The International Entrepreneur – Cultural Tips on Uruguay: Insights from Uruguayan & International Business Consultant, Gabriela Castro-Fontoura

This week, I am featuring enterprising Uruguay. This is a country often overshadowed by its much larger neighboring countries: Brazil and Argentina. As entrepreneurs we are always looking for opportunities overlooked by larger competitors. Uruguay is a member of of free trade organization MERCOSUR and has a stable economy and government. This country may be a smart choice for your future Latin American offices. Here are insights from Gabriela Castro-Fontoura. Gaby is Director at Sunny Sky Solutions, supporting businesses at different stages of expanding into Latin America www.sunnyskysolutions.co.uk.

What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of Uruguayans that comes out in Uruguay’s business culture?

Uruguayans are probably one of the most conservative yet liberal countries in Latin America. They are conservative in the way they dress for business (very formal), for example, but very liberal compared to other Latin Americans. For example, men and women enjoy probably more equal rights and opportunities than in other parts of Latin America. Uruguayans are a lot more like Europeans in the way they think than most would expect. This becomes apparent in their business dealings.

What are Uruguay’s most competitive industries in world markets?

The country still relies heavily on commodities, but things are changing. Uruguay is now excelling for example in IT and other services. Uruguay is a country of 3 million people located between two larger countries: Brazil (240 million) and Argentina (40 million). We have known for a long time that it is quality and not quantity what will make us competitive. This is why we focus on niche markets. For example, we can’t compete with the volume of wine exports from Chile but we can compete in very specific high-end varieties, such as tannat. Tourism is a key industry, with Punta del Este being the most luxurious seaside resort in Latin America. I am convinced that with our talent and passion, Uruguayans can compete well in world markets.

What’s the best way to find potential Uruguayan business contacts?

Find a way to be introduced through existing contacts. Personal relationships are key and they take time to build. You will find Uruguayans open to do business with the world and very welcoming. The Internet is a good starting point but you MUST make those calls. Emails are not very often read and often left without reply. Face-to-face is the best way of establishing a long-term relationship.

What do you wish people knew about doing business in Uruguay before they arrive in country?

The pace of doing business is slow. Things take a very long time, by North American and European standards. Don’t get frustrated if you feel you aren’t making progress, keep trying. Persevere.

From your perspective, what’s the business climate like for entrepreneurs (supportive vs. unsupported, culturally accepted profession vs not accepted, etc.)?

Uruguay is extremely supportive of entrepreneurship. Historically, Uruguay is a nation of immigrants from all over the world. You will find fellow entrepreneurs willing to share ideas and listen to what you have to say. There is a big generational gap, however, with those who have been working in the same job in the same company for decades. They are less willing to embrace entrepreneurship than the younger and more global-looking generations.

Gabriela Castro-Fontoura, Director at Sunny Sky Solutions and Uruguayan National