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Ian Ozsvald picture

This is Ian Ozsvald's blog (@IanOzsvald), I'm an entrepreneurial geek, a Data Science/ML/NLP/AI consultant, founder of the Annotate.io social media mining API, author of O'Reilly's High Performance Python book, co-organiser of PyDataLondon, co-founder of the SocialTies App, author of the A.I.Cookbook, author of The Screencasting Handbook, a Pythonista, co-founder of ShowMeDo and FivePoundApps and also a Londoner. Here's a little more about me.

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25 November 2012 - 19:50StartupChile (Round 2.1) all finished, thoughts

The odd thing is that I’ve been trying to write this post for 3 months. Having started and stopped several times (including during the flight back from Chile on Oct 15th) I figure I ought to put something out. The journey was, it turns out, somewhat of a roller-coaster ride.

Early in January Kyran Dale and I flew to Santiago for Round 2.1 of StartupChile to build StrongSteam, a cloud-based computer vision API. Emily (my fiancée) also won funding and came out to build TinyEars. Sadly StrongSteam didn’t make it (my co-founder and I went in different directions, it was easier to end the project).

The goal of the StartupChile project is to bring working entrepreneurs in from around the world to teach Chileans how to build start-ups. Teaching includes running events, building partnerships, explaining lessons-learnt in prior experiences and explaining that failure/experimentation is a part of the process. In return we stay for 6 months, get a $40k reimbursement package (90% of our expenses up to $40k USD are reimbursed via a slightly torturous bureaucratic process) and are free to leave at the end. We never have to register our business our there, give up shares or pay tax on foreign earnings.

During the last 8 months I:

  • ran a pair of Python programming courses (material open-sourced)
  • started private self-mentorship groups (now an official part of the StartupChile programme)
  • built a novel AI backend with Kyran for using Optical Character Recognition to replace the need for QR codes (which is now OpenPlants)
  • won ‘best choice for investment‘ on the Jason Calacanis show This Week in Startups (ha!)
  • played with Kinects and Python for rock-sizing with computer vision for the Chilean mining industry
  • organised some data meetups
  • spoke on agile lessons-learnt
  • presented to VCs and Angel groups (and got offered $500k investment lumps in both San Francisco and Chile)
  • received acquisition offers from companies in San Francisco and Chile
  • presented at conferences like PyCon and got mentions in places like the BBC
  • wrote up demo day meets
  • finished the programme by moving with Emily to San Francisco for 2 months to continue our networking

The main upsides of the programme are:

  • time to build your idea without the need to work/consult to pay the bills (your living expenses are covered)
  • lovely group of proactive people to meet from both around the world and locally
  • supportive (if overworked) staff members who do their best to help
  • lovely people in Chile in general (warm, friendly, interested, those building companies are particularly open and friendly)
  • increasing recognition in the investment/startup community which opens doors (e.g. The Economist and others covered it recently) – a few months ago StartupChile held its first Demo Day in San Francisco to ease fund-raising
  • easy access to North America if you’re coming in from outside the US (I used it as a springboard in our final two months to head to San Francisco to continue the networking)
  • you’re encouraged to travel within Chile to teach other groups, you also have easy access to places like Argentina and Uruguay if you fancy traveling (we certainly did) and can justify it as work-related
  • other related spaces like the Santiago Hackerspace and new co-work venues are popping up

The main goal of the programme definitely seems to be working for the Chileans. In our time in Chile we saw many Chileans step forwards with either young working companies or ideas (some high-tech, many not), who then got on with building, partnering and growing their businesses. The company registration process is being massively simplified, failure is becoming more acceptable (generally it is not socially acceptable to fail – much the case in the UK only 20 years ago – and thankfully that attitude is changing in Chile).

More Chileans are traveling around the world, more doors are being opened in cities like San Francisco and more money, connections and opportunities are flowing back into Chile. Being part of a government’s experiment to change their citizens’ attitude to risk (and seeing it work) has been a very rewarding experience.

On a personal level I’ve also made some lovely contacts – people I’d work with who I consider friends who I’d never have met otherwise. I suspect that the “StartupChile Mafia” (ex-StartupChile folk) will open doors for all of us in the programme in the future too. I’ve met a few ex-StartupChile folk here in London (one by accident in the pub last week – hi Michael!) and I’m wondering if we can run a Mafia meetup before Christmas.

