Paige: You're listening to Coffee with Gringos. I'm Paige Sutherland.
Mariah: And I'm Mariah Wika. Welcome back to the podcast. This week, we are with a special guest, Grace Donovan, who will be talking about entrepreneurship in Chile. Thanks so much for being with us, Grace!
Grace: Glad to be here!
Mariah: And remember, as you're listening to the episode, of course there will be three of us talking, it'll be more than Paige and I, as usual. And so if you get lost along the way, the transcript and vocabulary guide are on the website to help you out.
Paige: Like Mariah said, thanks Grace for being here. Since you are new to the show, introduce yourself. Where are you from? How long have you been in Chile?
Grace: So I'm from Oregon in the United States, so that's on the west coast, and I've been in Chile for five years now.
Mariah: Wow! A veteran.
Grace: Yes, it has been a while. Uh, I, when I came to Chile, I came initially for a job in Antofogasta, so I immediately moved up north and was there for three years and have spent the last two years in Santiago.
Mariah: Okay. Very cool.
Paige: And, what kind of work do you do here?
Grace: I work in Entrepreneurship. I work for a nonprofit organization called Endeavor. And the mission of our organization is to support entrepreneurs in emerging economies and provide them support that you typically find in Silicon Valley. And so that's creating networks of mentors and other business leaders and entrepreneurs who desire the best for the ecosystem in general. And so we look for the most promising, high impact entrepreneurs in Chile and provide them support so that they can continue to grow and build amazing businesses that create a lot of jobs and have a big impact, not only on Chile, but in the region.
Mariah: That's so cool! That's super interesting. So, can you tell us a little bit more about the entrepreneurship scene, the ecosystem in Chile?
Grace: Yeah. So, Chile actually has one of the most robust entrepreneurship ecosystems in Latin America. There are a lot of programs that put Chile on the map in terms of entrepreneurship. You have a government that's very pro-entrepreneur, and so we have programs like Start-Up Chile that's recognized internationally, and you get a lot of entrepreneurs coming to Santiago to start their businesses, and they stay here for six months and usually return to their home markets and sometimes they stay here. And I mean, I think entrepreneurship in general is something that a lot of people are talking about now in Chile it's something that is emerging as a new career. It's being studied in universities. There's a lot of interest in it. I think the big challenge that Chile has is that it's a very small market, so actually building a very, very large company that's recognized, again, internationally is very tough. A lot of neighboring countries have been able to do this because it's easier to get more clients.
Paige: And you've been at this same company for about five years? What are some of the most memorable projects that you've worked with?
Grace: There have been many. So, the first three years, I was focused on the mining industry because in Antofogasta, the innovation ecosystem is centered on mining, and so there. I've worked with entrepreneurs that are from Iquique, so in Iquique, there's an entrepreneur who makes very efficient, high altitude vertical turbine pumps, which are really large pumps that are used in the mining industry, and he is able to make these pumps with recycled materials, and so he's very vertically integrated, they're extremely efficient, and it's part of the circular economy. So, taking old pumps, recycling them, making them new and selling them back to the mines to make it a more sustainable operation. We also work with entrepreneurs in bio-technology who are creating solutions using bacteria to reduce dust in mine sites and improve the efficiency of the leeching process, again, so separating copper from the mineral. We also work with entrepreneurs who make the leeching process much more efficient and much more safe. And these are entrepreneurs who sometimes don't have a degree, who don't come from a necessarily successful family, and oftentimes in Chile, there is this perception that if you are to be successful, you have to be born successful... and that's something that in our organization, we really try to highlight those who aren't born with a silver spoon in their mouth. You know we've worked with entrepreneurs who grew up in really poor neighborhoods or who used to sell French fries on the street but now run multimillion dollar companies. And those are really important stories to tell, pull yourself up by your boot straps type of stories, which aren't very common here, I think. And they're also not commonly told. And in, you know, in Santiago we work with a lot of retail and software and agriculture and food industry companies. There's a lot of really, really interesting things and innovations that are happening in Chile in general. I have so many more examples.
