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Notes from the field: Starting up at Start-Up Chile

November 21, 2012

I’ve been in Santiago, Chile, for three weeks now as part of the Start-Up Chile program.

The goal of Start-Up Chile is to attract global entrepreneurs to build their businesses in Chile for six months. In exchange for $40,000 in funding, founders are expected to participate in the local technology and entrepreneurial community, holding events and workshops to stimulate and inspire future Chilean entrepreneurs. (See my initial post for more background information.)

Transplanting yourself to another part of the world for half a year to build a technology-based business may seem a bit odd, but the opportunity here in Santiago is just too good to pass up if you’re the intrepid entrepreneur type.

Santiago is the most developed city in South America, so it makes for relatively easy living. It is exotic, yet comfortable, and the weather is just about perfect right now.

Photo credit: Suraj Sapkota. Edited by David Truong.

The program attracts interesting people. Participants are from all over the world, including Azerbaijan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Singapore, Romania… and the list goes on. There are Harvard University graduates, Stanford University graduates, serial entrepreneurs, lawyers and doctors, and each person has an interesting story about how they got here.

We’re all working together in a lovely co-working space, so this mix powers quite an electric environment as we learn from each other’s diverse experiences. An interesting side effect I’ve noticed is that when people from other countries offer their unique perspectives on your business you truly begin to think globally. Everyone is keen to help everyone else, which makes for a friendly community atmosphere.

Our lovely office

The program also has “tribes” that group together entrepreneurs who are working toward similar goals. There are tribes for industries such as health, education or e-commerce, and others that are clustered around specific startup topics, such as pitching or lean startups, which are both tribes that I’m participating in.

Here is just a sample of the 100 companies that have arrived in Santiago in the last two months:

  • Diabeto has developed a Bluetooth device for diabetics to transfer glucose readings to Android phones for better analysis and tracking.
  • Event38 is building unmanned aerial systems (a.k.a. flying drones).
  • Pace4Life promotes the collection and reuse of pacemakers for people in the developing world.
  • Oroeco encourages meaningful spending by connecting your purchases to a database of environmental impacts for the products you buy.
  • RentHackr is the brainchild of former real estate agent Zeb Dropkin. He is building a future-focused rental market so you can accurately plan your next move into a rental apartment.

So that’s the inside view of Start-Up Chile: neat people working on solving interesting problems.

Last week I attended a demo day at a local university. The students were engineers who had taken a course titled “How to Build a Startup,” which had its curriculum developed in part by a former Start-Up Chile entrepreneur.

The pitches were a culmination of ideas that the students had developed throughout the course. Webdox is digitizing legal documents for search purposes and is already working with three law firms. BiodiGas is teaching students about recycling (or “robocycling,” as they call it) by turning waste into biogas using robots.

The winner of the contest was Diza, a company that takes custom shoe orders online, working with local workshops to produce them. Some of the teams plan to apply to the Start-Up Chile program, which is a great outcome of the course. It is feeder programs like this one that help startup communities grow.

So I’ve been transplanted from one startup community to another. Things are the same and yet a little bit different. Within a few days of landing in Santiago, my co-founder and I changed our idea from “Fit with Friends,” a social fitness application, to “My Elephant Brain,” an online memory game to help you remember the names of people who are important to you.

Pitch order on intro day. Note how we changed from Fit With Friends to My Elephant Brain.

In two weeks we have an internal demo day to show the progress we have made since we first arrived. Now I’m starting to understand why entrepreneurs don’t always answer emails: there are a thousand things to get done! Stay tuned for my next post in December to see how it goes.

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June Avila @ MaRS

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June is an information specialist who provides ICT and social entrepreneurs with the information they need to move their ventures forward. She is also an entrepreneur and is currently completing the six-month Start-Up Chile program.

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