Note: It might seem funny, but I’ve never written a standalone post about doing business in Chile. If you’re interested in going deeper, please check out the Chile category on the blog, as there’s 8 years of content about what it’s like, delving deep on banking, real estate, startups, investing and more.
Chile is a long, thin country at the tip of Latin America that is widely considered one of the best countries in the region to do business. Across several indicators in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Chile beats out the regional competition. In 2018, Chile ranked 55th in the world on the World Bank’s Doing Business report, coming in just after Mexico, which ranked 49th. However, in recent years, Chile’s business-friendly reputation has slid from 34th to 55th which has been subject to some controversy.
Still, Chile is undoubtedly one of the most influential economies in the region, despite its small size. Chile’s population reaches just 17 million people, but the country is extremely centralized. The capital, Santiago, is home to 7 million people, or one-third of the total population. By comparison, São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, has over 21 million inhabitants – more than the entire country of Chile.
Chile’s overall GDP was US$247B in 2016, 28% of which is made up of exports. Chile is the world’s largest exporter of copper, and it also exports lithium, fish, and wine. While Chile’s overall GDP appears small beside giants like Brazil (US$1.8T) and Mexico (US$1.1T), its population is more than ten times smaller. When measured per capita, Chile’s GDP is the second-highest in the region after Uruguay.
Note: A version of this post appeared as a column in Spanish in Chile’s El Mercurio with the title Emprendedores chilenos: Pierdan el miedo a EE.UU. Although this post focuses on Chilean entrepreneurs, it can also apply to other Latin American entrepreneurs. From what I’ve seen, Mexican entrepreneurs are the least scared of the US market, followed by Argentinians, Colombians, then Chileans, who generally think they don’t have much of a shot at competing in the US. This mindset is slowly changing and this article’s goal is to push it along faster.
A few weeks ago, COPEC, a Chilean convenience store and gasoline service station chain, acquired Delek, a US convenience store and gas station chain with 348 US locations for $535MM. COPEC has operations in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama, but this is their first foray into the US market. It’s an important step for Chile because it shows that both big companies and startups alike shouldn’t be scared of the US market. In fact, they should view the US market as a big opportunity to expand outside of their home markets.
For way too long, when Chilean companies large and small have wanted to expand out of Chile, they’d look at Peru, Colombia and maybe Mexico. But we’re recently seeing a big change, both by startups and by big companies like COPEC.
When I meet with US and European entrepreneurs and investors, they frequently want to know what startups are doing well in Latin America.
There are generally three types of startups that generally do well:
1. Latin America based startups solving problems for Latin American market
2. Startups that target the US/European market and have a Latin American back office
3. Brazilian startups that generally target the Brazilian market
Each niche has their own pros and cons, but at Magma, we invest in a subset of the first niche: B2B startups that are based in Latin America and serve Latin American companies and the second niche: startups that target the US/European market, but have their back office in Latin America.
I’ll leave Brazil’s burgeoning startup scene aside for now and focus on some of the most interesting startups I’m seeing in Spanish speaking Latin America. Post in the comments if there’s a startup you think I should include. (more…)
Lots of entrepreneurs ask me about Chilean investors and venture capital firms. Here’s my list that I usually send them. Hopefully it’s helpful.
Magma Partners – We’re the only fully private investment fund in Chile. We invest early stage and like to be first investors into companies. We’ll do initial investments of $25-$75k and can follow on with up to $250,000 per company. We like two niches: B2B businesses in Latin America and companies that have their back office in Latin America, but whose primary market is in the US or Europe. 26 investments in 2.5 years. $5m fund. Presence in Colombia, Mexico, USA.
The Chilean government, via CORFO, offers venture capital funds incentives to invest in Chile. For every $1 funds invest, CORFO can match an additional $2 or $3 with low interest debt that they forgive if you fail, but you must repay if you’re successful. Here’s the full fund list across all industries. These are the more startup focused funds.
– In 2015, Nazca was acquired
by Mountain Partners
, a successful German/Swiss VC and company builder. They generally invest $200k-$500k in companies that can scale regionally and potentially expand to other mountain offices in Europe, Asia and Africa. Nazca has offices in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. Mountain has offices in multiple countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.