Paige: I bet.
Mariah: What would you say is the most inspiring part of your work? And what would you say is the most discouraging?
Grace: I'd say the most inspiring part of my job is just being able to see how these entrepreneurs overcome so many barriers and really make their businesses work. It's really amazing to see the success stories within their own companies of people that they've worked with or people that they service that have much more opportunities or opportunities to travel or do really interesting things thanks to the job that they have with this company. And also see them as they grow abroad, as they raise money, as they purchase other companies, and grow organically and into new markets, and really see them growing and having such a huge impact on the company. And we get to see them overtime as they grow and mature and become even more efficient and even better at what they do, and it's inspiring to hear about what they've overcome to get to that point. Whether that's losing a really big contract and having to unfortunately fire a lot of your staff but then being able to bounce back or y'know, any number of setbacks that can happen. And just, you know, they keep marching forward. And that's really admirable. And then the most discouraging part of the job... that's tough. It's hard to say.
Paige: Have you had people with great ideas, but maybe they don't want to take that leap?
Grace: We've had people come to pitch ideas to us where they've spent a very, very long time thinking about producing a minimum viable product, which is the basic that you need to go to market and even test if the idea works. They've been thinking about it for a year... and haven't done anything. And so, we say, "Well, maybe come back!" You know, when you have something to show for it. So we get a lot of people with ideas... I think we actually get more of the opposite, so people that have an idea that they think is absolutely amazing, and they're gonna go to the moon and back with this idea, and you've seen this idea many times before... And it's really hard to get excited, and you mimic the excitement of the entrepreneur... when you've seen so many people trying to solve the same problem.
Paige: So it seems like you have two problems: people who think they're trail blazers but aren't and then people who come and have half-baked ideas.
Grace: We do have to weed out a lot of the really good ideas. We interview hundreds of entrepreneurs a year and select six on average per year.
Grace: So, it takes a long time for us to find the entrepreneurs that we want to support. But, once we do, we are absolutely sure that these entrepreneurs are doing amazing things, that they have innovation that's not going to disappear tomorrow, that a competitors not going to be able to come in and take over, and that their innovation gives them enough of a competitive edge that they're going to be able to grow well. And so we know that they're also at a point in time where their growth trajectory is pointing upwards, and we look for entrepreneurs that have between one to three million dollars in sales annually at the point where we select them as Endeavor entrepreneurs, and so that's kind of what we're focusing on because at that point they have enough traction in the market that they're now focusing on scaling rather than just getting a client base, and so that's the other really important thing that we look for as we try to push these entrepreneurs to grow and expand, from beyond Santiago and regions, to Chile, to Peru, to Argentina, to Mexico, and to the US.
Paige: I'm very new to this economy of entrepreneurship. Would you say it's what you do... is it like Shark Tank? For some listeners who might know... would it be kind of similar?
Grace: It's similar in a way. So we qualify more as an accelerator because we do not invest in our entrepreneurs. There is a venture capital ecosystem here in Chile that we do work closely with, and y'know, try to maintain a healthy working relationship. We do have international selection panels. So, our process is not only in Chile, we are a global organization, and we take our entrepreneurs abroad whenever they're ready to be selected or whenever they're ready to complete this final step in the process, and they have to present their company in front of a panel of six judges, and these six judges are usually very successful business executives and/or entrepreneurs so people that run Fortune 500 companies or entrepreneurs who have built successful companies and have raised a certain amount of venture capital and have reached a certain level of scale, and that is very much like Shark Tank. So the entrepreneurs that are being selected come in and have five minutes to present their company and back it up with a ten page business profile that we write for them, and then they have an hour long discussion, and then there are deliberations as to whether or not they will be accepted into our organization, and the vote has to be unanimous.
Mariah: That's intense!
