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Start-Up Chile: How I Got Here

Many of my friends may not understand why I picked up and left Toronto and moved to Latin America for 6-months. After all, Toronto is filled with my friends, family, communities, and a life that was treating me pretty well. The story of how I arrived in Santiago begins about this time last year and exemplifies why I think Toronto is such a great place.

In November last year I was at a DevTO meeting in Toronto. Among the usual crowd was a couple young women presenting about Ladies Learning Code, a local not for profit that was teaching women basic programming lessons. It sounded interesting so I signed up for their  technical help list.

I didn’t think about it much until January 1, 2012, when I received the request for WordPress mentors from Laura of Ladies Learning Code. WordPress is a tool to build blog, like this one. In fact, this is a WordPress site. I thought “Well, my site is a WordPress blog. I can probably help.”

So I volunteered. And I loved it. The classes themselves were incredibly rewarding and it connected me to a network of fascinating people. They were young an energetic about tech and business. It was infectious. I was spending more and more of my time around people that weren’t afraid to fail but afraid to miss an opportunity to create something great.

With that mindset I went to a hackathon in Toronto in mid June. At hackathons ‘idea people’ pitch a room of developers their business idea, then teams form and work on the idea for the weekend before presenting a semi-working demo and a cobbled together business plan. One of those idea people was June Avila, a student of mine from a Ladies Learning Code class the previous month. Her idea, a social fitness app called Fit with Friends, sounded interesting so I decided to join her and a few others for the weekend. And wouldn’t you know it, we won. In fact, we took every major category up for grabs that weekend.

I was pretty content with my prize (Amazon gift cards), but a week later June emailed everyone on the team that she wanted to apply to Start-Up Chile, a start-up accelerator in Santiago bringing international entrepreneurs to Chile to start their companies and the accelerate Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem. Chile? That’s in South America right? It seemed pretty far fetched, but I was willing to support June as a technical advisor, not a full-fledged partner. After all, I enjoyed working at Cineplex, my family was in Toronto, and I didn’t want to leave my flatmate in a lurch by moving out.

For the rest of the summer Start-Up Chile didn’t factor into my long term plans, but very so often I’d steal a few moments to think about what it would be like starting a company in a city that was just coming online as a technology hub. I found myself looking at Google Maps and getting excited when I found inline skating tracks. But there were over 1500 applicants, I wasn’t too surprised when mid August rolled around and we still hadn’t heard back from Chile.

The moment I found out we had been accepted stands out in my mind very clearly. It was August 31st. I was at the gym that evening (appropriate for a fitness app) which is underground and without cell reception. As I was walking back to my apartment some delayed emails filtered in. One was from June, and Start-Up Chile was in the subject line. I assumed they were sending a final rejection letter, but her opening line spelled it out in all the detail I needed

Hey Peter, We’re in! :)

I was excited! All of a sudden this was a very real possibility. But still just a possibility at this point. I had only indicated the interest in being a supporting player, not a co-founder. A few days later I was having dinner with my family on the Danforth for my dad’s birthday and mentioned this rather unique opportunity. They were excited and 100% supportive. That made a huge difference in pushing me to go after this. So I met June after work and we agreed that we were going to Chile as partners. All of a sudden the things that were keeping me in Toronto seemed very minor. Sure leaving Cineplex wasn’t easy after 4 great years there, but it was the right time to try something new.

The next two months were blurs of goodbyes, paperwork, and business planning. Before even realizing it, I was on a plane to Santiago with six months of luggage.

It would have been so easy for any of these events to have not happened the way they did, or for me to not take advantage of them along the way. But they did, and I did. I hope this is the start of a much longer story.