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.

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