force and finished high school and college and found a job in the U.S. He convinced his brother to come live in California for six months. “After high school I went to work with my brother at Hewlett Packard and I started to play with computers,” Luis Carlos said.
A year later, Mario created the famous Harvard Graphics program to make business presentations, which began to earn more than $100 million a year for the company where he worked.
That episode that he and his brother remember today proudly, made them try the “summer” of entrepreneurs and become successful. Mario couldn’t stay still. In the early 1990s, he found a business opportunity to sell tech services to other companies in the U.S. “He went to find talent in India and I told him, come here. Take time off work and two days later I said, it’s really easy. Don’t go to India, let’s do it in Costa Rica,” Luis Carlos said. Back then, he worked at a bank.
Avantica was founded with four people in San Jose, offering solutions to companies in the United States. Mario continued to work for a company in the U.S. while Luis Carlos continued the project from Costa Rica while working at the bank. They started to pick up clients. Luis Carlos grew bored of the bank and quit. Years later he told his brother, “Don’t you think it’s time to dedicate yourself to the company?” Today the company has developed more than 1,800 projects at its offices in Liberia, San Carlos, San Jose, Peru and Bolivia. Altogether, they have more than 800 employees.
Their products are sold in the U.S. and they have offices in New York and Silicon Valley, the capital of innovation. There, they compete and do business with large tech companies like Google and Facebook in an environment Luis Carlos calls highly competitive and where, to survive, quality must be top notch.
Not every year has been easy for them, but they believe that the cautious growth they have pursued has given them the stability they enjoy today. Last year, business newspaper El Financiero awarded Mario their businessman of the year award in the trajectory category. “The path that Avantica Technologies has taken over the last 25 years is defined by milestones and, especially, the constant assimilation to changes in the industry,” the newspaper said.
“A key factor is that, from the beginning, the company was very financially conservative. A lot of companies start to spend a lot and do things that don’t make a lot of sense. We preferred to be very conservative and manage the company in a very responsible way.”
Avantica opened its offices in the province in 2012, when they had already opened in Peru and San Carlos.
There is something in Guanacaste brothers Luis Carlos and Mario Chaves saw before anyone else. They saw a future that promises stability to their tech business. They pointed out three points of success, including the deep roots people have with their family and native land, the extra effort Guanacastecans put into everything and, they say, who doesn’t want to live near the beach?
“If we offer quality jobs to these people, there will be a lot of people motivated to study these majors and stay in the region,” Mario says.
Since they are cautious, they avoid making promising statements about the future of the province, but they have good expectations. Luis Carlos says Guanacastecans are often at a disadvantage to people in the capital because they don’t have access to the same quality of education, but their efforts make up for it. “They have showed us that as you grow you they are willing to work harder in order to go farther,” Luis Carlos says.
For now, they are able to handpick the best graduates from the UCR and UNA and Invenio in the province. They have made good friends with the last one since the beginning and many of their students have done internships at Avantica, says Luis Carlos.
But the Chaves brothers believe linking up with universities is the only thing they can generate for the time being in the region., even though they see a “critical mass” (the talent and human resources) in Guanacaste growing and offering a good outlook for other companies to expand operations here.
“And for companies to open local operations and invest in the area. It’s not worth it stealing talent from the area and taking it to the central valley,” Luis Carlos says from his office in San Jose. “They can bike to work, bring their lunch from home and not have to sit in traffic for an hour to get to work in San Jose,” he says.