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Posted 4.11.16

Twenty-eight graduate students from the full-time MBA, part-time MBA, master’s of engineering and management, and law school traveled March 6-11 to experience the entrepreneurial environment of Chile. The Weatherhead International Institute trip to Chile was led by Michael Goldberg, assistant professor of design and innovation, and TA Jose Olivarria, a Chilean native. 

The group visited Santiago and Valparaiso with a full agenda of tours and presentations from representatives at Cumplo, Microsoft Chile, Farmacia Ahumada (Walgreens), Wenco, INACAP, Komatsu Chile, Start-Up Chile, Goldman Sachs Chile, and Kingston Family Vineyards. This diverse pool of startups, established businesses, international companies, and more gave the student group a broad perspective on business in Chile.

Weatherhead students stand in front of a Komatsu dump truck. photo by: Gail Thornton, Program Manager, Southbridge Access
photo by: Gail Thornton, Program Manager, Southbridge Access

Students blogged about their experiences on a website dedicated to the trip. The first full day of site visits included an economic briefing by Julie McPherson about doing business in Chile. The group then heard from Guillermo Acuña, the General Manager of Cumplo, about their innovative P2P lending model and Chile’s consumer lending industry. That afternoon, the students visited Microsoft Chile, the leading multinational IT company in Chile, to learn about their experience expanding into Chile.

“[Microsoft] invests in and fosters young companies to grow and scale to the point where they can be on their own. It means so much more to an investor or a bank that you have the backing of Microsoft,” said Andrew Ritosa about Microsoft Chile’s startup incubator. “On their own, small startups have very little hope of getting a loan or an investment without some kind of sure guarantee of success, but with a tech giant as a partner, it's almost a no-brainer.”

“After seeing the incubator, we got a tour of the rest of their brand new building, which is one of the first LEED Gold certified buildings in Chile,” Ritosa continued. “The interesting thing about their space is that there are no dedicated offices, but mostly open space or private meeting rooms. This kind of environment encourages collaboration and creativity by eliminating the ‘closed off’ feeling of a cubicle.”

Weatherhead students spelling out 'CWRU' and 'Ohio', photo by: Yusuke Hashimoto
photo by: Yusuke Hashimoto

Mid-trip, the students visited Farmacias Ahumada’s (Walgreens) modern distribution center for a tour and company presentation by Logistics Manager Sebastian Goycoolea. The group traveled to Wenco for a plant tour and company presentation in the afternoon.

The next morning, after a presentation from Goldberg about entrepreneurship at INACAP, the students from Weatherhead worked together with local students to talk about entrepreneurship in their distinct cultures. The workshop was translated in real-time so native speakers and English speakers could interact simultaneously.

“It was fascinating to learn how unexpectedly similar Santiago’s and Cleveland’s startup scenes are,” remarked Heather Frutig, full-time MBA student.

“The most fascinating part of the conversation for me was to learn how there was a set structure in the Chilean society when it came to pursuing a career. According to my Chilean friends career choices are still traditional and being an entrepreneur is still not considered a safe career choice,” Prafful Patel noted. “I could relate to this sentiment very well since India was at the same stage a few years ago, and being an entrepreneur wasn’t considered a great career move by any stretch of the imagination in the Indian society. Things have changed quite a bit since then and there has been more support in the society. I feel Chile is at the same stage, and if a proper ecosystem is built from the ground up, more people would be encouraged to pursue it as a career.”

Weatherhead students in Chile, photo by Gail Thornton, Program Manager, Southbridge Access
photo by Gail Thornton, Program Manager, Southbridge Access

After their session at INACAP, students headed out by tour bus to Komatsu Chile to be met by a “hauling truck the size of a whale,” writes Roger Schoch. The students learned about the Japanese company’s business practices in Chile, including their investment in educating employees on the safe and proper operation of huge equipment.

Students learned more about entrepreneurship in Chile from the Start-Up Chile Director of Global Networks following the company presentation and tour at Komatsu Chile. Start-Up Chile is an accelerator created by the Chilean government to boost entrepreneurship and innovation in Chile. It guides and supports both domestic and foreign entrepreneurs in their business endeavors in the country, working with over 3,000 entrepreneurs and 1,000 startups from over 70 countries since its founding five years ago.

“It was a great experience to get to see the accelerator at work, pushing the boundaries of entrepreneurship in LATAM,” said Ecehan Cezayirlioglu.

Later that evening, students heard from Tim Kingston, General Manager for Goldman Sachs, Santiago Chile. Kingston explained the challenges facing Chile, including energy, dependence on a commodity-based economy, bureaucratic density and a general aversion to risk. “The future for Chilean innovation seems to boil down to developing tactics and products to augment Chile's commodity-based economy with the tools of a knowledge-based economy to improve overall efficiency, and thereby drive down cost,” noted Brian McDonald.

The students traveled to Valparaiso and Kingston Family Vineyards on the penultimate day of their trip. At Kingston Vineyards, the students learned about Kingston’s direct-to-consumer business model. The vineyard encourages consumers to “subscribe” to one of its wine clubs. The wine clubs also include perks like complimentary tastings and tours. “The model also allows Kingston to offer its wines to consumers at a price that is presumably significantly lower than if the wines had to be sold through a retailer,” wrote Ana Tyler. “It also allows Kingston to retain control of the quality and integrity of the brand from warehouse to doorstep.”

For more about the Weatherhead International Institute trip to Santiago, Chile, visit the team’s website

ChileDiaries from Prafful Patel on Vimeo.

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