The northern city of Antofagasta is known for its mining industry, busy ports, and hard working people. Now, thanks to a group of Start-Up Chile alumni, the city’s innovative thinkers are harnessing that determined spirit to create new businesses with the power to improve the lives of individuals, the community, and the country.
De-Pe, an entrepreneurship course taught at the Universidad Católica in Antofagasta by Start-Up Chile alumni Nathan Lustig and Enrique Fernández, creates a supportive and encouraging environment for locals with the drive to make their ideas a reality. In June, the course culminated with its demo-day, a chance for each small business designed and developed over the semester to present its final product. The businesses ranged from small custom textile work to innovative mining tools to a possibly life-changing medical system.
“It was amazing to see the progress the entrepreneurs made by the end of the course,” Lustig said of demo-day. “I’m really proud of all of our entrepreneurs who were willing to keep an open mind and improve their product each week.”
The course is not aimed solely at university-aged students, rather it is open to anyone in the community with an idea and the desire to take it further.
“Some of the students are just people from the community” Lustig told This is Chile, adding that many of them begin earning very little for their family, but throughout their entrepreneurship can double, triple their income. “[The course is] making a difference in their day to day life, it’s very hands on, it’s real, it’s not the dream of the next facebook or social hit, its actually real business that can change a person’s life.”
De-Pe awarded cash prizes to the top three businesses in the course, based on the potential market for the product or service, the impact it could have, and the progress the group or individual made throughout the semester.
The big winner was a product called “Veneno Detect,” which could soon become the world’s first rapid test for araña de rincon bites. The araña de rincon, also known as the Chilean Recluse Spider is a venomous spider commonly found in Chile and South America, although it is now spreading worldwide. A bite from this spider can cause necrosis, and even lead to death.
Currently, the only way to know if a spider bite is from the araña de rincon, the potential victim has to wait until they start to react to the venom. With Veneno Detect, a swab of the bite can be used to rapidly detect the dangerous toxin, giving a result in 10-20 minutes.
The first place winner, an impressive medical innovation, won US$ 5,000 ( CLP 2,500,000) and has proven to work. The business is going to market now and hoping to find a partner to help put forward a full roll out.
Second place, awarded US$ 3,000 (CLP 1,500,000) went to Ecocrea – a company that designs solar panel arrays for off the grid mining offices to replace diesel generators at lower cost. Coming in third, with a prize of US$ 2,000 (CLP 1,000,000) was Standmat – a company that generates 3d video animations used to increase sales for businesses wanting to sell to mining companies.
Other notable businesses created by the innovative Antofagasta students and developed through the course include Purorugby – Chile’s first online rugby store, Maestroalaobra – A Chilean version of Angie’s List, a way to connect with local handymen you can trust, and Rincón Sano – a food truck that sells healthy salads in Antofagasta to give people a positive and affordable lunch option amid the common fried and unhealthy food stands.