Chile was once synonymous with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the military coup in 1973 that brought him to power.

Today, Chile is a modern, progressive democracy with a healthy economy, famous wineries, a female president and in less than a decade it has created one of the most vibrant tech and entrepreneurship scenes in Latin America. It particularly caters to women entrepreneurs, and does so because of aggressive, innovative public policy.

Explaining that transformation will be the topic of a lecture by Chilean academic Dr. Carla Bustamante, one of more than 20 speakers from around the world who will take part in a Wilfrid Laurier University-led symposium at Communitech entitled “From Exception to Rule: Advancing the Role of Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs in Regional Innovation Ecosystems.” The event begins Thursday and runs two days.

“I think it’s very important for us to attend the conference and to tell the world what we’re doing in Chile about entrepreneurship and women entrepreneurship, technology, and in general public policy that has been fostering entrepreneurship,” said Dr. Bustamante, who did her PhD at University of Colorado Boulder and is affiliated with Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Santiago.

Chile’s transformation into a women-friendly tech centre began in 2010, Dr. Bustamante explained in a telephone interview from Miami with Communitech News, with a government initiative called Startup Chile. Startup Chile runs programs much like Communitech’s, designed to support and foster startup growth.

“This program is not just for Chileans,” said Dr. Bustamante. “The goal is to attract human capital from abroad to inspire Chileans to become entrepreneurs – to tell Chileans that the border or the limits for entrepreneurship are not the country’s borders.”

Startup Chile, she said, recently added a program called S Factory, specifically targeted to help women entrepreneurs. The program runs four months and provides US$15,000 in funding to qualified participants. It appears to share much in common with a Communitech-led program called Fierce Founders. Fierce Founders is run by Women in Tech Program Manager Danielle Graham, who will be one of the speakers at the two-day symposium. Her talk is called: “The Fierce Founders Story: Changing the Ratio of Female Entrepreneurs at Communitech.”

The overall event is organized by WEiRED – Women Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Regional Ecosystem Development – a research group led by Josephine McMurray, a Laurier assistant professor in Business Technology Management. Its goal is to understand the role women entrepreneurs play in regional innovation ecosystems.

Certainly that’s an aim of an area of research being conducted by another of the symposium’s presenters, University of Waterloo Associate Professor in Economics, Dr. Kate Rybczynski. Dr. Rybczynski will deliver a talk at the symposium entitled “Female self-employed in Canada: Who persists and who drops out.”

Dr. Rybczynski’s research has focused on the factors that contribute to women surviving or persisting in self-employment. “Or,” she said, “if you flip it around, what factors contributed to the higher probability of exiting for women versus men.”

Part of the answer, she said, appears to be the role played by access to credit.

“Women who have personal funds are more likely to remain self-employed for a longer period of time,” she said. “It reduces their probability of exit at any given point, and substantially so. I think it’s in the range of 20 per cent less likely for any given year.

“For men, I don’t see that same relationship.

“If I look at the credit constraint story, those who have sufficient funds are much less likely to exit due to failure, but what’s interesting is that across the board, no matter what type of exit i’m looking at, women who have sufficient funds, or who have their own personal wealth, are less likely to exit for any reason.”

Day One of the event will focus on the latest research in women’s entrepreneurship and innovation. Day Two will concentrate on women entrepreneurs in the health and age-tech sectors.

The event is being sponsored by the Government of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Wilfrid Laurier University, AGE-WELL, the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Communitech and Fierce Founders.