x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Chile rolls out red carpet for start-ups

The Life: In 2010, the government of Chile launched a start-up business accelerator programme designed to attract entrepreneurs from around the world.

Carlos Salas, Chile's trade commissioner in the UAE, hopes to attract entrepreneurs and investors to the Start-Up Chile programme. Jaime Puebla / The National
Carlos Salas, Chile's trade commissioner in the UAE, hopes to attract entrepreneurs and investors to the Start-Up Chile programme. Jaime Puebla / The National

In 2010, the government of Chile launched a start-up business accelerator programme designed to attract entrepreneurs from around the world with the goal of making the country the innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America.

Teams admitted to the Start-Up Chile (Sup) programme, as it's called, get a year-long work visa, office space and US$40,000 to develop their idea. There is also no requirement to stay in Chile longer than seven months - although often graduates of the programme do.

The main requirement expected of participants is a social commitment - to speak about their businesses and whip up the spirit of entrepreneurship in the local community. The 750 people who have participated in the programme so far also form a close-knit network offering mutual support and continue to spread their word in their home countries.

"We attract all these entrepreneurs from all around the world because ... we want them to help us to change the culture in Chile, working on their businesses" said Sup's executive director, Horacio Melo. We want to make sure "we have more entrepreneurs, from universities more research supporting entrepreneurship, and the same thing with investment companies".

Since its inception, the programme has attracted a considerable amount of attention globally - with industry watchers coining the term "Chilecon Valley" to describe the entrepreneurial ecosystem emerging there - and has "exceeded expectations", according to Mr Melo.

At the end of last year, Santiago, Chile's capital, was ranked the 20th most entrepreneurial city in the world, according to Start-up Genome's Start-up Ecosystem Report. And it outshone Silicon Valley, the top ecosystem, for its gender mix: 20 per cent of entrepreneurs in Santiago were women versus 10 per cent in Silicon Valley.

The number of Chilean teams accepted onto the programme has also ballooned. In the first pilot round, the intake consisted of 22 teams of entrepreneurs from 14 countries. There was no Chilean team. In the eighth and most recent intake, there were 85 teams from 28 countries. Of those, 19 were from Chile.

At 16 per cent, this made home-grown entrepreneurs the second most represented on the programme after those from the United States at 21 per cent. The third and fourth most represented countries were Argentina and India.

Unlike many incubators, which focus on technology, Sup opens its doors to a wide variety of industries. Nevertheless in the eighth intake, information technology and enterprise software represented 19 per cent of selected teams, followed by education (13 per cent), e-commerce (12 per cent), then social media, health care and biotechnology, energy and clean technologies, social enterprise and tourism.

In the past three years, there have been a number of successful teams from the Arab world - including from Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey - but none as yet from the UAE.

Chile's trade commissioner in the UAE, Carlos Salas, is aiming to change that by hosting a meeting on Sunday in Dubai Internet City to explain the benefits of the programme to entrepreneurs here and encourage them to apply for the next intake before the October 1 deadline.

"This is our first official meet up to create awareness about Start-Up Chile," he said. "We maybe [previously] focused on trade but now we want to [reach out to] entrepreneurs and investors too. It's a new duty that we are taking on here."

Mr Salas stressed that people arriving in Chile from very different cultures are well looked after. Someone who speaks their native language will help them with administrative tasks such as opening a bank account and obtaining an ID.

"The success of Start-Up Chile is simple. We believe that by inviting people here we are making a long-term investment in the country," he added. "Countries are now encouraging people to start up [businesses] because it's a very good way to attract talent, to create jobs and to diversity the economy."

Start-Up Chile's meet-up in Dubai is on Sunday at 7pm, Internet City, DIC Building 3, Thuraya Hall. More information can be found at www.startupchile.org

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae