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Techolab: Latin America’s Largest Open and Social Innovation Platform (Part 1 of 2)

Techolab is an open and social innovation ‘virtual’ platform and incubator co-created by the Center for Innovation at Un Techo Para Chile, one of Latin America’s  fastest growing NGO’s (currently in 19 LatAm countries and USA) and Pullcolab, a Chilean based technology startup dedicated to implementing and managing social communities of innovation and entrepreneurship, using technology designed by the company called “Workcolab.” (Sidebar: Pullcolab were the guys who did an incredible job on the platform design for Startup Weekend Chile 2010). In its first 5 months, more than 8,000 people have registered to the  Techolab community.

Techolab, the platform and virtual incubator, is the brainchild of designer, innovator and social entrepreneur Stiven Kerestegian and is managed by Un Techo Para’s Chile Center for Innovation, under the direction of Singularity University graduate, design-thinker and social innovator, Julián Ugarte Fuentes. Techolab is intended to use technology + social innovation to engage and motivate young people to participate in the development of innovative solutions to the problems affecting the most vulnerable of the Chilean society.  Techolab’s open and social online platform enables all people to come together and develop sustainable ideas and projects to raise the standard of living for those living at the Base of the Economic Pyramid.

And how disruptive is that on multiple levels?

Big Kudos for getting Chile’s public and private sectors to ‘play nicely together’ in the space of entrepreneurship and innovation with a crowdsourced community. Also, it addresses the issues of seeking constructive and impactful ways to address the youth unemployment issue which is at an all time high and in February 2011 at the G40 Summit it was declared to be a ‘global crisis‘. Additionally, it uses a pull method to get young people interested in the space of entrepreneurship, innovation and community citizenship by giving them a platform to get their ideas out there and receive funding and mentorship to actually make it happen. Love, love, love it!

Each quarter Techolab creates a unique competition around a question (with no apparent solution) that seeks to raise the quality of life for those living at the base of the economic pyramid. The first contest launched by INJUV (Public Sector Entity) was Desafio Clave (Key Challenge) which sought to bring about ideas to improve health/well-being, job creation and education. Close to 800 project ideas were submitted.

Their upcoming contest is called “Crea Negocios Inclusivos a partir del reciclaje”. And in 2012, Techolab will launch 4 new contests during the year associated with different entities from the public and the private sector. Members and mentors in the Techolab virtual platform and incubator include people living in the slums, academia, startup founders, entrepreneurs, creative thought leaders, public sector representatives, teenagers, university students and people who are inspired by the concept and just want to contribute to the cause.

Techolab Explained

  1. Public/Private Sector Sponsors a Challenge/Contest: Every quarter (of the calendar year) a public or private sector organization sponsors a contest with the prize being a cash award that essentially serves as seed capital for social entrepreneurship and innovation based initiatives that simultaneously solve problems for the most vulnerable segment of the population.
  2. A Contest is Created: This complex question has no apparent or definitive solution. The first Techolab contest sponsored in conjunction with National Youth Institute (INJUV) sought to find solutions in improving the overall health of those living in the slums; increased opportunities for job creation; and improved quality of education.
  3. Kick start the power of collective intelligence: All registered members of the community are able to vote on their favorite ideas and also provide feedback on all ideas registered on the platform.
  4. 50 finalists receive mentoring: They receive mentoring and support to build out a business plan and work on developing their business model.
  5. The most viable ideas advance to a round of 20: and they are approved for their first round of funding to continue tweaking their business model and deepening their research in the rapid prototyping phase.
  6. The cycle repeats until they reach 3 co-winners:  The pool of 20 projects is cut in half to 10 projects and from the 10 projects, 3 winners are chosen, each sharing an equivalent amount of seed capital (prize money). As the amount of funding in each round increases, the number of selected projects decreases. Essentially, the further a team advances in the competition, the more viability is seen in the sustainability, scalability and impact of the project.
Photo Courtesy: Techolab

On December 22, 2011, Techolab hosted its awards ceremony to a capacity filled crowd at the Centro Cultura Matucana. The first contest, entitled Desafío Clave (Key Challenge) and sponsored by INJUV received nearly 800 project submissions. And at the end of the 5 month period, three winners, who were painstakingly selected, walked away with $60,000 USD each to further research and build out their respective projects.

Tomorrow we will continue with Part II of this post to share the 3 winning projects from the first Techolab contest ‘Key Challenge’.