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Chilean minister of economics speaks on country’s economic future

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“I am not an entrepreneur,” Chilean minister of economy Juan Andres Fontaine said Wednesday evening in the first of Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar weekly lectures. “I am a public policy guy.”

Fontaine pushed his ideas for jumpstarting the Chilean economy, describing both mid- and long-range ideas to put Chile on the path to innovation and development.

Chilean minister Juan Andres Fontaine discusses his plans to revamp the country's economy. (ZACK HOBERG/The Stanford Daily)

Fontaine currently heads Chilean President Sebastian Pinera’s team of economic advisers, who are focused on bringing innovation and entrepreneurship to the nation. He is a graduate of the Universidad Catolica in Chile and the University of Chicago, as well as a former visiting professor at UC-Los Angeles. He began with a 10-minute introduction to the Chilean economy before participating in an onstage interview and taking questions from the audience.

Fontaine detailed the tumultuous history of the Chilean economy. In the early 1980s, the country experienced a serious decline, from which it took more than a decade to recover. Since the return of democracy in 1990, the economic health of Chile has slowly improved.

Pinera’s administration has a new vision for Chile’s economic prosperity. The first candidate with a right-of-center ideology to be elected since the transition to democracy, Pinera has recruited a team of renowned economists to revamp Chilean public policy.

Fontaine said he was “called to serve with a mandate to increase economic activity in Chile.”

Despite a massive earthquake in Chile earlier this year, Fontaine foresees a possible 5-percent increase in growth this year, followed by several years of 6-percent growth or more. He hopes that by the end of the decade, Chile will no longer be classified as a middle-upper income country by the World Bank.

Fontaine told the audience the government’s top economists look to California, and specifically Silicon Valley, for inspiration. He joked that since Chile and California share geographic similarities — for example, Chilean wine country resembles Napa Valley — they ought to mirror each other in business, too.

To promote entrepreneurship and innovation, the government has established several financial incentives for foreign talent to go to Chile. New grant programs on the order of $40,000 are designed to fund private business and expansive scholarship programs for foreign students. In addition, new policies will give Chileans tax breaks for starting new businesses.

When a student asked if the economy would experience another downturn with the conclusion of these governmental initiatives, Fontaine re-emphasized the administration’s overarching goal to promote a new spirit of innovation and creativity.

“Basically, we want Chile to be a center of creativity and ideas,” he said. “We want Chile to benefit from technological advances and to use technology in new ways.”

The Entrepreneurial Thought and Leadership lecture series occurs every Wednesday with speakers from all corners of the entrepreneurial industry.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the web headline referred to Fontaine as the “Chilean finance minister.” He is the Chilean minister of economics; there is a separate minister of finance in Chile.

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