From champagne and cookies in a gondola at 11,444 feet (that’s 3,488 m for us Brits) to the wild array of tantalising travel stories floating around the conference halls – the TBEX 2012 conference was absolutely worth the trip all the way from Santiago, Chile.
3 days, 22 talks, hundreds of awesome bloggers, and 1 beautiful location. The ‘Travel Bloggers Exchange’ (TBEX) Conference is a gathering of travel bloggers from across the US, plus a few from further afield like us, who come to network and learn. Luckily the exchanging of business cards was made more intriguing as bloggers have a penchant for featuring quirky graphics or photos of themselves in some far-flung place. Our special business cards – ‘invitations’ – to become a Maptia Pioneer went down a treat.
Ukulele jamming with the bloggers, an endless supply of delicious cupcakes, chocolate hamburgers, and an open bar at the Travel Massive event – we were well set up to have a fantastic weekend. Working incredibly hard to get our Pioneers' landing page live up before we arrived was definitely worth it.
Raining lightly and rather grey as we arrived into Seattle, it felt like home. The English climate is far more akin to Seattle than to arid Santiago. The Space Tower was bobbing UFO-like along the misty skyline.
Here I will briefly recount the awesome time we had at TechStars for a Day (TS4AD) in Seattle. Coming 10,344 km from Chile was absolutely worth it. Whether we make the final final cut or not, it doesn’t matter. The advice, feedback and encouragement we have been lucky enough to gain here in the last few days have already moved on our thinking and planning in certain key ways. We are racking up a debt of Karma!
The TechStars mantra – Do More Faster – doesn’t quite capture what we want want to do right now. We want to do more at lightening speed. Special thanks to Andy and Kayla and everyone else here for making us feel like part of the extended family and like cousins visiting from afar…
A week or so ago, Vivek Wadhwa descended on Start Up Chile with his energy and enthusiasm in full flux. Darting around CMI, our collaborative open-plan workspace, he talked and brainstormed with many of the participants…gems of wisdom dropping right, left and centre.
Dean, Jonny and I seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time during these few days and more than once got delightfully entangled in the vortex of Vivek’s buzzing ideas and spitfire collaborations. You can see in the video to the right that even the ‘Travel & Tourism Tribe’ we lead at Start Up Chile was infiltrated…
Two years ago the Chilean government sent for Vivek to come and, they hoped, write a glowing review of their ambitious and expensive effort to become an IT outsourcing hub. Of course Vivek – being Vivek – turned things upside down, and ended up declaring that the venture to become a hub like this was currently impossible for Chile. Too much of a focus on infrastructure and too little investment in the human capital networks was the verdict – fancy tech parks and government-sponsored clusters were not the answer he argued.
So, along with Nicolas Shea, an adviser to the Chilean Ministry of Economy, Vivek proceeded to conceive the radical experiment which is Start Up Chile. By importing foreign entrepreneurs, they would boost a fundamental change in the cultural ecosystem and turn Chile into a Silicon Valley-esque entrepreneurial and innovation magnet.
Poised and beautifully dressed, Vanesa arrived half an hour late to greet a small group of girls and women from Start Up Chile and the local entrepreneurial community. Nobody minded at all as she had unfortunately been locked inside her apartment that morning and liberation had been a little slow to arrive.
Vanesa Kolodziej is a mentor at 500 Startups, a three-time veteran in the business of start-ups, curator of the StartUpDigest for Buenos Aires, and has her finger on the pulse of investments and venture capital here in Latin America. Vanesa is currently in the process of launching Nazca Ventures – a seed venture capital firm based in Buenos Aires, focused on nurturing LatAm-based start-ups into flourishing regional companies.
Loyal to Maptia and to me, Jonny and Dean were the token guys in the room – dragging themselves out of bed at 7am to come along too. This turned out to be a great decision, and not only because of the epic English breakfasts they served at Cafe Melba. Organised by Girls in Tech Santiago, it was a fascinating and informative meet-up – we all learnt a great deal about navigating the rarified waters of investment and venture finance.
Man has been making maps since the dawn of time. In the dusty foothills and wide open prairies, nomads and settlers alike scratched temporary annotations onto the ground at their feet and carved symbols onto rocks. This mapping reflex is part of our cultural mindset. We are wired to visualise the world around us, to orientate ourselves and our companions, and to share these perspectives with society. As a race, we have a compulsion to map and chart our place in the universe.
In the last few years map-making on the web has exploded. Now every time something happens, someone makes a map about it.
Citizen cartography ranges from the bizarre to the powerful and life-changing. From a map which shows the distribution of Zombies in the world to the timely collaboration of thousands of users to populate OpenStreetMap with layer upon layer of data for Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the earthquake, so rescue workers could use real-time data uploads to improve and target their response. While in Nairobi, Kenya, a UK-based team of citizen cartographers have been working with locals to map Kiberia, a previously uncharted slum.
With this democratisation of digital mapping, and the progression from static to live maps, the stage has been set for the next great leap in the evolution of mapping. The advent of low cost technologies and online collaboration mean that we are now representing reality in a more faithful way.
Wednesday night Start Up Chile organised a meetup led by Oskar Hjertonsson – the CEO of Groupon Latin America.
A lanky swede in flip flops, Oskar was charismatic and incredibly open. Despite the fact he couldn’t talk about Groupon or even be photographed with the company’s logo behind him, he shared a wealth of wisdom and a very personal story.
About five years ago, Oskar arrived in Santiago with the insane notion of starting a global tech company from nothing, but a few thousand dollars in the bank. Back then, he said that being an entrepreneur in Chile was unheard of. No support, no networks, no investors, even the users had to be educated into a new way of thinking. When they finally got a little investment from Chileans, they practically became national celebrities.
Emphasising that the road to where he was right now had been extremely painful, Oskar recounted times when he was “literally crying” because he felt as if all the time and effort had been wasted, that it had all come to nothing, and no investor would ever be interested. That they would have to give up. There were times when he was living in an abandoned office in Santiago, with no kitchen, no hot water, and no fridge. He told us of one particularly low-point when he started reading job ads for sales back home in Sweden.
Relentlessly driving his country and economy towards a ‘developed’ nation status, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera says that while his country may have arrived late to the industrial revolution, it certainly won’t miss out on the information revolution.
With the accelerator program Start Up Chile his government have taken a bold approach. Busting through bureaucratic red tape and giving the go-ahead for officials to get stamp-happy when granting 1-year work visas, Start Up Chile dangles a $40k subsidy as bait. The program seeks to attract early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs who will grow their companies in Chile for at least six months, using Start Up Chile as a launching platform for their globally minded businesses. Its end goal is to lead the country on a path to becoming the definitive innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America. Only a year and a half since its inception, and the program is reeling in smart, passionate entrepreneurs faster than you can say Patagonian trout.