Start-Up Chile is a program created by the Chilean government – and organized by Corfo, via InnovaChile – that aims to attract early-stage world-class entrepreneurs and get them to develop their startups in Chile. It started in 2010, providing successful applicants (start-uppers, or “suppers”) with $40,000 USD of equity-free seed capital and a temporary one-year visa in Chile, where they also gain access to the country’s rapidly expanding social and capital networks.
I wanted to get into Start-Up Chile as soon as I heard about it. Chile, after all, is one of the countries (along with Australia, Singapore, and Canada) that can be said to be somewhat more open than the United States in welcoming foreigners with ideas and entrepreneurial passion. Based on my experience in setting up an online marketing company, I thought Start-Up Chile was the perfect place to launch another business venture. I’d also just spent several months in Medellin, Colombia, where I was able to hone my Spanish. And the generous equity-free capital sounded like a sweet deal, too.
So I submitted my application. After a few months of waiting, I received the news last May that Review Trackers, the online review monitoring solution that I created and hoped to continue developing at Start-Up Chile, was awarded a slot in the program. I was officially one of the “suppers”!
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I must say that the entire application process wasn’t as smooth and straightforward as the previous paragraph suggests. It took a lot of work, a lot of mistakes, a lot of other people’s help, and a lot of determination. Along the way I learned some lessons that, hopefully, young entrepreneurs will keep in mind when they themselves look to get into Start-Up Chile and other accelerators.
Not winning doesn’t mean giving up. Don’t dwell on the fact that your application doesn’t get accepted. Here’s the truth: Review Trackers was my second Start-Up Chile application. The first one didn’t make it. Between the two applications, I did a lot of research, asked a lot of questions, attended as many events as I could and networked like crazy to find people I could work with and opportunities I could seize. I consulted a friend who had made it and asked him to be candid with me about what I could do better on my next application – because no matter what, there was going to be another attempt.
Dedicate plenty of time to your application. One of the reasons why I failed to make Start-Up Chile on my first try is because I simply didn’t devote enough time to writing, editing, and polishing it. The application was crammed, like some sort of school paper. Start-Up Chile is not looking for school papers. It’s a program for high-potential, easily scalable, globally-minded, and highly innovative business ideas that you can execute, launch, or grow in Chile. On my second try, I began writing at least a month before the deadline – determined not to take this incredible opportunity for granted ever again.
Show that you have a service or product that works. Ideas are great, but action is better. That’s why, when I asked my friend who was already in Start-Up Chile for some feedback on the first draft of my second application, he noticed that Review Trackers already had a number of corporate users. “I would absolutely highlight this as much as possible,” he wrote to me, emphasizing that I should play to my strengths and show that I already have a built – and working – product (albeit in its early, pre-launch stage). He made a great point, too: Start-Up Chile is an accelerator program. It awards capital, not cash prizes for awesome ideas. So you really need to have a viable business model, if not a product or service that’s already proven it can make money.
Demonstrate your ability to network. One of the things that Start-Up Chile and other accelerators aim to accomplish is to establish and expand the local startup community. This won’t happen without social or capital networking. This is why I made it a point to include details of my involvement with Startup Weekend and similar entrepreneurial communities and events in my application. If you can demonstrate your ability to network, accelerators will definitely be more likely to have you as a welcome addition.
Show your passion for innovation. Review Trackers came naturally from my desire to respond to marketing clients who wanted to track online reviews of their businesses’ multiple locations. I believe that the key here is to innovate and generate your own opportunities – until you’ve come up with something new to offer. After all, the essence of an accelerator is like that of every other entrepreneurial endeavor: why make something that’s already been done?
Guest author Chris Campbell is the founder and Chief Tracking Officer of Review Trackers, a new B2B software and service company dedicated to helping business of all sizes monitor their online reviews. Review Trackers is currently in beta and scheduled to launch later this year.