Stories from the international Start-up Chile community

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June Avila is the talented supper behind My Elephant Brain, a startup that will help you remember people´s faces and names. This post originally appeared on the MaRS Discovery District blog (http://www.marsdd.com) and has been reposted here with permission from the author. MaRS is a large-scale innovation centre located in Toronto, Canada.

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Here are a few stories of other entrepreneurs from around the world that have come to Chile for six months to build their startups. Stay tuned next month to hear from a few more.

KidBunch

Kidbunch

Photo Caption: Daniel and Matías Escudero are Chilean co-founders of KidBunch.

 J: Introduce yourself and tell me where you are from.

I am Daniel. This is Matías. We are both brothers. We are co-founders of KidBunch and we are a Chilean company.

J: Tell me about your company.

We create mobile interactive adventures for kids. We created a brand of apps called Bean Bag Kids, and these are apps that perform stories or games through educational experiences.

Almost 2 years ago, I realized that the apps that my kid (he is now 4), was using were really more like games. They were not educational, and they were really ugly. You know, apps for kids used to be very, very basic. So, we saw this opportunity of building really good apps, with a team that we already had developing other things. We said, “Okay let’s see if we can define something here and see how it goes.” Our first product was Little Red Riding Hood.

 J: How did you hear about the Start-up Chile program and why did you decide to participate?

A friend of mine is from a previous generation and since we do development for clients he always asked us for quotes to do development for his sites. When he started his company, he wanted us to join. We didn’t, but he always invited us to meetups and to dinners.

At first I began coming to check out what was going on and felt really inspired. We got really curious and started coming to all these meetups and we went to a demo day. And we thought we could start a new company that does only this instead of swapping roles between clients and apps with our parallel company MundoMono. So, between being inspired through projects we saw and having this $40,000 for no equity it was like a no-brainer so that’s how we got to Start-up Chile.

J: What can you tell me about the startup community here in Chile? Are there changes that you have seen in the past few years?

I think about a couple of years ago you wouldn’t even have heard about Startups in Chile. This last couple of years I have seen this kind of hype in Chile of startups and people fundraising and talking about building their own companies.

Something we were really amazed about in San Francisco is that everyone had a startup and was really willing to share contacts and be helpful. That is something here that is starting to change. It is really amazing when you start doing that and when people come to me and ask me for advice. Nobody is used to that here and hopefully that really starts to change, quickly, because it really helps.

I feel there is some kind of hunger in Chile for new things and new ideas.  Eventually we will have this stronger entrepreneurial environment. But we’re still building it and I think Chileans are really eager to help build it and be welcoming to foreigners, to learn from them, to expand networks. I think it is a really positive thing going on in Chile.

J: What is the most important or surprising thing you have learned at Start-Up Chile? 

I think that what has most surprised me is the amount of excellent ideas, that are involved in Start-up Chile. It is full of those ideas that I think will be really big successes but they have to work hard to get there.

I think that also having peers from all kinds of backgrounds and countries is surprising. Since I am a musician I never thought I’d have, at any time in my life, a peer that worked in NASA or engineers from Portugal, and so on. I really enjoy that.

We, too, are surprised at what our government is trying to do, the shift in mentality, and trying to build this entrepreneurial community. I do really appreciate what they are trying to do and I think they are accomplishing something really important.

Easy Vino

Easy VinoPhoto caption: Hugo Bernardo is founder of Easy Vino.

J: Introduce yourself and tell me where you are from.

My name is Hugo. I’m originally from Portugal, but I’ve been living in San Francisco for the last three years and in the US for the last six.

J:Tell me about your company.

Easy Vino started as a recommendation app for wine. The problem we were trying to solve initially, was most people when they go to a restaurant, they don’t know how to pick wine. What we want is to get them a very quick recommendation on the spot that they could use immediately.

The way we did it was we started working with restaurants, getting their wine lists in our app and built a recommendation engine with some artificial intelligence that understands people’s tastes and then makes a recommendation for that specific restaurant.

We saw another pain point, which was the actual POS, the point of sale of the restaurant. Because we were integrating with point of sale, we realized that they’re expensive, they’re clunky, made mostly in the ‘90s, so not very flexible.

We started tackling that problem and now, we are basically building a POS that is way more flexible, open, and more adaptive to today’s technology.

J: How did you hear about the Start-up Chile program and why did you decide to participate?

I first heard of Start-up Chile last year at South by Southwest. Then later, in the summer, Startup Chile went to Silicon Valley. Right before the application deadline, my friend, who ended up as my cofounder, wanted to apply. We put together a team and the project and applied. It was just the perfect combination, the timing, the opportunity, for us to come here and start building the product, which, at that point was still early.

J:Tell me about the startup communities where you are from.

Portugal and San Francisco are on opposite sides of the spectrum of startup communities.

Portugal is not very different than what it is in Chile. Portugal has been growing lately mostly because of the recession. It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops because it’s just the last couple years where we saw a lot of activity going on, and a bunch of incubators and co-working space. I started to see the fundamentals of a startup community starting to get put together.

There’s a lot more invested right now than before. Ten years ago, I was starting my first company and it was absolutely impossible to find investment for early stage. Right now, you start seeing some angel groups and early stage funds that they use for investments less than 500K. There’s some positive things happening.

Other than that, I think there’s two things that we have: Great universities, which can feed into that ecosystem, and it’s also still a fairly cheap market. So with very little money, you can build a good product from a sophisticated technology standpoint. It’s a good test pad. Then if it works there, it can easily scale to a big market.

San Francisco was the complete opposite. I get there, and basically everything is startups. There are two things that stand out. One is the willingness of people to fail. I think that’s tremendously important because that’s what makes you really go for big bets. That happens because most companies there understand the value of trying. There’s no real backlash if you go and try to start up your own company and you fail. You still have a market for yourself and you can still go and find a job after that.

The other one is the collaboration of entrepreneurs and anyone that’s involved in startups. It’s very easy to feedback or find people to help you with issues that you might have. That support is really helpful when you start a company, at that very early stage. I would say those two things make Silicon Valley stand out as a startup community.

J: What the most important or surprising thing you learned at Startup Chile?

One of the things I really appreciate here, and I wasn’t sure how it would work, is peer mentorship because one of the things you don’t have at Startup Chile is mentors that are on top of what you’re doing every single week, tracking your progress.

Instead, you have a ton of support from the other entrepreneurs. I was kind of curious to see how that would work, and I think it’s working right. I see people helping each other with problems. There’s always someone that has been through a similar situation that can help you, and that also kind of helps you to keep track of your progress. I’m impressed about that portion of the program.

Photo credits: Peter Newhook