On a Chilean freeway, being transported by bus from Santiago to Santa Cruz, a group of traveling technology entrepreneurs and investors hears startup pitches from companies being accelerated by Endeavor, a global nonprofit accelerator for entrepreneurs with a social purpose. These entrepreneurs are trying to turn Chile solar; purify water and design solar cars. Endeavor is active throughout Latin America; in Brazil, I met an Endeavor-sponsored entrepreneur whose company brings copper wire broadband solutions to small communities.
But here is the heart of the story. We had already breakfasted with Chilean president Sebastian Pinera.
Last night, we attended an event called "First Tuesday Santiago" to see startups and hear pitches. There are startups everywhere, which is why we're on the bus heading for a lunchtime wine tasting and a talk by the founder of Vertical, an adventure tour company that has partnered with National Geographic to guide groups up Mount Everest and down to Antartica.
That's because the Chilean government, under President Pinera, has taken a bold step: It has started an accelerator called Startup Chile, which will bring 100 entrepreneurs with big ideas to Chile to start companies. The founders get a stipend, expenses and the attention of the Chilean government. Last night I met a member of the first cohort, Georges Cadena, who is trying to build a plant in Chile for holographic technology that can be used in windows to cut the cost of solar installations in half. He moved to Chile from California. And a Chilean woman from the Bay Area who moved back to co-found a private equity firm for Chilean wineries. Of 23 companies in the initial cohort, 8 will be remaining in Chile.
The people I meet think it's a lousy time to be in the States, with its stagnant economy, group depression and loss of focus on what immigrants brought to America.
Many of them believed in America, they went to America for college or jobs, but they didn't see the American dream or the promised land that previous generations saw. So they turned around and came home. Over half the first "class" of Startup Chile are Americans.
They are being treated like royalty. President Pinera told his audience this morning that Chile may have been late to the industrial revolution, but it won't be late to the information revolution. He plans to do everything in his power to change the culture to one tolerant of risk, not afraid to fail and learn from mistakes. He told us Adam and Eve may have been the first entrepreneurs when they ate the forbidden fruit.
For a politician, he "gets it," and he is putting his money where his mouth is by funding these young companies. Chile may yet produce the first solar car.