Grace: It's very intense, but it's a lot of fun.
Mariah: I bet there's an adrenaline rush there.
Grace: Oh for sure! It's definitely a tense, and as staff, we've trained our entrepreneurs to give a pitch within five minutes and in English, and that's oftentimes difficult because we take entrepreneurs that don't speak English sometimes, and I have had to sit at tables with panelists and do live translations that aren't necessarily rehearsed or... you know you work really hard so that your entrepreneur will memorize what they need to say and then just hope that your panelists speak Spanish so that they can also ask questions during the question and answer session. It's fun for sure, but it's work, and it can be exhilarating, really exciting, but also really disappointing when things don't work out the way you hoped.
Mariah: I'm sure, I can only imagine. So you said that some of these judges are big name Fortune 500 company owners. Who is the most famous person you have met through your work?
Grace: The most famous person I have ever met...
Mariah: Or the coolest person.
Paige: Are Mariah and Paige... the hosts of Coffee with Gringos!
Mariah: Other than us. Successful podcast hosts. Maybe somebody you were jazzed about meeting...
Grace: Well, I have not met this person yet, but Reed Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and one of the founders of PayPal is part of our organization. I don't think he's ever been a panelist though, but he does show up every so often at our events.
Mariah: That's pretty cool!
Grace: Focused on Latin America, the most famous person I've met multiple times at this point is Nicolas Szekasty, who's one of the founders of Mercado Libre. It's an Argentinian Company. They're one of the first Argentinian startups to ever go public, and y'know, have a tremendous business that is on par with EBay. We've all used Mercado Libre or Mercado Pago. We all know it. And these guys are just so intense and very, very smart. They know so much about business and also have a venture capital fund now that is one of the most active investing funds in the region, and I think if you're lucky enough to get investment from Classic Ventures, which is their fund, and they also have a corporate venture capital fund, y'know you have access to investors who are entrepreneurs who have been in your shoes and know exactly what it takes to build a really successful business, and that's just such a huge asset. And so, I'm very intimidated by them sometimes because of course I have to defend my candidates to these individuals who know so much more than I do, but I also have tremendous respect for what they've built.
Paige: For your line of business, you speak mostly Spanish at work?
Grace: Yes! 90% of my time is spent speaking Spanish.
Paige: And to go back, we didn't really touch on it, but how was your learning process with Spanish?
Grace: So I learned Spanish in high school. I did an exchange to Spain when I was 16, so I spent ten months in Spain. I failed all of my classes because I didn't understand anything, but I had to make them up over time and eventually passed. Of course the first semester the only things that I actually passed were physical education and English. Big surprise!
Mariah: And it's wild because without speaking Spanish, you were going to high school 100% in Spanish... which is, I mean, for language learners that are listening, I'm sure that they can understand what a massive challenge that would have been.
Grace: It was exhausting! Wanting to just stop paying attention because I was really tired and not being able to... but I remember I would take notes and because I was in Spain, it was actually a lot easier to understand what they were saying because I could easily tell the difference between the letter "S", "C", and "Z." But I would write all the words that I recognized because I was in lectures in high school, and in my little notebook, I would write the words I recognized and then whenever I didn't write I would just squiggly line, draw a squiggly line until I understood something else. And then I would always borrow a friend's notebook at the end of everyday, take it home, and then fill in all of my squiggly lines with the actual words.
Paige: That's a lot of work!
Grace: It was a lot of work, and of course, this was y'know in mid-2000's, and I didn't have a laptop, so it was all done by hand.
Mariah: Oh my gosh, that's commitment! That sounds like something that our listeners could do when they're listening to Coffee with Gringos, right? Write it word for word!