There are several downsides to Chile which should be considered by future applicants:

  • there’s a reason we’re paid to be entrepreneurs in Chile – the ecosystem is lacking certain things and maybe you’d not setup shop there otherwise. Make sure your eyes are open to the very young/conservative investment scene, the small tech community and the conservative nature of businesses (bureaucracy and caution->long time to get things done)
  • things that worked elsewhere in the world a few years ago will probably be successful now in Chile (e.g. people building online food services and education sites were doing well, persons trying to offer novel AI/data applications and things requiring iPads had a, well, harder time of it) so don’t assume your cutting edge idea from California will move quickly in Chile
  • the air in winter is polluted and horrid (bad news if e.g. you have asthma) but lovely in summer
  • the programme’s goals are focused on making Chile successful (and not you, per se, but that’s a nice side-effect for StartupChile if it occurs)
  • most people only speak the Chilean-variant of Spanish called Chileno (StartupChile participants and staff all speak some level of English) – this can make buying things in the street a bit of a challenge – try to learn some Spanish before you come
  • there was little explanation about the interests & needs of companies within Chile – for example it took me months to learn just how large and hungry the mining industry is for innovative solutions (and it is a rich industry)

I spoke with Mitch Altman (a founder of the San Franciscan hackerspace Noisebridge) recently and, paraphrased, he pointed out that in most places in the world (he travels a lot to promote hackerspaces) if you open the door to encourage experiments, accept failure and encourage small business and knowledge sharing then It Just Tends To Happen. I suspect that this model can be applied around the world, without big Government funding, and I expect to see many more countries try this bottom-up approach of bringing entrepreneurs in (rather than building expensive ‘innovation clusters’ that rarely seem to perform).

There are other positive and negative write-ups about the programme including Emily‘s, Liis Peetermanns‘s, another, Nathan Lustig, Maptia (lovely British team!). My posts here are under the startup-chile tag.

If you’re interested in building your business in South America then this is the go-to programme. If you need 6 months time in an interesting country with an increasing investor scene, this is not a bad choice. If you want mentorship and hands-on help or you want to deal with the large corporates that you might find in London, New York or Frankfurt then Chile hasn’t proven itself here yet (though it may, given time). What’s impressed me most about the programme is the way it keeps on improving – keep an eye on it, definitely consider it! Seek a wide set of opinions if you want to apply, lots of people experience the programme differently.

Emily and I have discussed what we’d like to see in future StartupChile-like programmes (I suspect we’ll see more, with further innovation, as Governments wake up to the positive change that can occur):

  • invite academics and industrialists to a country to work on a specific problem for a fixed time period without heavy-handed IP controls but funded like StartupChile – this could be a wonderful way to foster innovation and collaboration and to build new IP that could be exploited (perhaps with a share in the IP being owned by all in these projects)
  • setup targets for sector improvement in a country – e.g. in Chile perhaps choose to make mining more energy efficient – then invite companies to come with industrial doors opened and primed for collaboration (so many StartupChile companies could have formed local partnerships if only doors had been opened so the incumbents knew we were coming!)
  • list the problems that entrepreneurs could solve and make it public – actively seek entrepreneurs to visit to try to fix things (e.g. in Chile the winter pollution must be fixable, education is super-expensive [which led to student protests] and surely can be improved, the mining industry suffers from growing energy and mine-discovery costs)
  • encourage an alumni group so past members can easily help future members (something that’s been long discussed in StartupChile but seems to be low on the agenda)
  • work harder to jump language & cultural barriers – in Chile we were told everyone on the programme would speak English but the locals notably didn’t so the very people we were trying to help were hard to communicate with – add language & cultural lessons to a programme to ease the transition for both sides

As of now I’m back to my AI consulting for natural language processing (working with the lovely team at AdaptiveLab in Shoreditch), tinkering on the side with industrial needs learned via StrongSteam in annotate.io. If you’re ex-StartupChile and you’d be interested in meeting in London, drop me a line.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

1 Comment | Tags: ArtificialIntelligence, Business Idea, Entrepreneur, Life, StartupChile

3 July 2012 - 16:26Round 4.1 Demo Morning at StartupChile

I’m sitting here in the Demo Morning for the newly arrived Round 4.1 (4.2 turns up in a few weeks). Here’s a list of the pitches with my (probably too) short descriptions. The Round 5 applications are open, I think applications close this weekend (there’s a long and recent discussion here about the pros and cons of the programme – read all the comments for a fair overview).

