Knocking on the innovation door in Chile

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Growing up in Chile, where his family owned a mini-market, Rocio Fonseca, SM ’14, learned to expect a life limited by his family’s social class. During her early professional years, as the first in her family to attend college, she often encountered the cultural barriers of her country’s traditional business environment. Potential bosses wanted to know who her parents were or expected her to go to a fancy school. “I didn’t fit the profile,” she says. “I was an outlier.”

Frustrated, she decided the solution was to go abroad. She credits her stint at MIT as a Sloan Fellow studying sustainable business for helping her pitch at the Chilean economic development agency CORFO, where she is leading the charge to change the corporate culture she has fought against. Coming from a non-traditional background has allowed her to see where the Chilean economy can expand and develop, she says.

While traditionalists still ask questions about her educational pedigree (and she’s happy to now say she went to MIT), she isn’t using her new status as executive director of CORFO’s InnovaChile department to fit in. in their world. Instead, she seeks to build what she calls a “parallel path” to Chilean success, one open to people of all classes. One of his favorite parts of his job is introducing each other to talented entrepreneurs and innovators. His department conducts training sessions on a wide range of topics, including networking etiquette, prototyping skills, and export protocols. Her organization is so respected that “it’s easy to knock on a door and connect people,” she says.

Fonseca believes innovation can create better jobs for all – in part by moving Chile away from its extractive economy, which focuses on mining and agriculture, towards something more suited to a growing world. more modified by climate. To this end, it manages an annual grant fund of $ 40 million – one of the largest of its kind in Latin America – for companies that do innovative and sustainable entrepreneurial work. This money is particularly important because Chilean startups have very little access to domestic venture capital. “You have to be very profitable from the start,” she says.

Since 2010, InnovaChile has supported more than 5,000 companies, with a recent focus on advanced technologies for food production and distribution. Grant recipients include companies making emulsions to improve the shelf life of the country’s fruits and vegetables, plant protein to diversify its food supply, and phage technology to reduce the need for antibiotics in its cattle herds. “It’s not just about profits, it’s also about a positive social and environmental impact,” says Fonseca.

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