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Latam Startups Conference: Latin Entrepreneurs Look At Canada

Latam Startups Conference: Latin Entrepreneurs Look At Canada

Posted by Juan Gavasa on April 30, 2014

The first edition of the Latam Startups Conference will be held in Lima, Peru on September 26th and 27th, with the objective of putting Canada on the map for Latin American entrepreneurs. Two hundred companies from eight countries, fifteen lecturers and a long list of investors, accelerators, incubators and mentors will meet to explore new business opportunities and to identify projects with growth potential. The main selection criterion for Latin American startups is to have a real interest in developing in Canada or to look for a Canadian investor.

Miryam Lazarte, founder of Go South!, the company that promotes the Conference, aims to help Canadian high-tech companies penetrate the Latin American market. The idea to promote the Latam Startups Conference came from Lazarte's business and professional experience in Victoria (British Colombia). ''We noticed that Canada and Latin America were lacking strong business relationships, but still shared a common synergy that should be explored ''.

 

The Latam Startups Conference aims to connect investors with startups and entrepreneurs and introduce Canada to the booming entrepreneurial activity that is currently present in many Latin American countries.

 

Why Canada?

Canada is a country that is very supportive when it comes to startups. In Latin America, entrepreneurial support is commonly understood as solely financial support. However, supporting new business implies much more than just financial backing.

In order to successfully support startups, there needs be a framework in each country’s business environment that facilitates their growth. In the business environment, there must be incubators, accelerators and most importantly, mentors. In Latin America, the idea of having a mentor or a community with these tools is yet to be explored. Since Canada has these four pillars, (investors, incubators, accelerators and mentors) we thought it would be a great idea to invite Canadian businesspeople to participate in the conference. The goal is to introduce Latin America to a new perspective that is different from anything that has been seen so far; which is mostly Silicon Valley and other examples that come from the United States.

From a Latin American standpoint, Canada is often in the background, hidden in the shadows of the United States. Since, you have lived and worked in Canada (British Columbia), in what ways has that experience influenced the structure of the Conference? 

My experience can be divided into two parts: Familiarisation with Canadian companies and how they operate within their industries in Canada and also how they develop internationally. From my experience in Victoria and Vancouver, when companies are interested in developing internationally, they consider Asia or the United States first while, unfortunately, Latin America is often overlooked.

Those twenty one countries that are on the same continent and have yet to be explored are not the first to come to mind. Latin America continues to be second or third option. They don't see the opportunities in the market yet. That was what I noticed working for a Canadian company.

However, they did end up exploring Latin American markets and most recently they are fascinated by Chile, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala. There is great interest in the region now that the potential for business opportunities and projects has been identified.

The same situation is evident in Latin America; they never saw Canada as a target, they only considered the United States and even Europe. Canada was also a second or third option. Having the USA ''in the middle'' has been a great barrier for Canada and Latin America, both culturally and from a business perspective.

With my company, we thought that it would be a good idea to take advantage of those synergies; there was a wide field to be explored. There continues to be many opportunities on both ends. Based on that fact, ‘Go South!’ was born; a company that encourages high-tech Canadian companies to explore Latin American markets.

Based on my experience, I also came to the conclusion that some education would be necessary. Not all markets are the same. Canadian companies have to take note that in Chile, they don't operate the same way as they do in Mexico, and they are both different from Peru, for example. We're talking about 21 different ways of operating and doing business. We cannot forget that this also means 21 different cultures, vocabularies and accents as well. That's why it's so difficult for one company to have access to all those markets while having only one person in the field.

We work to create links between the two regions because we are sure that Latin America has a lot to offer Canada, being a country with a great reputation. Canadians are admired for their professionalism and competence when it comes to business. 

How will the Conference in Lima be structured?

The event is going to be different from other startup conferences that have been held in Latin America. Usually the events are organized as “contests” where startups make a pitch about their project and then gain the support of one of the attending investors.

We, however, will bring fifteen Canadian lecturers that represent the four pillars of startup support: investors, incubators, accelerators and mentors. Each of them will talk about how these pillars work in Canada.

Each segment of the conference will offer insight. The idea is not for Latin American startups to copy a certain model but to gain an understanding about how these pillars are organized and managed in countries like Canada.

The conference will also have special guests from Latin America (Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay and Brazil). There will be 25 startups, from each of these countries so it won’t be a massive event, but an exclusive one. We prefer that the companies are already in operation rather than those that are still in the idea phase.

We would like to give high quality contacts to those who are coming from Canada. Simply having an idea doesn’t guarantee the realization of that idea. For that reason projects that are already running are preferred. We would like to see companies with a strong desire to develop in Canada, or to create partnerships with Canadian companies already settled in Latin America.

Each participant that comes from Canada should, ideally, be thinking about investing in a startup locally or interested in moving a project to Canada. We’d like to offer a platform where each startup has an opportunity to meet face-to-face with potential investors and present their project for ten minutes. The conference will be held during the day and, of course, participants can continue their conversations afterward.

Other than an interest in Canada, what other criteria are you looking for in these startups?

90% of these startups must be in the high-tech development industry (apps, software) or working on projects related to green energies. Many of the lecturers are interested in technological development that can help the environment and be commercialized. Another factor is that the startup must have been working for at least one year and have a solid interest in doing business in Canada.

But there are many business environment in different provinces and diverse cities in Canada...

Indeed. That's why we're bringing speakers from Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec, among other places; so that people can get an idea of how ideas are developed in each community. In Ontario alone, there are many cities and each of them have different interests and operate differently.  

Waterloo, for example, is the centre of technological development which is quite different from Toronto. Toronto is the key city and financial hub of the country, where most investment is managed. The same is true in British Columbia, where we can find many retirees eager to collaborate and share their experiences. In Quebec, there are many immigrants, so it's very multicultural, not to mention Toronto.

The Canadian government launched a program last year, granting visas to entrepreneurs. In what ways can this program support your initiatives?

 

In theory, 2270 visas will be granted each year but we don't think Canada will be able to cope with this large amount. There are many barriers to enter Canada and they are very selective with the people that they grant entry to, which is not a bad thing since it encourages professional quality.

 

That's precisely why we are inviting people who work in immigration offices to attend the event. It is important that entrepreneurs realize that there is a process to enter Canada, that it's not simple and that there's an adaptation period which is not easy. Canada is different from USA in that sense. They do not operate under the same policies. It’s important that people understand the differences in their policies and objectives 

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