Teenage entrepreneurs in Ovalle

Chilean Scene, Event

Paloma is Chilean and she is the founder at Garden Gnome and she shares here her experience in Ovalle.


“It’s a new type of street light, instead of different colors, it has images”, Claudia tells me in her most serious voice, she is 14 years old and wearing the slightly cooler, more athletic version, of their school uniform. She is one of the many teenagers attending our workshops in entrepreneurship at a local high school in Ovalle, an initiative started by Innovacien a foundation that brings entrepreneurial education to remote areas in Chile.

I manage to hold back my personal opinions and instead I hear my self saying, “I am intrigued…how are you planning to sell these new street lights?”, Claudia squints at me quickly and then says, “with an exceptionally good sale!”. We all laugh together as I witnesses the priceless moment of when the penny drops for a group of teenagers. They immediately start chatting among themselves, who would actually buy a street light? and the difference between user and customer. Johannes, my cofounder, asks them in broken spanglish, “how are you going to convince the market that your street lights are better and actually prevent accidents?”. They all agree that gathering testing statistics is essential. One of them suggests testing the concept on a street corner without having a “real”street light, but a decent workable mock-up so they can gather the data with a smaller initial investment. They just adopted lean start-up and rapid prototyping strategies effortlessly, without even noticing, but more important, they are managing the unknowns like pros, and they have started to think a few steps ahead, no small feat for a teenager. I move on to the next group.

An hour later they deliver a flawless pitch in front of the most critical of audiences, their peers. The street lights have now morphed into a sensor-driven solution for increased pedestrian security at heavy traffic intersections. I’m sold, I need one, why don’t I have one already in my street corner?

Their pitch is followed by a long line of brilliant ideas from other groups, many tainted by the fact that they live in an agricultural community that recently started to suffer from a sever decrease of water and energy. When we discuss optimal placement of solar cells I noticed that they listen as if their life depended on it, then it dawns on me that it does. We leave with the satisfying feeling that what we just did truly matters.

On the way out one of the older girls grabs me, she is Anyela with a “y”, and wants my opinion on her artisan doll making as a business. We discuss the benefits of being in high school making a handmade customisable product versus an established factory production by the thousands. I also tell her that there are sites where she can sell her artisan dolls, but they do tend to charge 20%. Her whole face goes sour by idea of sharing that much of her profit. Eventually she comes to terms with the number but then asks me, “how difficult is it to make one of those sites?”

Our work is done, I know these teens are not only going to make it but they might just take over. I really hope they do.