Every summer, top undergraduate students in the engineering and computer science departments spend a summer working with an Endeavor and Endeavor Entrepreneurs to assist in technical work assignments. These students are driven by interests in bridging technology and society through innovation, design, and entrepreneurship. Following is a post from Matt Doup, a PiLA participant who spent the summer working with the Endeavor Chile office.
There’s a common expression in Spanish: “tírate a la piscina”, roughly translating to “throw yourself in the deep end”. In many ways, that phrase perfectly sums up my experience at Endeavor Chile. Working in a second language is challenging. Working in a second language with the country’s top entrepreneurs and leading business professionals while analyzing hundreds of business models is something entirely different. That prospect is doubly intimidating when, on day one, one can barely understand a word spoken at the weekly office breakfast, only to discover that Chileans don’t, in fact, speak Spanish (I don’t know how I had overlooked that minor detail). They speak Chilean: a hyper-fast , sing-song-y dialect punctuated by pseudo-English words like “cachai” (you catch?), or “po” (no meaning whatsoever, yet added onto the end of most sentences).
I nonetheless thought the task of identifying what Endeavor calls “High-Impact Entrepreneurs” would be somewhat straightforward. Chile, on paper, is an entrepreneurial mega-hub. Not only have open markets and business-friendly tax policies* resulted in a flowering of disruptive home-grown start-ups, but innovative government initiatives like Start-Up Chile, a program that provides entrepreneurs from around the world with US$40K to bootstrap their companies in Santiago, have begun to attract gloabl talent, resulting in an environment that many are referring to (perhaps optimistically) as Chilecon Valley. The reality that I found, however, is that “culture” tends to lag behind policy in Chile: the country is characterized by pervasive social conservatism, fear of risk-taking (entrepreneurs often operate 5-6 businesses simultaneously to hedge their bets should one fail), and, like much of Latin America, rampant classism. Couple these social norms with two major structural factors— the lack of quality public education, and vulture, rather than venture, capitalists, and the future of entrepreneurship in Chile looks far less rosy.
Enter Endeavor. Endeavor holds a critical place in the Chilean ecosystem— one that is helping to break down psychological barriers through storytelling: the brother-sister duo who turned a healthy home-made cookie recipe into the country’s leading on-the-go snacks brand; the three friends who saw an opportunity to beat out McDonald’s at the local level, developing a franchise spanning five brands and with operations in Chile and Brazil; two brothers who identified inefficiencies in shipping and maritime logistics in the Patagonia, becoming the first company in the region to provide these services;two sisters who were able to take their father’s clothing store and turn it into the premier children’s clothing brand in Chile. I witnessed first-hand how these narratives collectively served to inspire Chilean entrepreneurs to action: both in taking more risks and dreaming bigger.
Some of the highlights from my year as a PiLA at Endeavor Chile included: attempting (and failing) to institute a Monday-morning breakfast burrito tradition; working with aspiring high school-aged entrepreneurs at a three-day youth camp in Chilean wine country; hiking the infamous “W” in Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia; serving as the “office elf”, dancing while handing out presents at the office holiday party (I will never quite get used to 90-degree Decembers); gorging on “empanadas de pino” at our office party to celebrate Sept. 18 (Chilean Independence Day); losing and subsequently having to replace my passport; bicycle wine tours and Puerta Cerradas in Mendoza; being known permanently as “Max” at Starbucks Chile; developing an unhealthy obsession for “palta” (creamy Chilean avocados); being made fun of to no end by coworkers for my love of said palta.
When not voraciously consuming palta, traveling, or perfecting my elf-dancing routine, I focused on carrying out the Endeavor mission, working with almost every type of company under the sun: stevia production, baby E-commerce, mining technology, cell phone cases, a sushi restaurant, even wastewater management using earthworms! Because of the small size of the office, I was fortunate be given the opportunity to take the reigns on a number of aspects of the Search & Selection process, the culmination of which was opportunity to lead the preparation of two companies for the International Selection Panel in Florianopolis, Brazil. Overall, it was tremendously rewarding to have played a significant role in Endeavor’s selection of nine entrepreneurs across five companies during my year in Chile! I’ve gotten very close with a lot of the Endeavor Chile staff, as well as a number of the entrepreneurs that I worked with. And I’m proud to say that I only let one “cachai” slip during my entire year there.