Poor Uruguay. Few people could find it on a map. Even fewer could tell what language is spoken. Fewer still could name one thing they know about its unique history.
But Poor Uruguay is rich, in natural resources, in human capital, and in an entrepreneurial spirit that is catching the eye of tech investors looking for the next best thing in Latin American start-ups.
For those who know Uruguay, the tech ecosystem that has cropped up makes perfect sense. Uruguayans, typically descended from industrious and ambitious merchant immigrants from Italy and other parts of Europe, are at once cosmopolitan and backwater, country and city, with one eye on their neighbors and another on the world, and naturally open to foreign ideas.
They’re also educated, worldly, and host to a government that maintains strong state control over core utilities and industries with a refreshing laissez-faire attitude towards innovative ones. Compare this last sentence to the situation in Argentina and you’ll find that similarities end after “educated and worldly”. This, understandably, is why tech startups and entrepreneurs that would have a natural home in the fiercely creative Argentine capital Buenos Aires, have flocked to Uruguay (and even stranger places like Santiago de Chile).
I’ve always been curious about how two countries like Argentina and Uruguay, with such similar backgrounds and such intertwined histories, could produce such different political environments. But history and sociology aside, the two approaches to fostering innovation and tech growth are producing disparate outcomes. And Montevideo is suddenly looking cooler than ever next to its tragically hip cousin.