Start-Up Chile: $40k to Live There and Start a Company

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Governments round the world are trying to stimulate entrepreneurship. The Chilean government recently announced a bold initiative that stands apart from the usual innovation and start-up handwaving. They are seeking two dozen entrepreneurs who want to move to Santiago for six months to get their company off the ground. The Ministry of Economy will give you US $40,000, take care of your immigration stuff, set you up with local entrepreneurs and mentors, bank accounts, and temporary office space. You do not have to stay in Chile beyond the six months, although their hope is that you do, or at least keep a satellite office or development team in Santiago. In a nutshell: you are being paid to live in Chile for six months to work on your business. All you have to do is apply on the Start-Up Chile web site with info about your background and business idea.

Several people have emailed me about this program. My basic take is that it’s a great deal for young entrepreneurs who need to put their heads down and build a prototype. Beyond the seed funding, you enjoy a lower cost of living — perfect for a bootstrapping coder. Plus, as loyal blog readers know, Santiago is a great city for work and play, replete with enough interesting entrepreneurs and investors to keep you stimulated. Actions speak louder than words: I lived in Santiago for eight months.

The big downside of Start-Up Chile, assuming you’re not targeting Chile or the Latin America market, is you are leaving your customers, partners, and potential investors, whose feedback is especially important in the early days. Skype can only take you so far when it comes to customer development and fundraising. Plus, Chile is as far away as anywhere — SFO-Santiago takes longer than SFO-Tokyo. English print media such as the Economist and the FT do not distribute to Chile. Of course it’s easy to read news online, but this is telling of Chile’s isolation and small population (and even smaller English speaking population). Don’t think you’ll fly back and forth like you would to and from Mexico.

Despite its obvious limits, Start-Up Chile is a terrific opportunity for many high-tech entrepreneurs. It should also be a point of interest for other countries looking to foster innovation — does this rather large investment of taxpayer money actually increase local entrepreneurship in the long-run? Can outsiders effectively infect the culture with their entrepreneurial impulses? Time will tell, but I am not surprised in the least that it is Chile leading the way with this high-risk, high-reward approach.

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I recently wrapped up my eight month adventure living in Santiago. I am proud to have fulfilled my goal of living in another country for a meaningful amount of time — a goal first set on my 18th birthday. Although I did not achieve fluency in Spanish (for various reasons to be explained later), I do know probably six or seven thousand words in Spanish, I got around the city fairly easily, and I could read a major newspaper cover to cover.

I experienced three historic events while there. First was the election of Sebastian Piñera, the first president not of the Concertacion political party which had ruled Chile since Pinochet. I remember the campaign, the debate, and the honking in the streets all night after the votes were tallied. Second, the fifth-largest earthquake in history shook the country on the 27th of February. I have distinct memories of that night and the subsequent days. The looting on television, the empty grocery store in my neighborhood, the aftershocks that continued for weeks and weeks, tsunami warnings, and virtually every news report referencing el terremoto del veintisiete de febrero. Third, The Chilean soccer team won two big games in the World Cup for the first time in 50 years. The country was captivated and it was hard not to be swept up in the fervor.

Chile will always carry a special place in my heart. It is a physically beatuiful country and singularly diverse in its various landscapes. The people are hard-working and kind. Its economic success is remarkable. It takes a certain patience and perspective to appreciate a city like Santiago compared to its flashy neighbor, Buenos Aires. But I like its underratedness. Of course there are things I do not miss about being there; it is an imperfect country. The flaws do not outweigh my fundamental fondess and admiration for the place. Un gran abrazo a todos mis amigos en Chile.

14 Responses to Start-Up Chile: $40k to Live There and Start a Company

  1. Phreeza says:

    This might be a terribly ill-informed and western question, but my main concern with working from anywhere outside Europe or the US would be corruption and excessive red tape to be overcome when running a business. What is the situation in that respect like in Chile(or Santiago)?

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    There's very low levels of corruption in Chile. Definitely red tape. But you
    don't have to incorporate the business in Chile, I don't think.

  3. Andrew says:

    After digging deeper into the brochure and frequently asked questions I can still not discern what date this program plans to start and when the application deadline is. Do you know Ben?

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    I don't know the deadline, either. Perhaps Diego can comment w/ the date?

  5. chris says:

    Hey Ben,

    You should write a post explaining how to do long term travel or lessons you learned from your experience.

    Seeing that you just got back from Santiago, I was wondering if you could answer some questions:
    I am planning a trip to somewhere in the middle east in order to learn Arabic. I was going to stay there for .5-1 year, but now that I read this, I don’t think 6 months would be enough to learn the language. I am going to self-study Arabic (and maybe sit-in on some classes at a nearby college) for one school year and then leave in the summer. Once in the Arabic speaking country (if I have enough money) I will take some language classes. Also I will try to get some sort of job, preferably one where I could practice Arabic.

    -Do you have any advice on how I could learn the language the fastest?

    -Do you think working abroad is a good option, or would the paper work and language barrier be too much of a hassle?

    Thanks!

    p.s. I’m not a student so I can’t do study abroad.

  6. jim pruett says:

    If they included housing, I would be in.

    Finding a place to live and all the utility bills sucks!

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Search my Travel category of posts for more on these topics, but my short
    reaction is: a) half a year is probably not long enough for a language as
    difficult as Arabic, b) you can always teach English abroad, or work
    illegally. The difficulty of working legally depends on the country.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. Nancy says:

    My two cents on how to learn a language fast: take classes at a good language school in a location where that language is spoken. Typically these schools (and get a good one, not one for dabbling tourists) have classes all morning, with practice activities in the afternoon: labs, outings, etc. If you work, you’re splitting your focus on work and language, and you’re not around someone who will correct you, or give you more vocabulary, or let you practice at your own rate. Although the idea of getting the basics down in your current location, where you’re already paying rent and have a job, makes economic sense too.

    Also, getting a place to live may not be that hard. I’ve done it in Spain and France. One place to check:

    link to santiago.en.craigslist.org

    There are no doubt local equivalents. The fact that this program hooks you up with locals is fantastic – they should be able to help you navigate all the day to day stuff.

    I spent a week in Chile years ago – the weather is wonderful, the scenery is great, and although I didn’t meet many people, it did seem like a nice place overall.

  9. claude says:

    ben , could you explain what exactly you get in this program ? you get a place to work(office)? mainly I want to know how much could those 40k cover!
    thanks

  10. Ben Casnocha says:

    Temp office space. Check out their site for more.

  11. I think they are about to close the round. Its not clear on the site, but there over 500 people registered, yesterday the committee selected another set of companies (they will soon find out who).

    So I think October is the last month they will accept invites since it runs till end of year and only 25 can go. I counted 5 in Chile now and I guess 5-10 in process for this month… maybe another 10 in November selected and thats it.

  12. Eric Shelton says:

    Someone recently recommended this program to me at an industry event in SF. Initially, I had my doubts. It’s reassuring to hear an un-biased opinion on the entrepreneur scene in Santiago. Our startup was planning to launch, and hire talent, in our local city (Berkeley), but this just seems like too good of an experience to pass up. Thanks!

  13. shateepaul says:

    The material ranges from absolutely introductory tutorials to tutorials for even the most advanced literatures. Both the absolute basics of the language are covered, such as the alphabet and verb conjugation, as well as very advanced material, such as Arabic poetry and deep etymology. It is an extraordinary supplement to Arabic language courses and is an invaluable and authoritative resource for Classical Arabic.

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