It takes time and energy to position a country as small (by population) as Uruguay as a reliable and attractive location for start-ups and foreign investors, especially in the technology sector. One of the reasons for Uruguay’s appeal to potential investors is the prestigious Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU) – the country’s highest instance for quality assurance and measurements.
During our visit of Uruguay in January 2019 we spoke with LATU’s CEO, Dr Jorge Silveira Noble. Among other things we asked him how the institution attracts and supports entrepreneurs – here’s what he answered.
Jorge, you have been the CEO of the prestigious Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU) since 2006. Earlier you already supported the institution as legal advisor. What makes this institution special for you?
LATU as organization seeks to attract and retain talent, with a strong focus on strengthening their skills and offering continuous development opportunities for those who become part of the network. LATU adds a lot of value – technological and economic – to the sectors with whom it interacts. These are the main reasons why I have been with this prestigious institution for many years.
Briefly, can you tell us why LATU was founded and its main purpose today?
LATU is a non-state public organization which was created in 1965 to provide services to the productive chain. It is now a national and international benchmark in innovation, technology transfer and value solutions in analytical, conformity assessment, metrological and technological services. LATU promotes scientific and entrepreneurial culture, as well as the development of technological platforms.
Those who established LATU 54 years ago understood (and I think with great success) that Uruguay, despite its small size, could have a presence in the international concert for the quality and innovation of its production, and not just for quantity.
Throughout its trajectory, LATU has provided analytical support to productive industries, such as dairy, forestry, textile, cereals, oleaginous and its derived products. We also support the improvement of manufacturing and its insertion in the most demanding markets. As such, LATU offers a wide range of analytical services, with tests accredited by the Uruguayan Accreditation Organization (OUA) and by the Accreditation Service of the United Kingdom (UKAS). Its quality management system – based on ISO 9001 – is certified by the Swiss Association for Quality and Management (SQS).
Essentially, LATU develops the necessary analytical methods for compliance with national and international regulations, in order to overcome technical barriers and to be able to export Uruguayan produce to other markets.
The state relies on LATU for the certification of products – such as food and toys, for environmental control, and for industrial promotion regimes. The analytical capacity of LATU allows it to provide environmental services to the industry, and to assure compliance with national or international standards.
LATU also functions as the National Metrological Institute, a role that involves ensuring that the measurements made in the country are accurate, reliable and comparable both nationally and internationally.
More recently, through its Technology Park, LATU has created an ecosystem of companies and organizations linked to ICT, entrepreneurship and knowledge. It has created an ideal environment for close exchange and networking among actors relevant for entrepreneurs, and to facilitate knowledge transfer.
Ingenio is the business incubator of LATU: in a nutshell, how does it support domestic and international entrepreneurs in succeeding with their ideas and projects?
Ingenio offers entrepreneurs a complete set of services: fully equipped offices, meeting rooms, shared areas, consultants to create a business plan or to help with marketing, legal, innovation or other areas.
We also help entrepreneurs obtain financing for their project, mainly by facilitating access to government grants, and by negotiating with business angels.
But what entrepreneurs at Ingenio appreciate the most is the “network connection”, which starts inside the building of the incubator and expands across the LATU Technology Park, with connections throughout the country and also internationally, with incubators and accelerators from around the world.
Would you consider Uruguay to be particularly start-up friendly?
Yes. Many new companies are born every year in Uruguay and about a hundred institutions work to support entrepreneurs. LATU has made great contributions to the creation of this ecosystem. When we created Ingenio, in the early 2000s, there was almost no support for potential entrepreneurs. Of course, there are still many things to do and it’s good to see that the parliament is now discussing a new law to improve the support and financing of entrepreneurs.
Which aspects or requirements would you consider the most important with regard to a country’s competitiveness and success as preferred destination for tech start-ups?
The cooperation between academia, technological institutions, public sector and private sector. Most of the new knowledge in science and technology comes from the universities and technological institutions. The public sector is needed mainly in two areas: as a provider of the legal system and of funds – mostly grants – which are the most common source of financing for raising the necessary initial capital. Lastly, the private sector needs to be involved as the potential clients and buyers of the innovations that start-ups create.
At LATU we already have a very dynamic ecosystem. In our Technological Park are all the players mentioned above: academia (UTEC, Plan Ceibal, UTU, INIA, LATITUDE – Fundación LATU), government agencies such as ANII; and many technology companies, several of them former members of Ingenio. Also, some important chambers of commerce are headquartered here, such as CUTI and CIU, and other private non-profit organizations dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs, such as Endeavor and Empretec.
We also cooperate a lot with actors that are outside the Technology Park, such as major universities, other government agencies, or international networks of incubators.
Which stories of Uruguayan entrepreneurs supported by LATU over the last years do you find the most inspiring so far?
Fortunately, almost all of our over 50 graduates of the incubator so far are success stories. An example of this is Tryolabs: regional leader in Artificial Intelligence, they even have a split in Silicon Valley. Other examples are MVD Technologies (our first graduate), Simplifica, XSeed, Nareia and Dvelop – all still in the Technology Park.
The Technology Park really is an ideal scenario for everyone: entrepreneurs stay close to the place where they gave birth to their companies, while continuing to cooperate and sharing experiences with the new residents of the incubator.
Some of our other graduates have been very innovative and made great changes in their industries: AZSportech transformed nothing less than football. Acrux created software for fishing captains that is unique in the world, to mention just a few examples.
How strong do you consider Uruguay’s position at the moment, with regards to its potential to attract investors and talent?
Uruguay has, for many years, offered a wide range of incentives for different types of activities – industrial, commercial or services – to be carried out in the country. Among the main incentives offered are the investment law, sectoral incentives, free tax zones, the free port and airport regimes, public-private participation contracts, industrial parks and temporary admission.
Investment in Uruguay, both from domestic and foreign sources, is declared a key national interest by law. Tax incentives in particular make investing here very attractive. In addition, there are no restrictions for the transfer of profits abroad or for trading in the foreign exchange market.
In your view, which are the main benefits of a country promotion organization like Uruguay XXI, for the country’s businesses and entrepreneurs?
Having an organization like Uruguay XXI not only allows capturing productive foreign investment, but also contributes to the internationalization and competitiveness of Uruguayan companies. Uruguay XXI generates strategic information for decision makers and helps Uruguay to position itself internationally.
Looking forward, which tendencies do you observe in Uruguay at the moment which might support (or hinder) its competitiveness internationally?
Strong competition among countries in Latin America to attract resources that stimulate their economies is one of the main challenges. That’s why it is so important to build strong alliances between academia, public and private sectors.
If there was a greater market for risk capital in Uruguay, it would be another factor that would strengthen our competitiveness as country.
3 reasons why international start-ups or entrepreneurs should consider Uruguay as location to work and invest in?
Almost all Uruguayans are children of grandchildren of immigrants. Therefore, we are very friendly with foreigners. We are one of the few countries in the world that receive more tourists every year than the number of people in our population. We welcome people from other places.
From Montevideo, in just a couple of hours, you can reach the two largest cities in South America: Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Therefore, our location is strategic.
The political stability reflected in our consolidated democratic system, as well as the stable legal framework of Uruguay.
The high professional level of our people provides an ideal environment for succeeding with your business, here in Uruguay.
Thank you, Jorge.
More about LATU here.
Our interview with Jorge Silveira Noble is part of our special report on Uruguay. More about the country and why you might want to consider living, working or investing there here.