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How Chile became Latin America's tech capital

Chile might not be the most obvious location for those looking to start a technology business, but the tide is changing as more innovative tech start-ups are launched in the country.

Start-Up Chile: The accelerator program

The Start-Up Chile program began in 2010 as a seed accelerator offering aspiring entrepreneurs equity-free investment of up to US$40,000.

There's more.

The scheme offers a year-long visa allowing people worldwide to start a business in Chile.

In 2015, Start-Up Chile received 1,600 applications to its program, from which 90 businesses from 25 different countries were selected.

The selection process is tough.

The entrepreneurs who get through will have demonstrated skill, innovation, potential, and dedication to the business, making them the perfect inhabitants for what is now known as "Chilecon Valley."

The Chilean Government has made it a primary concern to ensure that entrepreneurs are given support above and beyond what they might expect.

Chile has granted access to accelerators, mentors, institutions, incubators, and investment options even to those who don't meet the requirements of Start-Up. 

The result?

The country has created a fertile ecosystem for potential entrepreneurs.

Forward-looking fintech

Leo Prieto is the founder of Chile-based tech media companies Betazeta and FayerWayer.

He highlights the story of ClanDescuento, a Chilean start-up bought by US online discount giant Groupon to help it expand across Latin America.

"This example shows how Chile is leading the way in digital innovation. We've had many digital start-ups become international successes," he says. "It shows that geography is irrelevant when it comes to a digital product."

Digital products certainly lend themselves to more remote areas, as it doesn't matter where you're based if you're creating something that can be used on a smartphone by anyone in the world.

The fintech sector is a booming part of the Chilean start-up scene, particularly when it comes to banking and retail.

The population has quickly adopted contactless payment services extending to mobile, digital signature verification, and advanced consumer banking apps and several small businesses are focusing on these key areas.

The Pais Digital (digital country) initiative focuses on increasing the adoption of technology across Chile, emphasizing the digitization of financial services.

It's another way in which the country is fulfilling its mission to create a truly digital environment, both socially and professionally.

"This support, along with solid broadband services and the proliferation of mobile phones (130%), half of which are smartphones, means that there are minimal barriers to adoption in the country," says Paissan.

Into the valley

"Chilecon Valley" started as a jokey phrase. Still, over the past five years, it's begun to take off in earnest as more and more people see the Chilean capital, Santiago, as a buzzing hub of technological innovation.

"It's a term that helps to change perceptions," says Prieto. "One of our challenges as a country is to abandon an economy based on natural resources such as agriculture and mining. We need to promote the knowledge that young people have more opportunities in Chile."

As of April 2015, 1,200 companies had graduated from Start-Up Chile, coming from 72 different regions.

This is a country taking its entrepreneurial spirit seriously and cultivating the talent available, and further innovation is on the horizon.

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