October 23, 2012 Leave a Comment
THE world’s most valuable resource is talent. No country grows enough of it. Some, however, enjoy the colossal advantage of being able to import it. Rich, peaceful countries can attract clever immigrants. Unlike other useful imports, they cost the recipient country nothing. They come, they study, they work, they set up businesses, they create jobs: 40% of the founders of Fortune 500 companies are immigrants and their children. Yet they are only 23% of Americans.
Yet for more than a decade America has been choking off its supply of foreign talent, like a scuba diver squeezing his own breathing tube…
Canada, Australia and Singapore make it quick and painless for brainy foreigners to obtain visas to work or set up companies. Even Chile is luring some of the talent that America rejects. A remote emerging market with little tradition of innovation might seem an unlikely place to try to build a technology hub. But Start-Up Chile, a local programme to encourage entrepreneurs, is doing rather well, as our Silicon Valley correspondent reports from Santiago (see article). An entrepreneur with a good idea can get a visa in a couple of weeks. Since 2010, when Start-Up Chile began, it has attracted some 500 companies run by whizz-kids from 37 countries. Many of those who flock to Chilecon Valley, as it has been dubbed, would rather have gone to America, but couldn’t face a decade of immigration humiliation.
Chile or California?
Santiago is hardly a paradise for entrepreneurs. Chile’s domestic market is small, its bankruptcy law punitive. Private venture capital is still rare and credit costly. In a sad irony, Chilean bureaucrats are trying to shut down a low-interest lending market set up by the founder of Start-Up Chile. And although the programme to attract foreign entrepreneurs is promising, other government initiatives in that area—such as offering $40,000 grants to start-ups—are less sensible.
Still, the main lesson from Chilecon Valley is that clever people have choices.
Here’s hoping the idea spreads.