Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Foundation for Puerto Rico sets path for scaling entrepreneurship

By on September 11, 2019

(Courtesy)

Starting in southern towns, will use grant, along with other specialized entities, to build model

SAN JUAN — Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) is receiving a $290,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation to fund the latest startup-assistance program of the local nonprofit that fosters social and economic development.

It is the first time the Kauffman Foundation, the renowned stateside nonprofit that studies and promotes entrepreneurship, has awarded a Puerto Rican entity a grant.

The initiative will include other important ecosystem organizations, announced FPR’s director of Strategic Projects and Alliances, Alma Fronteras, who added it would focus on business ideas that could stimulate the visitor economy, starting in the southern part of the island. 

The initiative will focus on the Ponce and Coamo region, creating a collaboration between all the organizations as a step by step curriculum, or “stepping stones,” Fronteras said, intended to help 15 entrepreneurs materialize their ideas into fully operational businesses. Meanwhile, the organizations working with FPR on this program will be looking to tweak the designed curriculum to offer a startup assistance model that can be implemented in other programs and areas in Puerto Rico.

“A project like this has a lot of importance and relevance, especially because of the historical moment [Puerto Rico] is going through, which requires more collaboration…,” said Alessandra Correa, founder of INprende, one of the organizations in the program. “I believe this is a new era for entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico that makes us reflect about how, as businessowners, we can stop looking at each other as competition and start collaborating.”

The first step will be made by INprende, which will reach out to potential participants and provide the educational and motivational components. Prospective participants will then gather during Start-Up Weekend, an event where their ideas will be evaluated. Fronteras said the ideas or business models presented do not need to be polished. “It can be an idea written on a napkin,” she said.

Afterward, Grupo Guayacán will take participants through its I-Corps program, which teaches entrepreneurs how to take advantage of opportunities that emerge from academic research, for example, and learn about potential markets by interviewing potential customers to see if their idea needs more refinement or changes, explained the group’s executive director, Laura Cantero.

For those who move forward, Centro para Emprendedores will provide the next component, technical assistance, in areas such as the permits process and legal requirements, while Causa Local will help secure financing through Kiva, an organization that offers credit and training to low-income individuals. 

Ana María Cintrón, founder and director of Causa Local, added that besides providing funds, the organization is looking to gauge participants’ “financial literacy” and improve upon it through education. All along the process, the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust’s specialized nonprofit network to connect entrepreneurs with resources, Colmena66, will be by participants’ side for assistance, as well as monitoring the event to devise how the program can become a replicable model. 

Fronteras explained that the program will start by looking at some 500 ideas, of which 100 will be culled and then pared to 15 potential businesses, a process that Grupo Guayacán’s executive director described as “stepping stones can be seen as filters.” 

Cantero mentioned that the proportion of finalists is not uncommon, citing as an example, Grupo Guayacan’s I-Corps event in October, which had 70 applicants. She would like to see an increase in funding opportunities for the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

While stateside statistics show that only about 30 percent of business reach their 10th anniversary, both Cantero and Causa Local’s Cintrón argued that Puerto Rico has several differences that improve the staying power of startups. 

“A factor right now in Puerto Rico is that many people don’t have another option that is not entrepreneurship. It’s not a maybe, it’s not ‘I’m going to try it out,’ it’s ‘this or I have to leave the country.’ I think that is a catalyst for these businesses not closing,” Cintrón said, adding that 80 percent of the 140 business that have worked with Causa Local in the past three years are still open. 

Cantero also pointed out that Puerto Rico’s particular entrepreneurial ecosystem helps startups avoid mistakes that cause most other new businesses to fail.