There’s far fewer travel/social networks than in our Round 2.1 (from 5 months back) and several are using new fangled high tech tools like face detection and data mining. These companies are looking stronger than those of earlier Rounds:

  • ComparaTeVe TV engagement and metrics
  • FoodKhoj group food ordering at universities (for wider choice and greater delivery distances)
  • AdviceMeCosmetics cosmetics recommendation site, has some nice face detection-based tools
  • GrindSmart mining technologies
  • OneSeed micro-finance for small scale entrepreneurship
  • Nowlr Web 2.0 trend spotting
  • Alodok doctor/patient network
  • FaceAlert Face detection tools for kids social networks with NLP for e.g. bullying detection
  • NetNUI target market analysis (surveys?)
  • BioParaiso bio-focused incubator based at Valparaiso
  • RetailPro business intelligence for Web2.0 companies (I think just web-based companies)
  • PhageTech microbiological control
  • Oja.la ‘the mercadolibre/ebay of education’ (Spanish)
  • Flipxing GMaps based barter network
  • TuCreaz  etsy-like hand made product site
  • Pllop.it an online presentation tool, turning into a goal/habbit setting app
  • BuscoTurno healthcare apointment booking system
  • OnLinner geolocalized games challenge
  • Alefant kids education site
  • Taumatropo not sure (kids education game maker?)
  • Minka not sure (upcycling and recycling fabric?)
  • TuCloset Chilean clothing sharing site for women
  • FlapShare not sure (crowdfunding?)

Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

1 Comment | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, StartupChile

29 June 2012 - 16:40Featured in BBC News

We’ve just had StrongSteam featured at the end of this BBC Tech article on foreign tech firms in the UK (noting that we’re a UK firm gone to foreign parts…) by Katia Moskvitch.

I’ll add a touch of context, I’m quoted as saying that I couldn’t raise funding for StrongSteam in the UK. This quote comes from a longer chat with Katia several months back about the state of funding in the UK, previously I’d looked for funding for seed-stage investments in other projects and found a lack of interest. For StrongSteam I hadn’t at that time looked for UK investment but I would expect the situation for a risky, early stage investment to be difficult (well, really very difficult).

In contrast I’ve had interest here in Chile from VCs and Angels and also offers of investment from Silicon Valley. Interestingly it didn’t take much work to get these intros and offers.

In response to the BBC articles I’ve been sent a link to Seedrs by Thomas Davies (Investment Director), they’re a UK based seed investment platform (a bit like Kickstarter-for-seed). They let folk invest in startups and help startups pitch for up to £150,000 seed investment. They’re launching Friday 6th July.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

No Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, StartupChile

16 May 2012 - 20:21Mentorship groups in StartupChile

A group of us have been running a mentorship group here in StartupChile, it makes up for the lack of external mentorship (a sad deficiency in the programme). I think that more startups ought to be in mentorship groups so I’ll write about what we do.

What is it? A group of 6 of us meet once a week (10am, local Starbucks) for about 1.5 hours, we cover how our companies have progressed since the last meet, discuss problems and set new goals. We’re accountable to each other and know that our peers are smart enough to call us out if we’re fibbing.

Early goals? Emily and I used to be a part of a similar group back in the UK – having peers who’d hold us accountable was super-useful whilst we figured out which things were hard (which typically we might try to ignore) and worked through to solutions. We missed that structure here in StartupChile so we built our own.

Outcomes? We’ve witnessed one company choose to fold and reinvent itself, another start to question its market, another to collapse the bigger ambitions and to take on a more manageable sub-task during Year 1 and for me I’d realised my earlier Customer Discovery process was weak (which I’m now addressing lest I get a drubbing from my peers). These changes occurred in the last couple of weeks (all pretty dramatic and darned sensible). We’ve been running for 7 or so weeks and we’ll continue for as long as we’re still resident here – the meetings carry great value for all in attendance.

Structure? Each person gets 5 minutes (timed on a phone with a loud audio alert) to talk through their progress in the last week and to mention where they’re at with last week’s goals. Once we’ve done everyone (30 minutes) we move on to problems, we share questions and issues and ask for feedback. This is meant to last for 5 minutes (we use the countdown alert again) but if the problem is interesting then we’ll run on (maybe to 10 minutes), often a lot of learning can occur as we try to solve each other’s problems. Finally we set a new goal for next week, we run through the group setting one or two achievable goals. Mine for next week is to have a better grasp of the competitive landscape in the run up to StartupChile’s Demo Day.

