Starting up in Chile

Start-up Chile Logo

This summer I was offered the chance to do a práctica in Chile with CORFO (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción), the Chilean Economic Development Agency linked to the country’s Ministry of Economy. CORFO’s mission is to promote the establishment of more innovative, vibrant and responsible companies integrated into world markets. To achieve this goal, CORFO concentrates its efforts in four lines of work: economic development, improving access to financing for medium sized companies, attracting new investment, and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. The directorate where I was placed is called InnovaChile, and as its name suggests, Innova’s objective is to coordinate and promote projects to increase innovation and technology transfers in Chile.

When I arrived in Santiago I didn’t know just yet what project I would be working on, instead, upon my arrival, I was presented with a choice of projects to which I could contribute. The one with which I chose to work was one of InnovaChile’s most recent initiatives, Start-up Chile. Start-up Chile (or SUP as it’s called) is a program that seeks to attract foreign, high-potential entrepreneurs to come to Chile to bootstrap and incubate their businesses, with the end goal of converting Chile into the innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America. The program provides entrepreneurs with a $40,000 USD subsidy (equity free, meaning that the entrepreneurs don’t have to give up a stake in their companies to receive the subsidy) to participate for 6 months, and a temporary 1-year visa to develop their projects here in Chile. In addition, the SUP staff works to get the entrepreneurs access to the most potent social and capital networks in the country.

In 2010, the program’s pilot phase brought in 23 entrepreneurial teams from all over the world. Over 100 entrepreneurs that were selected from the application round that ended in April of this year have arrived or will be arriving in the next week or so and after the next two application rounds are completed (in July and October of this year) as many as 300 entrepreneur teams will have passed through the program. Right now SUP has two parts of its organization up and running – its recruiting arm that extends across the globe and its operations team that welcomes entrepreneurs when they arrive in Chile and helps to connect them to the technical expertise and capital that they’ll need to get their businesses off the ground. The piece of the organization that hasn’t been developed yet is the Alumni Network – a structure to perpetuate the entrepreneurs’ commitment and involvement in SUP’s work and mission after they have left Chile and returned home to further develop their businesses. The SUP directors and staff have been so busy with the recruitment and day to day operations of the program that they haven’t had much time to devote to developing a structure for the Alumni Network, but they do realize that as more entrepreneurs pass through the program, one will be needed. I will therefore be working under SUP’s Assistant Director, Horacio Melo, to develop a model and structure for the Alumni Network, using some theoretical organizational models as a basis and starting point and incorporating feedback and ideas from current and past program participants.

What drew me to this project was the chance to literally build something from scratch – to create and develop something where nothing existed before. I was also drawn to SUP’s culture and environment: open, informal, friendly, and entrepreneurial. On a typical day, SUP’s 10th floor office in downtown Santiago is filled with entrepreneur teams from around the world rubbing shoulders, bouncing ideas off of each other about their projects, and working extremely hard on their start-up ideas. Most of the companies are tech start-ups, like the American team that developed Barbird, an app that allows your smart phone or computer to render a map with a real-time Twitter feed of news about happy hours, live music, or even just non-cover charging bars in any city; or the 25 year-old Brazilian woman who founded zuggi, a search engine for children. But the program doesn’t just welcome tech entrepreneurs by any means, there are social entrepreneurs participating as well.

Magazine cover featuring Natalia Monteiro, founder of the children's search engine zuggi and a Start-up Chile future alum.

One thing that I hope to gain from this experience is a better understanding of the role that entrepreneurship can play in economic development. While the idea behind SUP came straight from Chilean President Juan Piñera with the objective of making Chile a hub of technology and entrepreneurship in Latin America, it is clear that the directors of the program have a wider vision in which SUP is a model for other countries to emulate — Start-up Ghana anyone?

In my next few posts, in addition to talking about how my project is coming along, I’ll also be writing more about Start-up Chile and the array of impressive global entrepreneurs that the program has gathered here as well as writing about what it’s like to spend a summer (which is really winter) living in Santiago.

The snow-capped Andes mountains overlooking Santiago.

10 thoughts on “Starting up in Chile

  1. Rebecca Walters

    What organizational models will you be using as a basis for the alumni network? As a staff member at MIIS, I’m constantly thinking about ways to engage our alums.

  2. Brian Johnson Post author

    My starting point as a general organizational model is the learning organization model developed by Peter Senge at MIT. Practically I think that the network will look fairly similar to university alumni networks but with some modifications given the entrepreneurial as opposed to educational context of the group.

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  6. adena

    When I arrived in Santiago I didn’t know just yet what project I would be working on, instead, upon my arrival, I was presented with a choice of projects to which I could contribute. IT Consultant Indonesia The one with which I chose to work was one of InnovaChile’s most recent initiatives


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