These days, Silicon Valley culture can be found many miles south of northern California. The fever around innovative startups has crossed the border, spreading to nearly every country in the Americas.
From Rio de Janeiro to Bogota, Latin American cities are trying to generate that startup environment that’s proven so effective at reinvigorating the business market and attracting foreign investors.
One of the first cities, with arguably the most interesting and innovative program so far, is Santiago. The government-led incubator, Start-up Chile, aims to transform Chile into the next innovative entrepreneurial hub.
Since 2010, Start-up Chile has lured 584 world-class, early-stage entrepreneurs from abroad and granted new opportunities for techy and inventive Chileans.
Out of the 1,500+ applicants from 68 different countries, Start-up Chile selects 100 of the most promising and innovative business concepts. These “suppers” as they’re formally referred to, are granted a year’s visa, office space, local support, US$40,000 of seed capital, and six months to develop their company.
It’s one of the few startup programs out there that lends financial support without taking equity. The goal: to have 1,000 bootstrappers participate by the end of 2014
But suppers don’t just take. In return, these entrepreneurs offer invaluable social capital — whether by holding workshops, mentoring local Chileans, organizing meet ups or teaching classes. The program also creates and fosters a strong network within the local startup community where entrepreneurs can share knowledge and contacts.
Some suppers, like Ben Cohen chose to stick around. Hailing from Atlanta, this Civil Engineer from Georgia Tech came to Chile a year ago for Chile Start-up. After completing the first six months, Ben continued his project under Socialab, another startup incubator but with a specific focus in social enterprise.
Now the President/CEO of TOHL, (Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics), Ben was also part of the original team who invented and developed the company’s patent pending solutions. Ben explains TOHL as “an infrastructure for the developing world”. This water installation system, that utilizes significantly longer pipelines than conventional methods, offers a cost effective, efficient and scalable solution to the common challenges of dependable water infrastructure.
To put it simply, the TOHL system pumps water from a local source through above/belowground piping, delivering it to thirsty populations. It’s a solution to water access like no other and it got its start here in Chile.
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Chile and Latin America in general, have been long recognized for having a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Although this more commonly refers to businesses in the informal sector, i.e. micro-entrepreneurship, perhaps a culture skilled in ingenuity will prove advantageous.
With influential programs like Startupweekend and Start-up Chile-like replicas—including among other places, Start-up Peru, Start-up Argentina—popping up all over, it seems this movement is on a roll. Perhaps in another decade we’ll all be buying manzana smartphones