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Latin American ecosystems and start-ups: A success story in the making

From Mexico down to Chile, governments are setting the stage for innovative economies to meet the challenges of growth ahead
Rio de Janeiro at night (Rio de Janeiro at night image via Shutterstock)
Rio de Janeiro at night (Rio de Janeiro at night image via Shutterstock)

For the past five years, I have been traveling to Latin America two to three times a year. In 2013, I sensed something different in the air. From what I saw and heard, the efforts Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and other Latin American countries were investing to catch up with global innovation were vast and serious.

Latin America is home to 21 countries, the most developed of which are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina*. The entire region’s population is 581 million. As a Latina American by birth (was born in Uruguay and lived in several Latin American countries) I speak the language and can understand the differences between different Latin American cultures. Yet these days I sense a common variable: an effort to invest an enormous amount of resources in education, employment strategic plans, incubators – you name it.

Some initiatives were met with success, while some have not. There is still a long way to go. Yet every place I go, I meet extremely professional, educated and intelligent people, who are conscious of the fact that a new mindset must be introduced in order to establish the values of innovation within the Latin American bloodstream. Latin Americans do not want to copy successful approaches; rather, they wish to adapt methodologies, programs and strategies to their specific entrepreneur culture. In their words, they attempt to “Tropilaze” their action plan.

Today’s Latin America is offering new opportunities for citizens and foreigners alike. Latin American economies have recognized the need to innovate, develop, change and take risks. They do so by supporting and creating support entities for entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial ecosystems and a growing number of high-impact companies. The whole region is motivated to achieve positive results in terms of profitability, stable jobs, improved living standards, social impact throughout the community, technological developments that raise productivity and competitiveness and much more. 

There is a growing number of activities aimed at accelerating and ensuring the establishment of ecosystems and high-impact business activities throughout Latin America. In Mexico, INADEM, an independent agency related to Mexico’s Ministry of Economy, aims to implement inclusive support for entrepreneurs and micro, small and medium enterprises. “500 Startups” are currently working in Mexico investing in Mexican start-ups. In addition, special credit lines from banks like BBVA have been provided to promote accelerator programs.

In Colombia, Innpulsa (Colombia’s national government unit) is currently promoting business innovation and entrepreneurship as a dynamic engine for competitiveness and regional development. An agreement between Colombia and the USA’s State of Massachusetts has been facilitated in order to develop high impact business, while Bogota, Colombia’s capital, has been hosting meetings between national start-ups and investors from all over the world.

Brazil has enjoyed its reputation as one of the world´s best investment opportunities, due to its stable economy, clean energetic matrix and large domestic market. As the world´s sixth largest economy – expected to rank 5th in the next decade – the country plays a leading role in Latin American economy and politics, and is paving its way in the international scene. Start-UP Brasil is an accelerator program for local start-ups. For this purpose, they support innovative IT projects that promote national development. The city of Sao Paulo was ranked as 13th in the Startup ecosystems category by “the Startup Genome and Telefónica Digital”. 

Chile is the best-evaluated economy in Latin America and also one of the best-evaluated among emerging economies worldwide. Its sustained economic growth and social progress have been highlighted by different international organizations. In 2010, Chile became the first South American country to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Innovation-wise, Chile is up and running: Start-Up Chile is a program backed by the Chilean government and aimed at world-class early stage entrepreneurs. CORFO is a public-sector organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship, innovation and growth in Chile.

These activities have been multiplied throughout other countries in the region, and the sense of urgency to change and share the fruits of growth has become infectious. The new “MultiLatinas” companies, which have been successfully passing the frontiers of their respective countries, serve as a fine example of this phenomenon. In 2013, the magazine América Economía (422) presented the top 80 Latin American multinationals: 25 were from Brazil, while Chile came in second with 19. Third place Mexico had 18.

In 2013, I could sense the commitment of Latin American governmental, private and academic organizations towards updating their policies and focusing on creating entrepreneurial ecosystems that will help their countries to innovate, progress and compete with European and North American markets. And why not? This may in fact be a success story in the making.

* http://www.bancomundial.org/es/news/feature/2014/01/08/infografia-emprendedores

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About the Author
Rina is passionate about bringing Israel's “venture spirit” and innovation to Latin America. Her vision is to link entrepreneurship with positive psychology. Rina works on innovation processes, as a consultant, lecturer and workshop facilitator. She also co-founded a Start-Up focusing on Positive Psychology. Rina also has an MA in Psychology and is an expert in marketing research and content.
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