Typically we run for 1-1.5 hours. Someone (normally me) has to be the Chairman to make sure things keep moving. You need firm Chairman lest one or two people take over the meeting and turn it into a bore.

How to start one? Find 3-6 other companies who are roughly at the same stage and doing related things (e.g. companies doing early stage hardware, public software and r&d around baby-care might mix but companies doing only web-related stuff at an alpha/beta stage are probably a better match). Agree to meet each week at a set time. Agree on a Chairman. Agree to Chatham House Rules (“what is said in the room stays in the room”) and let people state when things have to be kept completely private within the group.

After the first few meetings fix the group (anyone who rarely attends gets kicked) so the group can trust whoever is present and not expect the surprise of new people. If the group loses people over time (we’ve lost a couple due to the natural evolution of startups) then invite a few others in with consent from the group. Keep meeting. Keep pushing each other to make smarter decisions. Don’t hold off of the hard questions. Make yourself accountable.

The main goal is to build a team that’s stronger than the sum of its parts. Working in isolation means you get to avoid the hard questions and perhaps avoid taking account of your progress – there’s nowhere to hide when your peers are waiting for your weekly progress report.

A similar goal seems to be behind the new NReduce startup collaboration project and the weekly dinners at YCombinator are well known. Being accountable to your peers works.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

2 Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, StartupChile

30 March 2012 - 15:532nd Data/AI Meetup – official SUP event at Santiago’s hackerspace next Wednesday

I’m very chuffed to say that our 2nd AI/Data/API meetup will take place next Wednesday 4th April  7pm at the Santiago MakerSpace at Avenida Italia 850 (map). The HackerSpace is a 15 minute walk south/east from the CMI office, just off of Bilbao.

UPDATE we’re meeting at 7pm (not 7.30pm) and we have an extra speaker – Skype co-founder Ahti Heinla will tell the “Real story behind the Skype success story” in an extra 30 minute slot. Here’s the Meetup announce with full details. Remember to Attend if you’re coming and do UnAttend if you realise you can’t make it later (the numbers are limited).

The event is free (but bring cash for the specialist beer – see end of this post). Our four speakers will talk for 15 minutes each:

  • Ian and Kyran with StrongSteam with live demos of optical character recognition (OCR) and artwork recognition mobile apps (angellist)
  • Tim of BackYardBrains – “Curious about how your brain works? With the help of our friends the humble Amazonian cockroach, we will teach you the electrical properties of neurons.” – will include demos and hardware you can buy (angellist)
  • Ashley of PaperHater will give a live demo of their receipt/paper scanning and OCR application and talk about how they created a spinoff
  • Javier Gramajo of SQMOS will give a live demo of their augmented reality Android app (angellist)

StrongSteam and BackYardBrains are Round 2, PaperHater is in Round 3 and SQMOS are staying in Santiago after Round 1. Stick around after to learn about the hackerspace and drink Ignacio’s specialist beers.

The Maker/Hacker Space is the first in Santiago, here’s some news about their launch and they have a circuit building workshop  on 6-8th April. In this space you will find:

  • 3D printers
  • Robots with legs and robots that fly
  • 8 bit computers
  • Pinball machines
  • Dirty work space (CNC lathe and other construction equipment)
  • Lots of creative equipment that you can use to build electronic, mechanical, art and music things if you choose to become a member

Ignacio Correa of ClubCervezas will bring along specialist Chilean beers (to buy) – he took us on a beer tasting night in Bario Brasil a couple of weeks back and introduced us to a whole range of lovely local beers (300 microbreweries!) that we hadn’t tasted before. Bring some money if you’d like to try unusual and hard-to-find Chilean beers (my pockets will be stuffed with cash).


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

No Comments | Tags: ArtificialIntelligence, Life, StartupChile, StrongSteam

31 January 2012 - 14:12Data mining/AI/robots/hackerspace meet-up this Thursday

This Thursday at 7pm our StrongSteam will run a friendly pub meet around:

  • Data mining
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Robots
  • Hackerspaces

The goal is to bring people together from StartupChile and the local community who are interested in the above subjects. The meeting is just a pub meetup, if there’s demand then I’ll organise speakers for the next one.