Grace: Write down what you understand! I got better and better at it as I learned to distinguish words, and that was important, and then after college, I moved to the Dominican Republic and regained fluency, and then when I came to Chile, I felt very confident in my Spanish, but I was not expecting Spanish to be spoken so quickly and with a much heavier accent than I ever anticipated. Also, with all the modismos and slang that they use, it took me a long time to get back at a level where I really, really had control over the language. I worked in mining in the beginning, and I remember in the office we'd always talk about "minas," and I thought they were talking about mines, of course! But I was like, "why are they using such interesting language to describe a mine?!" When I later learned that they were talking about women.
Mariah: Oh that's a good one.
Grace: They were always talking about how mines are so complicated! "Las minas son muy complicadas." And it still made sense! But I think there was something about the tone and the facial expressions that didn't quite fit actual mining.
Mariah: Okay, so you've been in Chile for five years now, what comes next for you?
Grace: So, I will actually be leaving next month, which is very sad. I'm going to miss Chile so dearly, but I will continue to work in entrepreneurship with the same company. I'm staying with Endeavor, but I'm moving to Detroit, Michigan. So, I'll be working with entrepreneurs in Michigan.
Mariah: Virtually the same as Santiago.
Grace: I've never been to that area of the United States, so it's like going to a new country within my country.
Mariah: Midwest is best!
Grace: West Coast best coast.
Paige: East Coast??
Mariah: You don't have a catchy rhyme, Paige!
Paige: I'll have to think about that one.
Grace: I went to college on the East Coast, I have family on the East Coast. I love the East Coast, but the West Coast is home. And, I'm just really excited to see what things are happening in Detroit. Of course, we all kind of know the story of how Detroit was so affected by the financial crisis in 2009, so there's a lot of rebuilding going on, and I think it's definitely a city that's rising from the ashes so to speak, and entrepreneurs are a big part of that. So, I'm really excited to see what they're building!
Mariah: Fantastic. Well, I'm glad that we had a chance to get you on the podcast before you take off. Thank you so much for sharing so much with us today. I know that I learned a lot. I'm sure our listeners did too. Thanks so much for listening, and we will talk to you soon!
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES, AND SLANG
Entrepreneurship (noun) - the activity of creating a business
Example: People who work in entrepreneurship take risks to create businesses. Grace says that the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Chile is very strong.
Entrepreneur (noun) - a person who works to make their idea into a business
Example: Grace’s company identifies and supports entrepreneurs with really great ideas!
Nonprofit (adjective) - an organization that is not designed to make profit
Robust (adjective) - strong and healthy
Example: Chile actually has one of the most robust entrepreneurship ecosystems in Latin America.
Emerge (verb) - to become important or known
Example: Entrepreneurship in Chile is emerging as a new career.
Neighboring countries (noun) - countries right next to each other
Example: Peru, Bolivia, and Chile are neighboring countries.
Circular economy (noun) - an economic system that minimizes waste
Example: Entrepreneurs that are part of the circular economy have to be very creative about recycling and using their resources well.
Born with a silver spoon in their mouth (idiom, phrase) - born with an easy, rich life, this person does not have to put in effort to be successful
Example: In our organization, we really try to highlight entrepreneurs who are NOT born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
Pull themselves up by the bootstraps (idiom, phrase) - to work hard and independently create your own opportunities
Example: Many entrepreneurs have to be very independent and pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
Take a leap (idiom, phrase) - to take a big risk
Example: Some people have really great ideas, but they’re afraid to take a leap.
Trailblazer (noun) - a very innovative person
Example: Some people think that they’re trailblazers, but they’re actually presenting the same idea that many other people have presented.
Half-baked (adjective, informal) - incomplete
Example: The entrepreneur’s idea was half-baked. He needed to develop his idea more before talking to Grace’s company.
Weed out (phrasal verb, idiom) - to eliminate
Example: We do have to weed out a lot of the really good ideas. We interview hundreds of entrepreneurs a year and select six on average per year.
Venture capital (noun) - capital invested in a project that typically is risky
Example: Grace’s company helps entrepreneurs find investors who will put venture capital in a project.