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Entrepreneurship Act. 22 Aug 2017

The journey of entrepreneurship in Latin America

Entrepreneurship is a way of life. It involves a great deal of risk, adventure, and above all not following rules but creating your own.

Entrepreneurship is life. That is the philosophy followed by the German entrepreneur Fabien Dittrich, CEO of Helpando.it, a startup that helps improve the customer service of companies through technology-based solutions. Fabien, together with his partners Dominic Brasovneau and Vin Tran, are the stars of StartUp Diaries, an eight-month Land Rover trip from Chile to Colombia, made for two reasons: to demonstrate that thanks to technology it is possible to continue being productive in any part of the world; and to discover the most innovative experiences of technology-based entrepreneurship in Latin America at first hand.

The details of this adventure have been recorded in a number of webisodes that can be seen on their YouTube channel. The last of them, recorded in Colombia, is still at the production stage. It completes the ten chapters that make up the series of StartUp Diaries.

What did these digital nomads discover during their journey? What lessons does their experience teach entrepreneurs? These are some of the findings that Fabien and his companions picked up over the thousands of kilometers they traveled while talking with entrepreneurs in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Being an entrepreneur means being responsible for yourself

The first idea that comes to mind when you work as an entrepreneur is that you no longer have a boss, have to wear a tie or comply with fixed working hours. However, it does involve a great deal of responsibility, because your success depends on no one but yourself. This implies challenges such as handling time; for example, when you are an entrepreneur it is not always easy to relax during the weekend, because you feel that any free time is time that your enterprise needs from you. When you work for a company, you know that whatever happens you have to be very punctual every day at the office; but when you are your own boss, in theory you can sleep until midday, and that is a freedom that requires a great deal of maturity to know how to handle it.

Coworking spaces are a good source of motivation

One of the situations that entrepreneurs have to cope with when they choose the path of independence is solitude. In a traditional office there are always co-workers who can raise your spirits on a difficult day or exchange ideas over a coffee. But when you are working from home or the people you are in contact with are far away, you can lose the social contact that is so important for your mental welfare and quality of work. That is why the coworking spaces where people from different startups and withvarious profiles meet are a good option for interacting with other entrepreneurs, offering and receiving help and sharing the creative passion that unites them.

In Europe and the United States, these places are very common; so much so, that many have lost much of their mystique: people come, put on their headphones on full volume and don't interact with the others. However, as in Latin America they are only in their infancy, the people who are part of them have a stronger link, and there is a greater sense of community and collaborative spirit.

Fabien was struck by the experience of Synergy in Montevideo, Uruguay, a coworking space that he considers among the best and most inspiring he has known in the world.

You need courage to be an entrepreneur in Latin America

Being an entrepreneur is fashionable. It is easy to find success stories of startups in the media that achieve a quick growth or others that recover quickly from a failure. Taking this path is easy in the countries of Europe or the United States, where people have some guarantees if they fail, as they are given some economic support. However, in Latin America there is still no assistance of this kind, so being an entrepreneur becomes a more risky activity that requires greater courage. Related to this is the resistance and skepticism that many investors still feel toward technology startups. For Fabien, this situation means that Latin American entrepreneurs are often more courageous and their decision to be independent is admirable.

You have to learn to deal with social pressure

When people learn that an entrepreneur has his own company, they assume he has a lot of money. At the same time, those who know the entrepreneur from close up, such as his parents or partner, see that the situation is not so stable; also, that they often have a more traditional or conservative vision, which leads them to say things like "get a real job". Then there are the friends that complain because the entrepreneur often can't join them for a drink after a typical working day. This puts great pressure on the entrepreneur, as the people who are used to another type of job find it difficult to understand how hard it is to choose this path.

The context determines entrepreneurship

Latin America still has many situations of injustice and inequality that have already been resolved in other parts of the world. This situation is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to look into their social conscience and find in these situations a way of offering innovative solutions that work as a business and at the same time contribute to the development of society. Fabien mentions the case of Tappsi in Colombia. In some cities such as Bogota it can be dangerous to take a taxi in the street. In other parts of the world where taking a taxi does not involve any risk this app would make no sense, but in Colombia it has been very successful because it allows you to call a taxi safely. For Fabien, this is a clear example of how social failings can be turned into opportunities for entrepreneurs.

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