Mateo Salvatto, a 23-year-old technology entrepreneur: “You don’t have to be a genius to innovate, but naive” | Technology
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Mateo Salvatto is the antithesis of the prejudices that his generation carries. At only 23 years old, he is a businessman and author with his brother Augusto de the battle of the future (Almuzara / Lea 2022). Six years ago he developed the Háblalo application, a program with 140,000 users that helps people with disabilities communicate. He is also Director of Innovation at the ORT Institute of Argentina, an organization focused on education. He was born in the Caballito neighborhood in Buenos Aires to an average family whose ancestors emigrated from Italy to Spain before settling in Argentina. “I am 90% Galician”, he comments to avoid confusion about the Italian origin of his last name. He exudes optimism and assures that “there is a future”, that it is linked to technology and that, to innovate, “you don’t have to be a genius, but naive”. It can be disconcerting for those who already have more past than future or for those who subscribe to pessimism, but he defends that we live in the best of times.
Ask. Count, the protagonist of decent people (Leonardo Padura) believes: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Are you anxious?
Response. It doesn’t happen to me that much. We Latin Americans have this obsession with the present because we live in a constant situation of repeated crises that seem never ending. This leads us to spend the whole day tied to knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, literally. Focusing all day on what I can do to survive tomorrow leaves you very little room to look to the future. For me, the future does not generate anxiety, but optimism and enthusiasm. There is nothing more exciting than the time that humanity has ahead. It is complex, but very interesting.
There is nothing more exciting than the time that humanity has ahead
P. He assures that Brazil has a score of unicorns (companies with a value greater than 1,000 million dollars), Argentina has a dozen and Spain a dozen. Does that show technological potential?
R. The Latin tech landscape is better than we think. Most people don’t believe it, but Argentina is the country with the most unicorn companies per capita in Latin America, even though it has the worst macroeconomy after Venezuela. Every time you throw away any piece of technology, in Latin America it explodes. Technology makes it possible to equalize opportunities and overcome obstacles. Latin America is resilient by definition and technology rewards that. Argentina sets an example for being the country with the best technological human resource when programming is not even taught in schools. We have positive variables without even trying, so: imagine if we tried.
P. regrets on the battle of the future that his generation does not have something to believe in and that having that expectation is essential for great social changes.
R. Latin Americans grow up with most adults telling you that the only option, if you want to prosper, is to leave the country. In the end you convince yourself that there is nothing to do. But there is no better time in history to be alive than now. Artificial intelligence, space exploration, the possibilities of helping people with disabilities… There are many problems now, but if you look ahead, the world’s potential in the short term is incredible. What humanity can become, how people of my generation and the following generations can live is really impressive.
P. Is that why you criticize that pessimism has a good press because it seems intellectuals and optimism fools?
R. Speaking well of Argentina does not give benefits. The haters [críticos destructivos de las redes sociales] they think we are fools or have not lived long enough because we say there is a future. But you’d be surprised what a country can change.
If technology is used in your favor, it is the best thing that can happen to you, the best possible ally. If you are careless and just let it come, it can be absolute chaos.
P. He warns, as a problem, that we are used by technology and not the other way around
R. I am not an absolutist to think that technology is good and everything is fine. If it is used in your favor, it is the best thing that can happen to you, the best possible ally. If you are careless and just let it come, it can be absolute chaos. It is a double-edged sword. When an older person says: ‘Look at my grandson who knows how to use a tablets‘, I answer: ‘The genius is the programmer who made the tablets for your grandson to use’. It is dangerous to leave ourselves to chance with technology. As tools of control over people they are very great. But the internet is already a way of life. People must be taught to discern false information from real information, to behave digitally.
P. Do you need to be exceptional to innovate?
R. To do great things you don’t have to be a genius, but naive. I have one startup [empresa emergente] At the age of 23, six years ago I developed Háblalo, which allows companies to put together a tailored program to serve people with disabilities. Having a company or being successful or doing something different does not mean taking on a whole career and being bigger. Many entrepreneurs who are starting to succeed are now in their 20s or 18s. Today, the availability of information is an impressive thing and those who are born accustomed to this availability are the ones who can most shape their own future, do things of great impact without waiting to have the classic career or the classic academic and work progression of always, type twentieth century.
What humanity can become, how people of my generation and the following generations can live is truly impressive.
P. Is Silicon Valley no longer needed?
R. People believe that to start a business you have to be in Silicon Valley and that they give you a million dollars. Silicon Valley is an epicenter of a lot of big things and a lot of companies, but the world is decentralized and it doesn’t go through there anymore. You do not have to be in the United States and with financing.
P. Are there digital natives?
R. Nobody is born knowing how to use technology, but it is made so that you know how to use it. The important thing is not to be a consumer, but a producer, to be a protagonist and not just a witness.
P. He concludes in his book that a fundamental problem now is the lack of a ruling elite. Do you see in your generation people willing to assume that leadership?
R. There is a lack of leadership in all areas, including that of private enterprise. There is no elite, there are people with money, which is very different. Clearly, I do see willing people, but a very large process of cultural transformation is necessary. Today, the word entrepreneur is frowned upon and entrepreneur is used. But there is a change in mentality and collaborative culture in the world of technology. You have to follow that upward curve and try to keep changing those ideas, but from the bottom up. It is not going to happen this afternoon that we find people predisposed for these leaderships, that a critical mass is generated.
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