Chile will open its doors to up to 1,000 global entrepreneurs

More than 300 budding experts are set to move their businesses into the country in 2011 through Start-Up Chile, a government-sponsored program which offers US$40,000 funding awards to help world class talent set up new ventures in Chile.

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Chile’s Minister of the Economy, Development and Tourism, Juan Andrés Fontaine, has announced that applications for 300 spaces in 2011’s version of Start-Up Chile will open in February.

Since 2010, entrepreneurs have been arriving in Chile to develop their businesses, using the country’s growing economy and international connection spaces as a platform. The program generated so much attention in its first year that it lead the government to raise the number of openings this year to 300, from its originally proposed 100.

The 30 entrepreneurs based in Chile who have been taking part in the program since last year also attended the event.

Their innovations and the program’s official goal to develop global entrepreneurship have drawn attention around the world from business publications such as The Economist, BusinessWeek, Forbes and TechCrunch, among others.

New arrivals are expected to total around 1,000 over the next four years, plugging in to Chile’s new techno ecosystem and generating contacts and jobs within the country’s borders. Official figures from the program’s statement estimate that the program will create around 2,000 new jobs and 65,000 new contacts for Chilean entrepreneurs.

Creating “Chilecon Valley”

Chile has firmly set its sights on becoming an innovation hub within South America. Establishing the country as such is a central goal for the recently inaugurated government and the primary focus of the Ministry of Economy. Innovation and entrepreneurship are constant themes in all levels of the educational and industrial sectors.

The projects selected for the program can all be broadly included in the tech sector, but the variety is wide, with teams specializing in energy, e-commerce, social endeavors, and design. Entrepreneurs must pass through a rigorous examination process conducted by Silicon Valley experts and a Chilean Innovation board that focuses rigorously on global mindsets and worldwide potential.

The program is focusing on these sectors with the specific aim of making Chile a centre for technical innovation, forming strong connections with the Silicon Valley in the U.S. and with smaller innovative centers like Israel, Singapore and Finland. By focusing on developing a globally recognized tech sector, Chile aims to reverse traditional “brain drain” patterns and become a destination for entrepreneurial immigrants and their projects.

“If you’re serious about understanding centers of entrepreneurship outside the U.S., Chile is now one of the required stops,” said Steve Blank, Director of EmprendeUC at the Universidad Católica. “The progress in the last few years has been nothing short of outstanding.”

An inviting prospect for young entrepreneurs.

In order to attract a flock of young tech experts, the Start-Up Chile program slashed red tape, helps with US$40,000 of overheads and connects innovators with top local talent and venture capital.

“I was there and I know what $40,000 can mean to a guy that’s fully leveraged,” Nicolas Shea Carey, a Chilean entrepreneur who left Silicon Valley to head up an inter-ministry panel on innovation, said during an interview.

Among the first batch of entrepreneurs to arrive was Amit Aharoni, an Israeli looking to start a travel website with fellow Stanford graduate Nicolas Meunier, from France. More than the help with basic expenses, Aharoni said, “affordable access to the region’s best talent was the greatest appeal of the program.”

The seeds of a new technological environment.

Only a few months since after its inception, Start-Up Chile is able to boast concrete results. In December, the creators of Junar, a platform which allows users to extract quantifiable information from the internet, raised US$1.2 million from venture capital funds in Chile, Costa Rica and Argentina.

Another highlight of the program is Entrustet, an online resource that allows users to make a list of their digital assets (Facebook, Gmail) and decide which accounts should be transferred to heirs and which should be deleted upon the user’s death. The project, coined by the New York Times as “Cyberspace, when you’re dead,” generated interest around the world from forward thinking surfers who have their lives recorded on the net.

These buzz-generating projects are seen as holding great potential, and are the source of much excitement for the people working on the program.

Vivek Wadhwa, an unpaid adviser who researches the movement of highly-skilled immigrants, said Chile can capitalize on a turning point in the American tech sector, as visa difficulties and a sluggish recovery are pushing talent toward more vibrant emerging economies.

“For the first time in U.S. history, skilled people are leaving America to make other countries their home. So far it’s been a one-way ticket to America… Now they’re finding more economic opportunities in other countries,” she said in an interview with Reuters.

This post is also available in Spanish