When I began working in tech and digital years ago in Uruguay, things were very different. At the time, digital in Uruguay was completely new and no one cared about making short term gains. Businesses wanted to promote themselves in the local and international market and prove that they had the talent, knowledge and infrastructure to create not just sites and apps, but tech products and hardware. Uruguay was a country very new to the internet and excited about the possibilities.
That countrywide excitement has led to Uruguay investing in its digital future and becoming one the most fertile places for tech and digital innovation. I don’t say that lightly. With a population of just over three-million people, Uruguay’s intimate size, culture and oceanside placement creates the flexibility and right overall conditions to become the most innovative country in the region - much like how Stockholm became the production paradigm-shifting powerhouse in Scandinavia.
If innovation means breaking paradigms and trying to make something unique, tech trailblazers have a duty to seek out new creative pathways like Uruguay, which could become a vital part of that path to innovation.
In Uruguay around the early 2000s, the country was in the middle of an economic crisis, broadband internet connection was virtually nonexistent and there was an overall lack of understanding of how the internet actually worked. But change came quickly. From the installation of the first internet antennas, to the first site hostings and domains sold in the country, this not-so tech-savvy setting forced Uruguay to be pioneers in many of the things they know and enjoy nowadays - key among them, digital production and prototyping.
Uruguay is now ideal, not only for prototype-making, but also for testing new technologies. It is a beta market for both regional and international entrepreneurs to come and develop their ideas in real-time. The country is a principal software exporter in the region, and low demography aside, the numbers related to software are impressive. The cultural values, the weather, the short distance to the metropolis, the high democratization of Internet access, the talented workforce available, puts Uruguay as one of the top -if not the most- fertile places in the region to germinate projects of world-impact including improved pacemakers, mammographies and cardiologic mobile emergency. Not to mention, Uruguay was the first to implement MIT Media Lab founder Nicolás Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child initiative, distributing XO Tablets to pre-school and first grade children.
In Uruguay, there are fewer people to answer to, no corruption, and with open governmental communication you can get approval for any testing and then export that technology to any corner of the world.
Making An Ecological Impact
From an ecological standpoint, Uruguay has geographic and demographic characteristics that can act as a test case and show the world the future of renewable energies. This doesn’t just include wind farms and dams, but also small electricity producers such as solar energy and biofuel reactors. Likewise, chemical energy sources - electric car batteries for example - may be recycled and be reused in other areas, like projects focusing on the Internet of Things, enhancing their usability for dozens of years.
In addition, there are promising ventures in the area of data analysis collected by smart sensors in both rural and urban areas as well as ad-hoc connectivity networks with broad reach that permit monitoring surface conditions, finding cattle and most significantly, smart thrift shopping and on-demand services for supplying urban centers. All these technologies, from established to emerging, are capable of improving public services like transportation as well as quality of life as they help decrease noise and air pollution.
Don’t Follow the Leader, Become One
Uruguay is ready to be a leader in the tech and digital industry and not just an opportunity for it. It is time for the world to embrace Uruguay as a greater resource for testing and innovation. By utilizing the inherent passion of Latin America and their will to dream, Uruguay can serve as a bridge connecting talented people from Latin and South America to the rest of the world to create work and products that push digital boundaries. Then perhaps Uruguay will not just become the Americas’ Sweden - but perhaps something beyond.