South America Startups Gear Up for Fresh, Booming Entrepreneurial Environment
Start Ups Gain Steam in South America
South America has been the focus of business potential for some time now. In particular, Brazil’s booming economy has earned it a spot as a BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) country since British economist Jim O’Neil coined the term in 2001. Talk of South America’s economic activity, however, has, until recently, been limited to Brazil’s borders and extraction of large-scale commodities like gas. Entrepreneurial activity or startups were essentially unheard of.
In 2010, Chile began promoting an initiative that would put it on the map as the innovative, entrepreneurial hub of South America. Since its inception, Start-Up Chile has graduated more than 550 applicants. The program, which just completed its latest application round, received more than 1,500 applications from 68 different countries, making the program an increasingly desirable and prestigious accelerator for projects wanting to go global.
Start-Up Chile provides $40,000 (USD) and a collaborative co-working environment at the heart of Santiago to businesses ranging from the simple idea to full production phases. The program isn’t free of strings: Participants must complete hours mentoring local entrepreneurs, give talks about entrepreneurship at universities or find other creative ways to foster the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem here. In other words, it not only provides both international and Chilean startups with funding, but encourages participants to network and involve themselves in the Chilean entrepreneurial revolution.
The Latin American Silicon Valley
The program has put startups upon the lips of Chileans and sparked an increased interest in businesses here. A Chilean government program, CORFO, sponsors the initiative and hopes Start-Up Chile will help produce “Chilecon Valley,” a Latin American equivalent to Silicon Valley.
Barriers to entry and complex government policies have significantly bogged down entrepreneurial spirit here, as starting a business was expensive and risky. Yet, with a growing attention to promoting business, policies are changing. This month, the government initialized a law that allows a business license to be obtained in one day, for free and online. The news is plastered throughout government offices, owners of new businesses smiling ecstatically at passersby, hoping to evoke, at the very least, an emotional support for business.
The interim minister of the economy in Chile hopes the online platform will “facilitate entrepreneurship, making Chile a more competitive country.”
Opportunity and Room for Growth
Although venture capital here is scarce and the scene is young, it is easy to see growth here in real time. The development of the scene is occurring rapidly and attracting the attention of some Silicon Valley heavyweights. Earlier this month, Santiago hosted the founders of MySpace, Mint.com, AngelList, Waze and many more, at a conference called Meet LatAm. The event was a huge success and attracted widespread media attention, spreading the word on startups, entrepreneurship and encouraging Chilean interest in business. These types of efforts from the local entrepreneurship community, coupled with initiatives like Start-Up Chile, are making Chile a desirable destination for innovative minds.
Start-Up Chile’s founder, Nico Shea, recently told The Huffington Post, “Chile is like California 20 years ago. I think it’s a great time to come to Chile, there is a lot of opportunity here. The velocity and excitement surrounding the startup community grows in intensity weekly, truly putting Chile on a fast road to success as Latin America’s hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.
By Terri Harel
Terri Harel is a co-founder of a social business venture, Impact Flo, participating in Start-Up Chile’s latest round. She is also a photographer, freelance writer and world traveler.