Vivek Wadhwa talk sponsored by Start-Up Chile

I attended a couple of talks in Santiago sponsored by Start-Up Chile delivered by “academic, researcher, writer, and entrepreneur” Vivek Wadhwa. He suffered a heart attack a few years back, so he decided to give up on business to avoid suffering another that might kill him.

Vivek’s theory is that governments worldwide have squandered billions of dollars based on the false “cluster theory” that economic growth can be fostered by providing an infrastructure of universities with nearby industrial parks and venture capitalists. Instead, Vivek claims, the real need is to attract a network of brave smart people willing to accept the high risk of starting a business; and since people who move to another country accept risk, they are more likely to drive growth than the locals.

Many people in the Chilean government have endorsed this theory and Start-Up Chile is the result. The government is bribing selected foreigners with $40K handouts, hoping that a network of techies will create “The Next Silicon Valley”. For more info, see Ben Casnocha’s description and Vivek’s TechCrunch article.

Semantic Web expert Aldo Bucchi pointed out to Vivek in the Q&A session that there are many Chilean techies who did not receive a $40K handout; so, what should the government say or do to mollify them? Vivek responded that other handouts are available for the locals.

Foreigners like me who did not apply for the handout, or who applied and were rejected, must leave the country every 90 days. Most of us go to Mendoza, Argentina for the weekend, but I received an email a few days ago soliciting companions to go to a few attractions like restaurants in the Argentinian side of the Andes, and return the same day.

If Chile is serious about attracting foreigners, they’d be wise to allow us to stay 180 or 360 days, or until we commit a crime, become indigent, or behave in some other way that burdens them. Instead, they act as if they’re flooded with immigrants even though there are slightly more Chileans leaving than foreigners arriving. They treat the British especially shabbily, forcing Chilean businesses to pay a $2000 annual tribute for the “privilege” of employing one.

Chile should also clean up their corrupt banking sector. Every time I use the ATM, it costs me $5 on the Chile side and only $2 on the USA side; and the most I can withdraw is $400. Foreigners can’t open a bank account until they buy real estate or live here for 2 years. I lived in Mexico several winters and found their banks to be much better.

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