One would not expect such a small country as Uruguay to be of interest when it comes to technology matters. We actually got proven it’s a start-up scene to look at very closely in the future after attending TechmeetUp, one of the main event of the local tech community, gathering most developers, hackers and tech entrepreneurs of the tiny country (3,4 millions inhabitants as of 2013, about half of them living in the capital’s agglomeration, Montevideo). It took place in the highest building of Montevideo: the Antel Tower, HeadQuarter of the state-owned telecom company that recently teamed up with Google and several other companies to build an internet cable between Latin America and Africa, as we already mentioned here.
Uruguay’s top tech event for geeks and developers
Many famous tech companies of the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil’s southern states) were sponsoring the event, such as Mercado Libre, Latin America’s first e-commerce website, or PedidosYa, a Uruguayan food delivery company which works with 12,000 restaurants in about 300 cities in Latin America. For its second edition, TechMeetUp gathered a few hundreds people around a panel of 11 keynote speakers including some of the most recognized local entrepreneurs like Victoria Alonsopérez, a several time rewarded uruguayan young innovator dedicated to link the most advanced technologies to agriculture issues. One could scarcely find a better application of technologies in a country that produces the equivalent of a third of China’s beef importation.
Mainly oriented to developers, TechMeetUp’s topics were mostly about engineering issues such as mobile application development, data processing, cloud computing and programming languages, as well as robotics and Internet of things. But the organizers did see to it that some thoughts would be given to the notion of entrepreneurship itself and make the rookies dream by exhibiting some local success stories: ieeTECH, Kona.io or CloudStats. The specificities of the uruguayan start-up culture were also discussed, highlighting both its potential in creativity and its self-restraining features.
In any case, don’t think Uruguayans are just working on yet another copycat mobile app, that’s advanced technologies in anwser to local issues we’re talking of: drones, 3D printing, big data, and cloud computing.
From humans to cows: the agriculture is going tech
And to some extent, Uruguay can be a better place to experiment a technology and test the strength of a business model than some of it’s famous neighbors as Argentina or Chile. And why not even better than the USA! For instance, commercial use of drones is allowed in Uruguay while it is not in the USA. This obviously opens a wide field of possibilities in the country that has the most cattle per capita in the world (understand that Uruguay counts with more cows than human beings)! The latter mentioned Victoria Alonsopérez is a well known leader in that field.
Possible applications are limitless, for three reasons.
- Firstly, agriculture is a primordial strength of the economy. As a consequence, businessmen are regularly looking for disruptive innovations to back the agricultural production, meaning that new technological concepts applied to agriculture are more likely to find financial support.
- Secondly, Uruguay has a rather permissive regulatory system regarding experimentations, and a pro-innovation culture, giving hands-free to disruptors.
- At last, innovation Drone-based technologies are likely to answer issues of the agriculture industry in the first time, but the innovation generated could easily spread to other segments of the economy, leading to broader innovation.
3D-printing, Big Data, and start-up organization methods
Uruguay counts with many several 3D-printing labs, which were there to expose their work and do live demonstrations. There are already 3D-printing shops downtown, which shows the growing interest to this technology. Applications goes from pure art to medical device designing.
Guillermo Moncecchi, a renowned computer science professor specialized in Machine Learning, held a greeted speech that lacked the usual blinded optimism around the supposed potential of solutions processing significant amounts of data, and proposed a broader vision of the topic: “Big Data is indeed the great data revolution, but it leaves out a couple of things. First, Machine Learning implies thinking differently, having a setback mentality. Two, it’s not all about data, but also about models, the way you look at the numbers.” During half an hour, he exposed how web data should be looked at, striking down many prejudices on Big Data. It was by far the most applauded speech, which gives an idea of both the interest of the attendees to the Big Data question and the suitability of Moncecchi’s remarks. Though he is suspected to be a great computer science professor known by most people in the room (Uruguay is a tiny country where “everyone knows everyone”, even more so in the tech community).
Along with the workshops, attendees were free to give open speeches or free classes.
TechMeetUp dealt with a lot of technological topics such as browser’s architecture, a rather unexplored area according to IngeniouSoftWork, or infrastructure developing, back-end as a service, and Internet of things. On the other hand, there were many conferences related to human ressources, start-up management and entrepreneurship skills. Questions such as “how to optimize the production of developers within an organization” or “what to do if the product I’m developing is not clear yet” were properly answered through conferences but also workshops, introducing concepts such as DevOps and start-up management methodologies to working group. Overall, the idea was that participants to TechMeetUp actually learn something useful for their project along these workshops and specialized conferences.
Fomenting Uruguayan tech community’s creativity
The conference was clearly oriented to developers: when asked “who codes in the room?”, about 95% of the attendees raised the hand. And they’re unsurprisingly young, as a lot of them, about 40% according to the hands raised, are still following a degree at university. Also, about a third already runs a business or is working on a start-up project. And there were also some of the famous “uneducated entrepreneurs”. There was still room for the newbies, notably during enriching “lightning talks” where we could see a young female entrepreneur demonstrating it’s possible to start a project even if you’re allergic to code.
TechMeetUp Uruguay showed the dynamism of the geek community of this small country. The regional star MercadoLibre could not miss the opportunity to recruit developers to be part of its own developer community, in order to build a whole app ecosystem.