Sweden of America

Uruguay seeks to position itself as a prototype global platform.

“My plan is to turn Uruguay into the Sweden of America, elaborating a platform to recruit talent, not only local but throughout Latin America, in order to come in to think ideas and produce prototyping that change the world” says Juan Ciapessoni, co-founder and Chief Executive Communications of The Electric Factory, an interactive communication solutions company, during an interview published in the book overcome paradigms (“Vencer paradigmas”) by communicator Alexis Jano Ros.

Ciapessoni believes that within 10 years there could be a campus where companies move their development centers to perform "exploratory exercises and beta tester". Several government and civil society actors, companies and technology experts agree with the idea of Ciapessoni that a change in the local productive matrix is possible, and that Uruguay has everything to position itself as a research center and prototype development.

During an interview with Café & Negocios, Ciapessoni, also co-founder of Sinergia Tech - his first step to achieve this goal - mentioned that in the 50s Uruguay was positioned as the Switzerland of America, as a logistics center and a Europeanized culture with immigrants that is why he plays with the term Sweden-Switzerland. Ciapessoni explained that he uses the comparison with Sweden but he could have turned to another Scandinavian country, because of the degree of development of the interactive industries in those countries, "the most advanced in the world."

"Regarding the technological topic I’m involved for many years, and because of Uruguay’s neutrality, time zone, scale and the infrastructure at technological level, I realized that is a place that could be a seedbed of prototypes and tests where young people choose to test new ventures", he explained.

It also could be a testing place for the rest of the world. "Nicholas Negroponte confirmed it with One Laptop per Child (program in which was inspired the Ceibal Plan) when a computer was delivered to each child."

“We search for attracting 500,000 nomads into Uruguay to make their developments, "said Ciapessoni.

According to Ciapessoni, Synergy Tech and its companies accelerator recently launched, is a way to "sell" Uruguay, not as an exporter of grains or meat, but as a test center. "If companies want to see the future of how people are going to move, they can try in Uruguay. I think there is the way to development", he said.

In turn, Ciapessoni's partner Maximiliano Pérez in the innovation center said that Uruguay is convenient for entrepreneurs to validate their products and test them in a narrow but representative regional market. "There are several initiatives at corporate level, institutions from civil society and government that go in that direction," he stood out. He considers that Uruguay is a “is a test tube in real time. Economic and financial stability is good and different from other countries in the region."

Joint initiatives

Apart from Ciapessoni, other actors involved in the technological field are proposing initiatives aimed at attracting foreign companies and entrepreneurs to come to work in Uruguay. One of them is the CEO of Collokia, Pablo Brenner, who has been working for six months on an initiative jointly with actors from the industrial sector, the Uruguayan Chamber of Information Technology (CUTI) and the government.

“The idea is to go abroad, talk to companies and understand what they need. We are working to find out what are the limitations that prevent people from coming (to Uruguay). Some are real and others are perceptions of entrepreneurs in the region", Brenner explained. For this purpose, an expert on artificial intelligence of Silicon Valley, Nate Soares, visited Uruguay two weeks ago and commented that it is necessary to communicate in detail the processes to obtain residence and the steps to open a company.

Brenner emphasized that the limitation for innovation in the world is neither technology nor money, but regulations. "Everyone is talking about stand-alone cars. The technology is quite developed and there is money, but there is a lack of regularization of aspects such as insurances”, set as an example the entrepreneur.

The Innovation and Research National Agency (ANII) is also making efforts in this direction jointly with other organizations linked to innovation and competitiveness, such as Uruguay XXI and CUTI - within the framework of the Secretariat of Productive Transformation – trying of unite actions. Fernando Brum, ANII's president, explained that since last year it is available a fast track for the establishment of technological companies in Uruguay, which simplifies several procedures.

"We have an opportunity and we are laying out it at the Secretariat, regarding to be more aggressive in positioning Uruguay and trying to get those companies to come," Brum said.

"I believe that in a few years we could transform Uruguay's productive matrix and incorporate more technology-based companies," said the president of ANII.

A proposal suggested by Brenner and with which Brum agrees is to have special regulatory areas for certain industries to test in Uruguay. "We can think that there could be a city that allow cars to be used alone", he said. "There are cities in the United States that have that strategy, which give permissions to attract companies. It is not something new, but it could work", he said.

Meanwhile, the IT Industry Specialist of Uruguay XXI’s Global Services Program, Isabella Antonaccio, said that the focus of the Program is to make the sector more competitive and promote the attraction of foreign companies. "We are competitive when companies are looking for services of higher added value", she summed up.

The positive and the negative

Fiber optic coverage in homes, economic and political stability, transparency in regulations and good technological infrastructure are some of the Uruguayan characteristics highlighted by experts, to attract foreign companies to set up their development centers.

CUTI Vice President for Global Markets, Leonardo Loureiro, said that the chamber participated in the missions of President Vázquez to China and Germany, with the aim of attracting companies from those countries, and claimed that the key is to show the advantages Uruguay already counts. "Chile got the visa tech recently. Uruguay already has it. It is a labor visa that you get in a few days to work on technology, these things if are promoted correctly, could turn Uruguay into a technological country," he said.

One of the programs stood out world widely is the Ceibal Plan that this year celebrates a decade and managed to position Uruguay as a reference country in technology linked to education.

Its president, Miguel Brechner, said that through Ceibal some foreign companies are testing their programs, and that this may continue with other areas. "We have good engineers, software specialists, good connectivity, good rules of the game. The technology industry is based on that, and we handle it well", he explained. Like Brum, Brechner thinks that the change in the productive matrix is possible and it must be started "as soon as possible, prepare people for the coming world".

Gonzalo Frasca, Design Manager of WeWantToKnow's and ORT University’s videogame Professor, highlighted the success of Ceibal Plan: "Regarding education and technology, Uruguay is much better prepared than other countries".

With reference to the testing of products he considered that it can be done and in different industries, especially in software. However, costs could limit the arrival of companies. "Uruguay is an expensive country, not as attractive compared to other countries when physical inputs are needed," he added. Adapted regulations.

From the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM), we work through the Sectorial Commission of Electronics and Robotics in the development of knowledge linked to these areas. The Deputy Secretary of portfolio, Guillermo Moncecchi, explained that one of the missions of the ministry, as a way of lowering costs, is to promote regulations at the level of the Executive Branch in order to reduce the tax burden for importing components for electronics companies.

"That seems to help with the development of the industry. For electronics, we want to do something similar to what happened with TICs. Uruguay exports TICs to the world, and we consider that there is space in electronics to do the same, "said Moncecchi. He added that this "is essential to transform the productive matrix and the Uruguayan industry".

Cultural move required

Ciapessoni also bets on tax benefits, not only in business related to technology, but also looking for ways to entertain those who are based in the country. "It has begun to generate a move in Uruguay that there are activities to do", he said.