From Finnish point of view Chile is in the far end of the world, but the idea of going there to build your startup for half a year is not as far-fetched as it might sound.
The reason for this is the Start-Up Chile program, that the Chilean government started in 2010. They invite early stage entrepreneurs with global mindset to come to Chile to work on their startup and they give 40 000 USD equity free funding for selected startups who will send at least one person to Chile for six months.
The program also provides a temporary resident visa for one year, so it is easy to stay longer if the business gains momentum in the Chilean market. The application period is now open until 10th July, so if equity free funding + half a year abroad sounds like an interesting combination, keep reading.
Our startup Sharetribe (formerly known as Kassi) sent an application to Start-Up Chile in last summer and since January I have been representing our team in Santiago. My six months period is nearly over now, so it’s a good time to report about the experience and encourage new finnish teams to apply.
The program is massive. It’s not like a traditional incubator that selects tens of companies and has a group of mentors to guide them intensively. Start-Up Chile selects 100 startups three times a year, which means that there are more than 200 entrepreneurs here all the time. This volume makes sense, as the goal of the program is to improve the local entrepreneurship ecosystem and make Chile the innovation hub of the Latin America.
On the other hand the massive amount of people means that there’s not much individual guiding or mentoring. Most of the time it’s working by yourself, but there are different kind of networking events and meetups with good speakers almost every week. And from the big group of people it is possible to form smaller groups to meet and share information about a specific topic of interest. There are weekly meetings for example about social media, social entrepreneurship, education etc.
What Start-Up Chile expects to get back in exchange of the funding is that every team contributes back to the local ecosystem in some ways. Chile has familiar sounding problems of people being afraid of failure and not seeing entrepreneurship as a viable career choice, so the idea is to bring enthusiastic entrepreneurs from all over the world to show a positive example and share information and contacts. Most typical ways of fulfilling the required contribution are arranging workshops at the universities, mentoring students, talking in events, organizing meetups etc.
The other noteworthy requirement is that the funding is not delivered as a lump sum, but as 90% reimbursements of expenses during the 6 months period. In other words, to get all the 40 000 dollars on your account, you’ll have to spend 44 000 dollars to costs that are related to your startup’s activities or your team being in Chile. We have for example bought laptops and software, hired a local guy to work with us, traveled to SXSW and Japan, outsourced iOS development, paid our living costs in Chile etc. Managing all this requires quite a lot of paperwork, but as the program doesn’t take any equity in your company, it’s definitely a great deal.
In Start-Up Chile there have been so far 3 companies from Finland, but Sharetribe is the first one from Aalto. I would like to see more people applying, because this is a great way to kick-start your idea. Most of the teams here have already started working when they apply, but some have been accepted solely based on well described idea. And as the Finnish university system (hopefully still?) allows quite easily being absent for a semester, now is a great opportunity to try your wings on the other side of the world. It’s a bit like an exchange year abroad, but better, as instead of lectures you can be working on the project that you are passionate about and the Chilean government pays 90% of that + you still get the international group of awesome people to network (and sometimes party) with. And I’ve learned here much more than during the exchange year.
Few weeks ago, when I was traveling in a harbor city of Puerto Montt in southern Chile to have a sales presentation (in spanish) at the local university, I stopped to look at the scenery and realized how far away I had gone and how little idea I had one year ago about where I would be now. This program is a great opportunity to expand the borders of your everyday life and experiences. And to learn some Spanish on the side. It is not a requirement, and everything in the program works in english, but as I had few Spanish courses done in Aalto earlier, I was motivated to improve it here, and that plan has definitely worked even though I haven’t taken any formal courses here.
Being in Chile has been good also for the business. Getting started here with translations and sales took some time and in general things happen slower than expected, but now we have our service in free pilot use in few universities and apartment buildings, which we hope to convert to paying customers in near future. And even for a group that wouldn’t focus on these markets, having a 6 months funded development camp here is not a bad idea.
This has been a rather long blog post about the topic, as to get me excited, it only took the sentence: “Chilean government will pay you $40 000 if you go to do your startup there for 6 months.” I hope that many Aaltoes people will be applying in the current round (or in the next one in september if that suits better.) Now there’s time until 10th of July, and writing the application shouldn’t take you very long if you already know what you are doing. Getting the letter of recommendations usually takes couple of days, so ask those early, if you plan to apply.
I’m happy to share advice to anyone who plans to apply so feel free to contact me at antti at sharetribe.com. In finnish language there is also some reporting in our Avoin Yritys blog and even our whole application text can be found at the open documents archive. And if someone is interested to read more personal notes about my travel, there’s another blog in Finnish.
Here I will end my report from Santiago. Now it’s your turn. Apply!
Text & images: Antti Virolainen