Entrepreneurship, equality, education: a Chilean tale

Si no realizamos la igualdad y la cultura dentro de la escuela, ¿dónde podrán exigirse estas cosas?
Gabriela Mistral, Chilean poet and diplomat

If we don’t make equality and culture a reality within schools, where can we expect them to exist?

Last December, nearly 300,000 Chilean kids sat for the PSU, the highly competitive entrance exam for university. Chile has one of the highest gaps in education between socioeconomic groups, with large inequalities in student performance between private schools and public schools. After repeated country-wide protests in 2006 and particularly since 2011, the new government has begun to respond by shifting fiscal priorities, placing a significant emphasis on investment in education — 21% of the public spending in 2014 — in Chile’s budget.

We met with Diego Martinez, Co-Founder & COO of Open Green Road. Puntajenacional.cl, Open Green Road’s (OGR) main product is an online tool to prepare Chilean students for the PSU through video classes and a mobile app. OGR was a participating company in PALF’s LatAm education summit, selected as one of the most promising education companies in the region. PALF invests in entrepreneurs who are helping to meet the demand for high-quality, low-cost education in the developing world.

Bridging the social gap: giving all youth the key to success in Latin America

We’re on mission to reduce the social breach in Chile, in Latin America, and around the world” (Diego Martinez, OGR Co-Founder & COO)

OGR has enjoyed global acclaim for their social work, levelling the online medium to increase access to opportunities tremendously in public schools. OGR has helped over 630,000 individual students in just six years of existence, with over 11 million views on their video channel and more than 54,000 followers on Facebook. Now raising additional money to broaden the scope of its activities, OGR had been financially independent since its initial seed funding in 2010 from CORFO (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción de Chile), the governmental organization to promote economic growth in Chile that also supports Startup-Chile and many other innovative initiatives. Following a successful freemium model, OGR offers their test preparation software to students free of charge and sells their platform to schools to provide additional analytics and integration into their curriculum. They have also recently started a programme with the Ministry of Education, “Enclase.cl” that aims at streamlining the process in over 500 schools from next school year onwards.

Beyond national expansion, seeding change in segregated Latin America

OGR is expanding in Colombia: with its standardized test Saber 11, it also has the advantage of creating an incentive for students to use the platform thoroughly to prepare for exams and hence to become its best advocates within the brick-and-mortar schools.

Their videos are seen around the world by individual users thanks to the spread of the Spanish-speaking countries, and OGR is looking at expanding much further in the coming years.

“The speed of expansion hasn’t reached its maximum yet — there are a lot of breaches to fill around the globe” (Diego Martinez, OGR Co-Founder & COO)

As seen through the OGR example, Latin America needs the private sector to generate more innovations as much as it needs governments to create enabling environment to scale programmes up at regional and national levels.

Focusing on Youth Entrepreneurship in a Risk-Adverse Culture

Santiago’s vibrant startup culture, amusingly dubbed “Chilecon Valley” showcases a clear project for the government over the last five years to turn the city into Latin America’s innovation and tech hub by bringing in entrepreneurs from all over the world. Yet, mentalities are shifting slowly. VC deals in Latin America were worth $526 million in 2014, up from $63 million in 2010, yet little of it is to be found in Chile. Most entrepreneurs we interviewed agreed on the fact that the Chilean risk-adverse culture made raising funds extremely hard: becoming an entrepreneur is not a common professional trajectory for most, despite the increasing seed funding opportunities thanks to Startup Chile.

The prize for OGR’s 3 year-old AprendoEmprendo startup competition is a trip to Silicon Valley to meet entrepreneurs, with winners chosen through a voting contest on the website. Diego hopes to be able to develop it further by bringing mentoring and financing to the mix for the young startups as they raise more funding in the coming years.

The only problem with that is that you stand between a child and his parents. He may have the greatest idea in the world, until they see success, his parents will always prefer seeing him become a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. Most parents focus exclusively on going to university: we don’t have enough entrepreneurial success stories in Chile” (Diego Martinez)

The additional funding that OGR wants to raise will go towards targeting university students and young graduates, as well as towards increasing their focus on entrepreneurship education.

What reforms can do, and where we need the private sector to step in

The schooling system in Chile is divided into three types of schools: public, private and particular subvencionada. The latter is subsidized by the state but parents still have to pay a fee that can vary heavily in a country where “expensive” doesn’t necessarily mean “high quality”. After years of nationwide demonstrations, Congress passed a landmark law ending profits at state-subsidized schools, putting an end to the free-market education experiment.

We must administrate particular subvencionada better, to eliminate the problems through better, more transparent management, especially regarding their fees” (Diego Martinez)

Entrepreneurs and Edupreneurs

“To change Education, we must not wait for government policies but we have to use entrepreneurial energy and the minds of the civil society” (German Echecopar, Co-Founder of Edtech Chile)

German Echecopar and Catalina Romero, together with a diverse board and over forty startup members, are on a mission to renew and empower the Edtech community in Latin America through their monthly meetup and community. They’re envisioning a large panel of activities for their burgeoning community of Edtech entrepreneurs and teachers.

Two new entrepreneurship-focused programmes are also strengthening the Alumni network of Enseña Chile: a social entrepreneurship incubator helps the 10% of Alumni creating a startup or NGO to work through their ideation phase at a very early stage as well as a community of entrepreneurs in Education, CEEDUC, for more mature organisations to strengthen existing synergies.

Beyond tackling the PSU, many other challenges await in the Chilean education system: increasing the quality of education in vulnerable schools; democratizing science education; enhancing the number of researchers and developers; encouraging more women into STEM; helping teachers to be more tech-savvy; turning students from consumers of information into makers, and so on. We hope to see those educational challenges being tackled by an ever-growing number of inspiring Chilean entrepreneurs in the coming years and will keep an interested eye on this part of the world.