The locations is Bar Lastarria, 70 Lastarria, Santiago (map). Here’s a photo:

Confirmed attendees include:

Here’s the official announce.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

No Comments | Tags: ArtificialIntelligence, Entrepreneur, Life, StartupChile

31 January 2012 - 14:02StartupChile – we have our contracts, StrongSteam progress, PyCon

A few days back we signed our StartupChile contracts, now we’re official. Apparently our ID cards are available but there’s no word on bank accounts yet. The admin rolls forward but it is a bit boring now. The feeling here is still very positive, we’ve gained some Return Value Agenda (RVA) points by meeting with the local university and StrongSteam runs its first event this week (next post).

In StrongSteam we’ve made progress – we’re now working with Kasabi on an optical character recognition project on Latin plant labels, they have large plant data sets which we’ll marry up with a user’s experience whilst walking around places like Kew Gardens. We’re being interviewed by the BBC on this shortly.

Behind the scenes I’ve extended the python-tesseract wrapper with a nicer access class, shortly I’ll post that to github. It makes it really easy to get characters and co-ordinates from scenes. Image processing tools will be available via StrongSteam to make the task easier.

For March I’ve also bought my PyCon tickets to run my High Performance Computing class. I had no idea it’d take longer to fly from Santiago to Santa Clara than Heathrow to Santiago! It is 20 hours north vs 18 hours west.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

No Comments | Tags: ArtificialIntelligence, StartupChile

14 January 2012 - 21:27Santiago – first few days

I’d better log our first few days before the crazyness of signing up to the programme kicks off on Monday. Emily (my fiancée) is also blogging for her TinyEars StartupChile project.

We arrived safely on Wednesday after 18 hours of travel – BA treated us well (reasonably comfy seats and reasonable food). We were hustled into a taxi at the airport (at a rather pricey £45) but got delivered quickly to our rather nice apartments in swanky Providence.

We’ve had three nights of parties now, first with Jon and Anna (so lovely to catch up!), then lunch with Emily’s madrina Johanna (@J_Angulo) and on to meet our padrino Fernando (@fdelsolar), and finally two Phase 1 leaving dos last night. Pisco and rum seem to flow from all bottles. We seem to have found a nice Pale Ale too and London Pride has been sighted in bottles. We got to meet Fernando of SQMOS, the data guys of Junar and Tom of Rentalita (Tom’s Santiago tumblr) along with a whole bunch of others, some of whom are shortly off to travel South America.

Yesterday we climbed San Cristobel (photo) and met a Llama (pronounced ‘yama’). Today we had a nice run along the river at Tobalaba and Kyran has pointed out some other running sites.

Tonight we have another dinner, Sunday we chill (a touch, and prepare a demo), then Mon-Thurs are sign-up days, government ID card days, bank days and demo days all rolled into one lump. The week after we ‘officially’ start on our projects (even if we have launched StrongSteam to our first users already!).

Wifi tip – in the business district there are lots of StarBucks, these have free wifi when you buy coffee.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

No Comments | Tags: ArtificialIntelligence, Entrepreneur, StartupChile

9 January 2012 - 15:13Heading to StartupChile

This is a quick update – we’re flying tomorrow to Santiago for 6 months of the StartupChile project ($40k funding, no equity, hundreds of projects flying in from all over the world). If you’re interested in taking 6 months to build your own project I’d suggest you take a look at applying to the next round.

Kyran Dale and I are flying out to build our StrongSteam AI and data mining toolkit (its a cloud API with local language bindings). We have our first client and we launched the alpha API to our first testers a couple of days back. Once we’re in Santiago we’ll add some more testers, expand the API and deliver our first project, then after March we can really ramp up the creation of data mining APIs for people to play with. We’re excited to be in talks with a few people about releasing the alpha at a couple of hackday events, it’ll be really interesting to see what people do with our optical character recognition, image matching, face detection and image manipulation tools. If you’re interested in trying out the Python API then do sign-up to the mailing list on the homepage.

Emily (my fiancée) is also heading out with her TinyEars iPad app, she’ll build a child-friendly app that’ll help kids learn to read out loud by using speech recognition to spot errors in their speech. She’ll be looking for testers with iPad 2s and young kids who are learning to read, do get in touch if you’re interested in the testing.

We had a fab sendoff at the Northern Lights a few days back, cheers to all who came along :-)

Finally – I’m a bit honoured to have been selected as a teacher at PyCon in the US in March, I’m running a half-day tutorial on High Performance Computing based on my tutorial at EuroPython. We’re using a bunch of these ideas in StrongSteam, it’ll be great to run the tutorial again.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

No Comments | Tags: ArtificialIntelligence, Entrepreneur, StartupChile