On Reimbursements and Tear Gas

We journeyed back to Santiago today. The long distance bus system here in Chile is very good, and very cheap. 1.5 hour round-trip only costs about $10 CDN. Not too shabby :) That same trip is over $50 in Canada.

Arriving in Santiago the conductor on the metro line was telling people that several stations were closed… or rather, under siege. We, however, didn’t speak enough Spanish to interpret this and we got off at our regular stop at the University de Chile, to go to the CORFO Start-Up Chile offices. The second we got off the train we thought we could smell someone welding, or something burning. Turns out that smell was tear gas, and the burning was our lungs!

Tear gas ain’t so bad. You just start crying like a little girl, your throat gets all scratchy and you wish you were miles away. We didn’t even get that much of it, just what had drifted down from the street above. Either way we needed to march through the subway station, backtracking a few times because entrances were blocked by riot police, until we finally found open air. It was a bit better then, but not much. Good thing the 10th story of Moneda 975 awaited us across the street. At this point they hadn’t boarded up the glass at the front of the building in anticipation of a full-scale riot.

The reason for all these protests is the state of the education system here in Chile. Apparently it’s not so great. I’m a personal fan of the idea that education should be mandatory and free until you are finished high school. Then, if the student can sustain a minimum grade point level in university there should be automatic scholarships that cover their entire tuition. The University of Alberta has a half-cooked version of this where if you maintain a 3.3 you are awarded $1000 per semester, or around 1/4 of your costs. Hopefully the student groups gain some good ground. I’m glad that they keep condemning the government’s non-specific and poor proposals.

Anyway, at least we got to have a good discussion about our reimbursements with our Start-Up Chile account executive. If you’re applying to this program in the future, keep in mind that you will need twice the cash on hand that you originally planned, and that you will not get reimbursed until you have paid for an item, or completed the service that was paid for. For example, they won’t reimburse a credit card purchase until you show that you’d paid it off. Also, a flight won’t be reimbursed until you have actually gotten on the plane, since you could potentially change it after they paid you back.

So far our team has spent about $10,000, we anticipate getting maybe $8,000 back. We had three flights from Canada, hostels, apartment deposit and agency fee, VISA requirements, insurance, and on and on. Once we get our first reimbursement completely done and back I will post copies of it for whomever is interested.

The Start-Up Chile team is doing a pretty good job, but they are hindered by a lot of red tape from the government that is beyond their control. One example is the idea of original contracts. In Canada, a scanned or faxed copy of a contract is good enough for most things. Here in Chile they must have the original paper with original signatures, copies don’t fly.

One thing I’ve recommended to SUP is that they get all the startup teams on a separate Google Apps domain. Ie. eric.warnke@supchile.org or whatever. This would massively streamline all the documentation and communication problems that have plagued the group. I’ll write a separate post about how amazing Google Apps is at another time. If any of you at Start-Up Chile (yes you!), want to sit down with me and chat about streamlining processes I’d be happy to help, I’m no stranger to implementing more efficient technology in small businesses or startups.

You can read more about Start-Up Chile here. It’s still not to late to apply for the next round, which, despite it all, I still highly recommend!

You can read more about the 2011 Chile student protests here.

Eric is a jack of all trades. From running social networks to internet cafes, he’s been in the startup scene for almost a decade. Recently returned from a stint at Start-Up Chile, Eric spends his days focusing on his startups Backup Box and Surreal WiFi.

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  • http://underexperiment.ca/ R.

    I have yet to see a grown man cry. Maybe tear gas is the answer.
    Good job staying alive so far. Keep it up.

  • Abhinav Sarangi

    My startup PriceShred has been selected for the latest round of Start-Up Chile. I am landing in Chile in November. As such I was trying to figure out how much money to keep handy. So can you (as promised above) post your copies of the reimbursements form? 
    That will really help in figuring out the expenses, and the reimbursements process. And if you are ready to post, maybe mail it across to me?

  • Eric

    In order to kick start your journey before you receive a reimbursement you’ll need around $10,000 USD. Flights, visas, accommodations, food, etc. all add up and you won’t be reimbursed for at least one month, but two isn’t unheard of if you have a complex situation.