NEW YORK—Even for successful entrepreneurs, expanding into a new country—or a new continent—presents challenges. In an effort to help overcome these challenges, and lure budding entrepreneurs to New York City from around the world, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) regularly hosts delegations of entrepreneurs for three days.
This delegation of Latin Americans has been visiting the city, learning about issues ranging from cultural differences to how to snag funding.
The two-and-a-half-day program began Monday with a welcome breakfast at Flatiron’s General Assembly, a tech company renowned for its classes on a wide range of subjects. The delegation—made up of 43 entrepreneurs representing eight Latin American countries—then toured other companies. The next day’s schedule included attending the famed NY Tech Meetup—tickets for the event typically run out minutes after they are released.
“It was pretty nice,” said Matías Covarrubías from Chile. “It was big and you learn a lot.”
Covarrubías sat in a meeting room at the EDC’s Downtown office after a presentation on immigration. He’s been working on a startup while running a 3-year-old company. The startup, expected to launch in two months, lets small- and medium-sized companies have their own e-commerce site, for free. Meanwhile, all the products on the site are also listed on a bigger marketplace website.
“Normally medium- and small-sized companies don’t have money to invest to start an e-commerce site,” Covarrubías said. Because of Chile’s “small population,” he is already thinking of New York for future expansion.
The program has been beneficial for Covarrubías. “At the beginning, I was thinking it was really hard to start a business here,” he said. “But now I know that there’s some things you need to do, but it’s not really that hard.”
Some of the entrepreneurs had never been to the New York or United States before, said EDC Project Director Patricia Bayley. “They didn’t know anyone here, they didn’t feel comfortable just coming to New York,” she said. The goal of EDC’s networking events is to introduce the delegates to the tech community and showcase how open the community is to sharing ideas and collaboration.
Presentations and panels have also given delegates insight into cultural differences. Andres Barreto, originally from Colombia, and a founder of two startups, talked on an Expats Panel.
Bayley recalled some of what Barreto spoke about: “Latin Americans, coming late to a meeting, there’s no excuse for that—you’re coming to meet an investor, you have to be on time—but you can’t be too early. It’s just knowing that right sweet spot, when to arrive, when to be ready for the meeting, five minutes before.”
Bayley also recalled Barreto discussing how Latin Americans are more humble than Americans. “He said, ‘If I present you and say how awesome you are, you better follow up and show that you’re awesome.’ Entrepreneurs have to be able to ‘sell yourself.’”
Delegates paid for their own airfares and accommodations, while EDC provided the programs. More than 100 applications were narrowed down to 47; after a few late dropouts, 43 entrepreneurs came.
Since December 2010, the World to NYC initiative has hosted delegations from London, and China, and multiple-nation delegations. Bayley was unable to confirm whether any of the entrepreneurs had ended up expanding into New York City, but she thought one or two British entrepreneurs had established sales offices here.
The Latin America program included owners of companies that have almost 600 employees, while other companies are very small.
Delegates on Wednesday appeared interested and in good spirits. Nicholas Gutíerrez, a 31-year-old from Colombia, said the program has helped him learn about funding, and was ultimately a good experience. His new five-person company, which helps companies with government procurements, started in Colombia, and has already expanded into Ecuador and Peru. Besides expanding into Brazil and the rest of Latin America, he wants to expand into New York City in the next six months.
In Latin America, New York City means Manhattan, Gutíerrez said. But after one of the events took entrepreneurs to Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, he’s eyeing the area. “I really loved to go to Brooklyn yesterday, because there’s another part of the city that nobody talks about it,” he said. “Brooklyn’s a good option for us.”
After ending the program midafternoon, many of the delegates had follow-up meetings with people in the industry they met during the last couple days.
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