Last year, my close friend, Scott Bird, and I finally took the leap out of our steady nine-to-five careers into entrepreneurship after years of only talking about starting a business. The company we started, Bungolow, features private flash sales for high-end Latin American hotel bookings. We founded the company in July 2011 and launched the beta version of our website four months later.
Bird and I met in high school in Rockville, Maryland, but we find ourselves about 5,000 miles from the Washington, D.C. suburb – in Santiago, Chile. What brought us here was a program called Start-Up Chile, an impressive initiative by the Chilean government to make Chile the innovation hub of Latin America. To achieve that goal, Start-Up Chile provides entrepreneurs from all over the world a one-year work visa, co-working space, networking opportunities and $40,000 in equity-free. In return, the participating entrepreneurs spend at least six months in Chile engaging with aspiring local entrepreneurs while building their own companies.
With our graduation from the program behind us, we still find ourselves living abroad while working on our business. It turns out that there are incredible benefits to building a company abroad.
Recognizing new opportunities
Living in a foreign country allows you to pick up on very intriguing business opportunities. Coming from the United States, we have noticed many business models and technologies that have yet to crop up in Chile but that would be very successful if implemented here. In fact, some fellow participants in the program have launched additional businesses in Chile based on new opportunities they recognized.
Chile is very developed when it comes to the spectrum of developing economies in the world. The many less-developed countries in Latin America or elsewhere would have even more opportunities.
I feel like I stick out when I’m simply walking the streets in a foreign country, based on some of the looks I get from the locals. But this sticking out can be helpful while starting a business in a foreign country. Being a foreign entrepreneur has helped me land meetings that I normally would not have landed and get some publicity that I may not have received otherwise.
The reason is that someone building a business in a foreign country is interesting. Interesting gets you noticed, and getting noticed is a tough task when trying to grow a business.
Expanding your network
Obviously, participating in a program like Start-Up Chile has been amazing for expanding my network. The program brings in hundreds of entrepreneurs from all over the world, and I have become close with people from all different backgrounds. However, even without the help of a program like this, an entrepreneur in a foreign country will have no problem expanding their network.
Local businesspeople are happy to help connect us to others and to provide advice. We work in a co-working space alongside local entrepreneurs who are not in the same program as us. Every week, we attend networking events where we meet likeminded people in the area.
The three benefits I listed above – recognizing new opportunities, getting noticed, and expanding your network – are all business-related and do not even begin to address the personal benefits that go along with living in another country: learning about other cultures, engaging with people from different backgrounds, and spending time outside of your comfort zone to name a few. With the personal benefits being a given, the benefits to starting a business in a foreign country are also very significant and well worth trying.