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All Eyes on Chile: Using Education to Unleash Innovation

Jonathan Ortmans @jortmans


Nov 19, 2010


Chile has been in the spotlight lately. We have been observing the transitioning new administration handle the earthquake and tsunami recovery and the impressive rescue of 33 miners. The new government, led by former entrepreneur President Sebastian Piñera, is also getting attention for trying to unlock the country’s creative potential.  Many of the Chileans I spoke with this week tell me that ever since those miners all came up, they feel optimistic.

The Chilean economy has long been recognized as the most advanced of Latin America, offering political and economic stability and one of the most advanced physical infrastructure systems in the region. The proven economic track record has led to Chile’s recent accession to the OECD as its 31st member and its first member in South America. However, innovation still plays a minor role in the creation of new enterprises, according to a paper by Hugo Kantis published in the infoDev Incubator Support Center (iDisc) service from the World Bank.

A low level of innovation emerging out of Chile comes as surprise given the Chilean government’s investment in R&D has increased 70% since 2005 with much of it going into universities - key actors in any entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María’s International Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (3IE) is building a network to convert knowledge and ideas into prototypes, products, and new companies with bases in technology. But the slow pace of innovation in Chile calls for new programs and policies that unlock the transfer of R&D into innovations that can be commercialized by entrepreneurs. 

With the hope of increasing the number of innovative startups, the Piñera administration recently started a program to court young technology entrepreneurs from around the world who might pull innovation from Chile’s researchers at universities.  Chile hopes to develop at least 25 budding tech companies through Start-Up Chile, a pilot program that helps with $40,000 of overhead and promises to slash red tape and connect innovators with top local talent and sources of further funding. The mere exposure to working in a startup, and the networking involved in it can become an important outcome of this program, especially if it encourages more locals to do the same. I met several of the Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs yesterday and was impressed with their knowledge and contacts.

Better early entrepreneurship education nevertheless remains key, especially if Chile is to rely on endogenous drivers for entrepreneurship and innovation. The Chilean primary and secondary school education is quite advanced in terms of access and traditional curriculum, but it represents a major setback in entrepreneurship because it does not promote entrepreneurship and innovation at all. The education system here hasn’t yet incorporated elements and methods that foster creativity, entrepreneurial initiative and autonomy. Endeavor Chile has been developing a pilot program to begin addressing this problem, focusing first on the regions outside Chile’s metropolitan region. Today, as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, a 2,000 student Congress on Endeavor education will take place in Puerto Montt. One hopes as with all Endeavor pilots, opinion leaders in Chile will look up and take note as to how to more widely establish this within the school system.

I am in Chile of course to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week/Chile where we have many events focusing on education. I met with one of the organizers of the Global Innovation Tournament in Chile, Jose Ernesto Amoros at the Universidad del Desarrollo – another campus with beautiful views to add to those I visited in Istanbul, Amman and Rio. We will be posting the results very soon.   

I also participated in a huge outdoor event held in Constitution Square next to the President’s offices inspired by the creative uses of technology in response to the Chile earthquake and miners rescue. Hosted by Endeavor, Foro Innovacion, Avina, Centro de Innovacion Un Tech Para Chile, following my remarks we heard from Felipe Kast, Minister of Planning and Cooperation; Bruce McNamer, CEO of Technoserve, Salim Ismail, CEO of Singularity University and many others.  The event gathered Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs, angels, students, venture capital people, the organizers of Start-Up Weekend/Santiago, government staff and lots of media.

It appears following my meetings with the Ministerio de Economia staff, the new government is putting its faith in young entrepreneurs to drive Chile’s entrepreneurial revolution.  I hope that the great strides in so many of the parts of the entrepreneurship ecosphere I have witnessed on this visit translate into concrete new policies that also make entrepreneurship education a core part of the curriculum at all levels – something yet to capture the attention of the education Ministry. If Chile works towards this goal, it is sure to be the next source of entrepreneurship best practices in the OECD and beyond.


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