By Susan Amat
Across the globe, both city and national initiatives are regularly announced, each focused on developing their own entrepreneurial ecosystems to provide funding and support to their entrepreneurs. The “Startup (Insert City or Country name here)” programs tend to have many things in common, including shocking budgets, but often fail to address the long-term cultural shift that must occur for the newly enlightened entrepreneurs to want to stay in the region. The excitement surrounding the announcement is rarely followed up with the metrics and ROI of the project. Many of those programs are designed after visits to Startup Chile, which has been successful in creating a mindset shift among Chileans and developing thousands of entrepreneurial ambassadors all over the world who will recount their six-months in Chile, having fallen in love with her people and the country itself. The agency that oversees Chile’s economic development, growth, and promotes investment and competitiveness, Corporacion De Fomento De La Produccion (CORFO), could have easily sat back and continued to be the reference point for scores of policy leaders in creating their own programs, but leaders rarely rest.
The 2013 Presidential election resulted in a shifting of power. The new administration, under President Michelle Bachelet, reflected on the results of their much lauded programs and has been diligently crafting new initiatives to build their talent, expand entrepreneurship support beyond the main cities to create multiple poles, reduce rural migration, diversify the economy, and enable the establishment of equity-based funds with generous matching parameters. This marks another meaningful experiment in Chile and the early results are promising.
The key pivot is the creation of full support across the spectrum that may last throughout the lifetime of the business rather than a six-month stint. Chilean entrepreneurs, and those who will make substantial long-term investments in Chile, will also benefit from the tens of millions CORFO is deploying to ensure there is early stage capital for both tech and non-tech businesses. The investment, coupled with the support, may act to democratize the promise of economic freedom that entrepreneurship can offer.
Chile is ripe for this innovation. During our visit to Chile last week, we met with dozens of entrepreneurs, visited several incubators and co-working spaces, and did multiple trainings for mentors and entrepreneurs. The talent is evident and plentiful – great developers who are committed to starting and growing their businesses in Chile. CORFO has made equally healthy commitments to create an incubator network, though each location is still validating their impact and success metrics. The next phase has the potential to create thousands of high-wage jobs and position Chile as a leader in Latin America, and be the reason for other policy makers to send a second delegation to learn from them. The biggest challenges lie in ensuring entrepreneurs stay in the regions where they began and not feel the need to relocate to Santiago. Currently, although prestigious universities can be found in every region of the country, the hub of activity remains in Santiago. Creating high-quality programming and services so businesses can stay in Arica or Valdivia will go a long way toward inspiring the next generation to do the same. We visited Temuco to see Incubatec, one of the top Chilean incubators with success that exceeds most incubators in and out of LATAM. Their entrepreneurs are exporting beautifully packaged high-end water from the Andes to Asia, growing and exporting tulips all over the hemisphere, and even offering technical solutions to Fortune 100 clients. The leadership at Incubatec is passionate about helping the entrepreneurs scale and be Chilean success stories, and their energy is contagious. Bottling that would be a billion dollar business.
I am very excited to watch Chile’s progression and the next data points on these new initiatives. With the new vision, CORFO itself is offering the role modeling behavior that both entrepreneurs and policy makers should follow – at least on Twitter.
Dr. Susan Amat is the founder and CEO of Venture Hive, a company dedicated to economic development through entrepreneurship education. You can follow her on Twitter at @SusanAmat