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[Herald Interview] Chile beckons Korean entrepreneurs

Recent university graduates face the daunting task of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives.

Chile might have an answer for graduates with tech ideas.

“Startup Chile is a program that’s aimed to attract innovation and obtain the positive spillover effects of technology ventures,” said Chile Executive Vice President of the Foreign Investment Committee Matias Mori.

The idea is to attract foreign, high-potential entrepreneurs to come to Chile to bootstrap their businesses with the end goal of turning Chile into the innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America.

In 2010, the program brought 23 teams from around the world, providing them a $40,000 stipend for six months, and a temporary 1-year visa to develop their projects along with access to social and capital networks in the country.

So far, no requests have come from Korea but the embassy and the Chilean government hope this will change this year.

The countries’ relationship dates back to 1949 when Chile was the first Latin American country to recognize the newly established South Korean government. In 2003, they embarked on another first, a free trade agreement, the first for Korea.

Today, Chile is looking to expand on this deal by providing Korean investors access to 21 other similar agreements with 58 countries, or 62.5 percent of the world population.

“Our greatest incentive is political stability and a sound institutional framework to conduct business,” he told The Korea Herald.
Matias Mori. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Matias Mori. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

Chile is also working on an international trade and investment agreement with Brazil that will give Korean investors access to the largest Latin American market without having to wait for the almost dead Korea-MERCOSUR FTA talks to resume.

The deal would make Chile the hub of Latin America while Brazil would gain access to other parts of the world.

Yet, Latin America is a huge region with many possibilities.

Mori pointed out that Chile’s free-market policies and openness to trade have shaped the country into a highly competitive economy placing them first among Latin American countries in last year’s World Competitiveness Yearbook.

According to the Institute for Management Development, Chile’s strengths include the resilience of its economy, good management of public finances, low government debt, low level of risk of its financial systems and the availability of competent executives and qualified engineers.

Furthermore, Chile was ranked the 15th most attractive place in which to do business and invest over the next five years according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Earlier this year, Chile was hit by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. The area affected was home to 80 percent of the country’s population and some $30 billion in damage was caused.

In response, the Chilean government launched a four-year, $8.4 billion reconstruction plan.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and this package encompasses work to rebuild housing, hospitals, schools, bridges, roads and ports,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama summed up the potential of the region: “Latin America is not the old stereotype of a region in perpetual conflict or trapped in endless cycles of poverty. The world must now recognize Latin America for the dynamic and growing region that it truly is.”

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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