Medellin, Colombia was voted Innovative City of the Year in 2012, beating out finalists Tel Aviv and New York City in an online voting process coordinated by Citi, The Wall Street Journal and the Urban Land Institute. However, technological advances were only a small percentage of the criteria considered. Rather, innovations in social equity and accessibility programs, the significantly lower homicide rate, improvements in education and citizen participation were the overriding factors. Obviously these advances should be applauded and were significant enough to create an outstanding response that won Medellin the distinction, but the way the story was spun led the international public to believe that the innovation was technological, as opposed to social. Of course, certain technologies such as the installation of hillside escalators that occurred years ago played an important part in the social improvements, but the distinction was not awarded due to the development of new software or even an app.
This is important to keep in mind when considering what “innovation” does and does not necessarily involve. But we must remember that innovation occurs incrementally and broad revolutions do not happen overnight. The Internet, one of the greatest innovations ever, only became widely used in the late 1990s. Some fifteen years later, who could imagine a world without it or the technological advances that were born from it?
All the Buzz
In March 2012, the Chilean government issued the Plan de Innovacion al 2014 to specify a national strategy based on the “Oslo manual” issued by the OECD in 2005, defining innovation as “the use of new knowledge, to generate a product, process or novel method, or the redefinition of business models that create new value in the market.” This plan specifies how innovation in the country will be achieved and new technologies developed and disseminated to the market.
Lately there has been so much buzz about the great innovators in the technology sector, especially coming out of countries like Chile, which was named the most innovative country in South America in the 2013 Global Innovation Index issued by the World Intellectual Property Organization and INSEAD Business School (recognizing “the key role of innovation as a driver of economic growth and prosperity”). With organizations such as Start-Up Chile, BSTinnovation, Club de Innovación and Imagina Chile, which were created to foster technological advancements, and conferences like the first ever LatAm Innovation Summit, which examines greater innovation initiatives, there can be no doubt of the country’s commitment to the idea of innovation.
The excitement may be justified given the variety of new technologies and thought processes being developed in Chile. Here are just a few examples of the dynamic people and companies disrupting the status-quo in the country, and potentially the world:
Natalia Margarita Espinoza Vigueras
With the Papinotas, Espinoza Vigueras has created a direct channel of communication between parents, teachers and principals. The application provides a way for school officials to send text messages to the cell phones of students, parents and teachers with timely and quality information without needing the latest mobile device or internet access. This will democratize access to information and aids schools in including the family in education.
Daniel Lopez Rago
Having graduated from the Universidad de Santiago de Chile with a degree in industrial enginerring, Lopez Rago won of the 1er Concurso de Ideas Imagina Chile 2013 for his WI-FI Bus, a project that will bring free WiFi to areas of Chile that have no Internet access. The WI-FI bus is equipped to serve mobile devices in rural and poor areas of Chile. Like a bookmobile, the bus travels to different points during the day for two hours at a time, thus providing internet access to as many people as possible.
Leandro Elías Valencia Vio
Having founded La Ruta Solar in 2008 with his college friend Eduardo Soto, Valencia Vio, a mechanical civil engineer from UTFSM, developed the first hybrid solar car race to explore the possibilities of renewable energy and energy efficiency. This led to the development of innovative technologies which contribute to the country’s sustainable growth. The next race, called Zero Challenge, will be held October 4 and 5 this year. Through a program called Taller Solar, La Ruta Solar works a lot with Chilean school children to help them realize the importance of renewable energy and the possibilities of solar energy.
Zolezzi created the Millennium Integrated Model, which argues that technological innovation is a tool to generate great economic and commercial impact, while creating great impact on social development. Zolezzi leads a team of scientific experts in robotics, nano particles, physics, plasma, and industrial design in the Advanced Innovation Center with the goal of generating significant social change through the equation that more technology equals less poverty.
Support is Key
ProChile co-sponsored a ‘Women Business & Innovation Trip’ for 15 Chilean female entrepreneurs and innovators to Silicon Valley during the week of August 19 to meet with top-level personnel from companies such as Google, Facebook and Indiegogo. Barbara Silva, the trip organizer and founder of BSTinnovation, said “Chile is a country that excels in providing us, women, with an environment of increasing recognition to our innovative ideas in regards to business, entrepreneurship and economic development. Our participation in this trip shows that we are at a level in which we can meet with some of the top technology organizations in the world, and we’re glad to have our country’s support.”
It is apparent that Chile does indeed support innovators in a real and tangible manner, something that other countries in the region could certainly learn from.