Rocio Fonseca is the Executive Director of Start-Up Chile, a program supported by the Chilean government which helps provide a whole range of resources and support to those who are interested in bringing their ideas and entrepreneurial ambitions to Chile. We spoke about life in Chile, Chilean’s outlook on globalization, and job opportunities for expats.
Around the globe, many countries are becoming more nationalistic and making efforts to close off to the rest of the world. Chile seems to be actually moving in the other direction in terms of making an effort to attract foreign talent.
Yeah we are. Start-Up Chile is a government program and part of a larger network that is currently in 80 different countries. Here in Chile, we work really closely with foreign affairs and we never have issues with people applying for visas. We don’t have a special visa for Start-Up Chile yet, but we have a very good relationship with the ministry and they give us 1-year working visas for our startups as well as visas for their significant others which makes me really happy.
What types of people are coming to Chile for Work?
It has been interesting to see the changes in the types of people who are interested in coming to Chile. It used be younger, recent graduates with startup ideas applying for our 1-work visa. Now we are seeing more people bringing teams of two or three or five people and each team member bringing families. That spirit of innovation is the same but the types of people who have been coming has been changing over the years. That has been a challenge for us because the needs of a 30 year old who has already started one or two businesses before has more experience than a younger first-time entrepreneur, but of course the same passion for creating new things.
Let’s say that I want to work for a startup in Chile, but not necessarily my own. Is that possible?
Yes, you can apply for a work visa in Chile. Right now it is a bit of a slow process, a couple of months, but we are trying to improve that process actually as well. We are aware that we are a small country, just 18 million people, and when you want to promote technology and innovation, that requires a large supply of highly qualified people and professionals. So if we want to innovate with volume, we have to begin looking to bring people in from abroad. If we want Chile to change and develop, we can’t wait 20 years for the next generation of Chilean Engineers.
What about current companies? Are they interested in international talent?
Sure! Every company has their own policies of course. Like many Latin American countries, we rely a lot on our natural resource, such as through agriculture, and that is one of the reasons that I think there needs to be a bit of urgency in our efforts to move forward because for Chile to develop, it will need to move beyond agriculture in the long term.
So if we want to innovate with volume, we have to begin looking to bring people in from abroad. If we want Chile to change and develop, we can’t wait 20 years for the next generation of Chilean Engineers.
That is where technology becomes very important. Now that there are a lot of small companies and even a few large corporations popping up around Chile, they need those highly qualified professionals. And of course we have professionals here, but with such a small population, we don’t have enough to supply the needs of Chile in the near future.
What types of jobs are hot right now in Chile?
I think everything related to technology: software engineers, hardware, robotics, healthcare, biotech, corporation logistics, those types of things. And of course entrepreneurship.
How do you see the future for Chile in terms of jobs and opening up even more to international skilled labor?
The nice thing about Chile is that it is really stable economically and politically, so the future looks quite good. Since Start-Up Chile is part of the government, we are always working with the different ministries and making sure we all understand that in order to move forward and develop our technology and innovation sectors, we require a lot of skilled labor, and so far Chile has been very proactive in promoting initiatives to bring that talent here.
What types of characteristics do Chilean companies look for in talent?
We are looking for hardworking people, very passionate about their work, and startups that want to use Chile as a platform to come to Latin America. What I really love about the startups coming to Chile is that they are focused on solving global problems like water scarcity or energy or climate change or industry efficiency and social issues that can be solved through technology. And Chile is an awesome country to test those types of technologies, so I really like those startups that are focused on solving those types of social issues. And hopefully those solutions start in Chile but spread throughout Latin America.
We are looking for hardworking people, very passionate about their work, and startups that want to use Chile as a platform to come to Latin America.
And we also love those startups that are willing to help give back to the Chilean communities as well through, say, visiting universities or high schools to work with local students and talk about entrepreneurship or robotics and help make an impact through social initiatives.
How does professional networking work in Chile?
It isn’t too hard to get in contact with people in Chile. I highly recommend you have someone to introduce you to the person that you are interested in speaking with just to make sure that person will reply to your phone call or email.
A problem in Chile is that Chileans don’t know how to say “no,” so you may end up having 10 meetings with someone just because they don’t want to tell you “no.” We are actually trying to change this about some of our companies. Americans are experts on this, I really like that about Americans, you can immediately know if they like you or not.
With meetings, a meeting you might have in the US that takes 15 minutes might take 1 hour here. You will talk about family, the weather, exchange pleasantries to begin with and then after all of that you can talk about business. This is just the Latin style so you have to be patient, but I like it.
I know you spent some time in the US so I am curious about how you feel that experience may have shaped you and what you took from it personally and professionally?
You know, if you look at a map, Chile is like the last country in the world, it is so far from everything. We are like an island from the rest of the world. The result being that there isn’t much diversity here. That is part of why we developed Start-Up Chile, to bring in people from around the world and hear ideas from people with different perspectives from our own.
Me personally, I considered myself very open minded before studying and living abroad in the US; I studied at MIT and then lived in Palo Alto, California. In both places you can see the difference diversity can make. When you have people from multiple cultures working together, you can create really outstanding products or ideas because everyone brings a little different perspective to the project. You just don’t get the same quality when you have a group of people who think the same and tackle problems in the same way.
When you have people from multiple cultures working together, you can create really outstanding products or ideas because everyone brings a little different perspective to the project.
So diversity I think is really how you create great things. I believed that before living abroad, but after my trip, I am 10000% sure about it.
What does that mean for most Chileans who are a little isolated and maybe aren’t exposed to diversity on a regular basis? How do they view foreign people?
I have never heard of any problems from our entrepreneurs as far as really negative culture clashes. You know, six years ago was very different: there was so little diversity in Chile, everyone looked the same, if you saw an Asian guy walking down the street or someone from Africa or wherever, everyone would turn and look just because it was so rare to see someone who didn’t look Chilean.
But today, we see people from all over the world and from different cultures and Chileans hardly even notice anymore. It has already become a globalized culture in that sense. Of course, you have some people who don’t like having “foreigners” just as with any country, but generally it is very open and welcome. You can see that just through our visas; we bring from abroad through our program and no one has a problem getting a visa.
What is life like outside of work in Chile? What might I find myself doing on a Friday night or Saturday?
Well, nightlife is huge here. We have tons of bar and restaurants and nightclubs and people love to go out, even after work on Monday. We are wine lovers and big wine producers so, me, I love having wine and having parties with friends. Of course, it depends on how old you are and how much energy you have but the bar will be empty until midnight and then after midnight bars will start to fill out. Dinner is very late, around 9 or 10 PM, so we have a very active nightlife. And it ends at like 5 or 6 AM, it is insane. But I really like it. I love to go out, but these days I don’t have as much energy, so by 2 AM, I really want to go to bed.
We also have mountains, rivers, and oceans so the amount of outdoor activities that you can do here is endless. Whatever crazy outdoor adventures you want to go on are very near the city; the ocean is 1.5 hour away from the city, all the wineries are in between the city and the ocean, and 45 minutes away from the city in the mountain you can go skiing. You can take a plane 1 hour south and you will have glaciers and lakes and rivers. I am really passionate about my country, I love the geography and the people and as a foreigner you have access to all of this stuff to do.