Dec 182010
 

Startup Chile

Regions all over the world have spent millions—sometimes billions—of dollars trying to create their own Silicon Valley.

They drank the same Kool-Aid and used the same recipe: start with a research university; build a fancy tech park next to it; give tax breaks to chosen companies to locate in the park; attract venture capital by offering matching investments; and watch the magic happen.

Unfortunately, the magic never happened, anywhere.

All government-sponsored (top-down) tech-cluster efforts—everywhere in the world—either have failed or are on life support (though some pretend they are not). That’s because they all used the wrong ingredients. It isn’t real estate, universities, or VCs that make innovation happen; it is entrepreneurs. To create a tech center like Silicon Valley, you need to first attract smart entrepreneurs from all over the world. Then you have to create entrepreneurial networks; instill a spirit of risk-taking and openness; and build mentoring systems. You also need to provide seed financing to startups. The money is easy; everything else requires a change in culture that usually takes decades.

But Chile is trying a radical new experiment that I helped conceive, to short-circuit this process. It is importing entrepreneurs from all over the world, by offering them $40,000 to bootstrap in Chile. They get a visa; free office space; assistance with networking, mentoring, fundraising, and connecting to potential customers and partners. All the entrepreneurs have to do, in return, is commit to working hard and live in one of the most beautiful places on this planet.

The program, called Start-Up Chile, is still in the pilot stage. Chile has selected 25 teams to receive grants.  Seventeen of these teams have already moved to Chile’s capital city, Santiago. The program will be officially launched on January 13, 2011. It will then be opened to the next batch of 100 startups. Chile expects to “import” around 1000 startup teams over the next three years. The program is headed b

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