Fernando Rojas had a two-year-old idea and few places to turn for the $5,000 in cash he needed to make it a reality.
A software programmer based in the Chilean capital of Santiago who designs videogames with his brother Iván, Rojas hoped to develop a game for the iPhone using themes from the culture of the Mapuche—Chile’s largest indigenous group.
“The Mapuche people have a lot to say,” Rojas told Fox News Latino. “Everyone does games with zombies. We wanted to do something fresh, something different.”
While perusing a post on a technology blog, Rojas found out about “Idea.me”—Latin America’s answer to Kickstarter.
Once his projected was pitched, vetted and posted, it took just a month and a half to raise the $5,000 he needed for the game’s music and marketing. But the campaign turned out to be much more valuable, as the media found out about the project through the crowdfunding site, propelling the fledgling company, Studio Pangea, to local notoriety.
The experience pointed to the possibilities for crowdfunding that Idea.me is opening up for Latin American creative types with an entrepreneurial streak.
The brainchild of Juan Pablo Capello, 45, a lawyer and investor with a social mission, Idea.me harnesses the power of social media to connect individual funders with people looking for modest financing.
And he wants to do it while turning a profit.
“The problem with a lot of non-profits is that they’re not sustainable. They’re always going to need support,” Capello told Fox News Latino. “Up until a few years ago, there was a real dividing line between not-for-profit kind of projects and for-profit projects, but in the last few years, you’re seeing this niche being created of for-profit ventures with a social mission.”
Digital patrons can put their money behind ventures including a group of Chilean musicians who travel the world playing impromptu street shows, an Uruguayan documentary following the lives of people who need organ transplants, or a bus converted into a mobile laboratory that roves the Chilean countryside to bring the joy of science to students in rural schools.
Most projects ask for less than $10,000. The site makes its money through corporate partnerships and by skimming 5 percent of the money donated to successfully funded ventures.
Idea.me is precisely the kind of idea one might expect to leap from the mind of a man like Capello.
A resident of Miami—the city that serves as the United States’ preeminent commercial gateway to Latin America—Capello grew up in Chile, but spent much of his adult life in the United States.
Armed with degrees from Duke University and from New York University School of Law, Capello went to work as a lawyer in Chile before returning to work on Wall Street in 1998. He became one of five partners in Patagon.com, an online broker providing basic banking services to the upper end of Latin America’s underbanked.
The company sold for 750 million to Banco Santander in 2001.
With a successful career and money in the bank, Capello joined with other wealthy investors searching for a way to tackle a problem that Capello views as one of Latin America’s biggest—in a region once dominated by military dictatorships, Latin America now boasts political democracy without economic democracy.
“That was the impetus behind Idea.me and really the main social mission that it has – to democratize access to capital in Latin America,” Capello said.
While creative entrepreneurs in Latin America face the same, if not greater obstacles to financing their projects than their U.S. counterparts, Chile provides a hospitable environment for a venture like Idea.me, says Susan Segal, President of the Council of the Americas.
“Countries like Chile have really gone out of their way to make it easy for a young entrepreneur to start a business,” Segal told Fox News Latino. “Capital is clearly a constraint, but it’s amazing that there’s a number of incubators that are starting up.’
Latin America also presents its own challenges. There are tax hurdles. There are language barriers. (Idea.me operates in Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia, and plans to expand to Brazil.) Perhaps most importantly, crowdfunding remains untested in Latin America at the regional level.
“You can’t just take a Kickstarter or indiegogo model and bring it to Latin America,” Capello said. “People in Latin America aren’t going to just naturally trust the platform the way they do in the United States.”
Fortunately for Capello, people like Rojas are willing to give it a try.
Rojas says he always wanted to pitch a project to Kickstarter, but encountered obstacles due to Chilean residency. Idea.me solved his problem.
The financing help make his videogame, “Pewen Collector,” possible. Using the iPhone’s tilt capability, players slide a character back and forth to collect pine nuts from a tree known in the Mapuche language as the “Pewen.”
For Rojas, the game is about more than entertainment. Though he doesn’t identify as Mapuche himself, he points out that Chileans are mostly mestizos who share the Mapuche cultural heritage.
“To understand each other, we have to understand ourselves as well,” Rojas said. “Videogames are a great way to do that.”