May 10, 2013
Last October, my business partner and I went to Santiago, Chile, to work full time on an idea. Six months later we leave with a beta prototype for My Elephant Brain and many new friends from around the world. We made mistakes, learned a ton and built a working prototype that we tested with users. Overall, the experience has been amazing, and it was all made possible through the Start-Up Chile program.
Funded by the government, Start-Up Chile is different from typical accelerator programs such as Y Combinator, TechStars and MaRS’ own JOLT because Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs give up more of their time than typical accelerators require and do not give up equity in their startups, in exchange for $40,000 in seed capital.
Three times a year, approximately 100 startups from more than 30 countries arrive in Chile to spend six months working on their ventures. This concentration of entrepreneurs working together in a co-working space promotes peer mentorship, rather than the typical mentorship networks found at other accelerators.
Through a mix of mandatory and optional demo days, entrepreneurs share the progress they have made on their startups. Entrepreneurs also dedicate time to help stimulate entrepreneurship in the local community. For instance, I helped organize Chile’s first English Startup Weekend event, which had 100 participants, and I also mentored Chilean entrepreneurs. My chief technology officer, Peter Newhook, taught programming workshops and participated in several local hackathons, including AngelHack and Wowzapp.
Similar to any startup community around the world, we also attended meet-ups and talks from global speakers. During my time in Chile, Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, and Saul Singer, the co-author of Start-Up Nation, were among the many visitors to the Start-Up Chile program.
Now in its third year, Start-Up Chile is beginning to see positive outcomes from its program. There are a number of entrepreneurs who stay longer than the mandatory six-month period, continuing to build their businesses from (and in) Chile. A portion of each $40,000 grant is spent in the local community, going toward paying rent and purchasing food. Many startups also hire local developers, designers and student interns, and I think that this is one of the most important ways that entrepreneurs have impacted the local community, through employing and working directly with Chileans.
Several of Start-Up Chile’s startups have gone on to participate in other accelerator programs, such as 500 Startups or TechStars. Some companies have gone on to raise capital and there have been a few acquisitions.
The Chilean government is also taking steps to reduce bureaucracy for entrepreneurs, recently passing a new law that enables businesses to incorporate a company online, for free, in just one day. Positive enhancements such as this one are important to growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Other accelerators springing up around the globe
Another interesting development is that Start-Up Chile appears to have prompted other countries to establish programs to attract global entrepreneurs to their regions. Start-UP Brasil is an $18 million public-private partnership with nine accelerators in the country. Billed as a “people accelerator,” TechPeaks in the Italian Alps is a €13 million program that accepts individuals as well as teams from around the world. Similar to Start-Up Chile, both programs provide entrepreneurs with visas and working capital to facilitate moving to build businesses in these countries.
Six months is both a long and a short time for a startup. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work full time on my project. The adventure of doing it in another country with more than 150 other people from around the world has been memorable.
Is Start-Up Chile for you?
The Start-Up Chile program is an amazing opportunity for startups that want to expand to Latin America or for entrepreneurs who have a sense of adventure and who need time and seed capital to build their product. If your startup is a good fit I encourage you to apply. The next round of Start-Up Chile applications will open this summer. If you would like to learn more about the Start-Up Chile program, please feel free to contact me via Twitter @juneavila.