By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
I am talking to Jean Boudeguer, executive director of Start-Up Chile, which is a Chilean government program that seeks to attract foreign, high-potential entrepreneurs to come to Chile to bootstrap their businesses. The mission of the new government and the primary focus of the Ministry of Economy are to convert Chile into the entrepreneurial hub of Latin America. Chile’s current president, Sebastián Piñera, who took office March 11, 2010, is a well-known economist and investor.
Irina: Hi, Jean. Why don’t we start briefly with your background and how you arrived at this point?
Jean: I’m Chilean. I studied engineering at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile here in Santiago from 1999 to 2005. One of my hobbies – and what I studied, too – is being a developer. I dedicated my life to the field of IT. When I finished university, I started working for a local government here in Santiago, one of the biggest in Chile. We were creating services for the community. Five or six years ago, there weren’t many software or IT services for the community. So, I dedicated my time to creating services like that.
Around 2007, I decided to go live in England. I stayed there for about a year and was a freelance developer for several companies. I returned to Chile in 2008 and worked for LAN Airlines [the largest airlines in Latin America] as the online marketing manager. Then, I thought that my CV was too technical and if I wanted to go more [toward] the commercial side, I should make a shift to that area. I did this by being part of the online marketing team at LAN Airlines, seeing countries and regions such as Argentina, the United States, and Europe, all places where LAN has market share. Then, I moved to working at the Ministry of Economy and, from there, to Start-Up Chile, which started in July 2010. I started working there in September.
Irina: What kind of organization is Start-Up Chile?
Jean: It’s a governmental institution, basically. The Ministry of Economy has an agency that fosters entrepreneurship. We are part of that agency. That agency is called CORFO [Corporación de Fomento de la Producción de Chile is a Chilean governmental organization that was founded in 1939 by President Pedro Aguirre Cerda to promote economic growth in Chile.]
We are not like any other incubator. We actually don’t ask for equity. Chile’s mission is to be the entrepreneurial hub of Latin America. What we’re doing is attracting world-class early-stage entrepreneurs from all over the world to start their businesses here in Chile. When we open negotiations, we don’t ask for a specific type of entrepreneur or type of industry. We let them tell us what an opportunity they see in being incubated here in Chile.
Irina: What would be an ideal company for your incubator?
Jean: The ideal company is a startup with a prototype. Then, instead of looking for money from investors, they should add as much value as they can, before raising funds. What we’re trying to tell them is that they should come here, to Chile, to improve their business model and get traction with clients, and then go back and try to raise money. They will have a better chance of raising money, with higher valuations, and they will also reduce the risk for investors.
We are looking for a company that has high potential and addresses more than one market. We’re trying to attract companies that use Chile as a platform, not a total market. Chile is a small economy compared to, for example, Brazil. So, we’re trying to attract companies that are addressing larger markets. Young companies provide a high percentage of new employment. We think that a successful company could raise money, grow, and leave operations here in Chile.
Irina: How many companies applied to Start-Up Chile last year?
Jean: We had a pilot program last year. That pilot program meant that we wanted to attract 25 teams to come here. We needed to get traction on our own startup. So, this pilot was to see if people were willing to come to Chile to bootstrap. From that application process, we had 500 applications. Of those 500, only 100 were eligible.