Monday, September 23, 2019

Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co. launches support program for women

By on March 15, 2019

Initiative for entrepreneurs maps out empowerment strategy

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the March 14 – 20, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

The Puerto Rico government awarded six food trucks to women from various parts of the island, with which they will be able to run, expand and even export their services in the future.

At a news conference held last week at the Economic Development & Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) in San Juan’s Hato Rey district, Trade & Export Co. (CCE by its Spanish initials) Director Ricardo Llerandi provided six women the keys to their new businesses.

These entrepreneurs will set up shop in Gurabo, Vega Baja, Mayagüez, Isabela and Bayamón.

From typical Puerto Rican sweets and Colombian pastries and desserts, to tripleta sandwiches and mugs, glasses and shirts, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares said these women now have the necessary tools and mechanisms to pursue their dreams and sell what they make with their own hands.

The women entrepreneurs will continue receiving government help through the “Business Briefcase for Women” digital platform, in which they will be able to expand their services. The platform, www.maletinempresarial.pr.gov, was officially launched last week. The government hopes this new tool will help aspiring businessowners and spur commerce.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, behind lectern, and First lady Beatriz Rosselló, to his right, announce the launch of the program.

The governor was accompanied by First Lady Beatriz Rosselló during the presentation of the new program.

“We aspire to create a scenario where opportunities are granted, and citizens know that these opportunities are accessible to everyone…. And it is up to them to take on these opportunities,” Rosselló Nevares said. “It’s an opportunity for all citizens to maximize their potential.”

“Today, we are giving them a push with this initiative,” the governor added. The Business Briefcase for Women Act was signed into law one year ago and orders DDEC to provide women an integrated process with all necessary tools during the creation of their business. It also offers them guidance, technical support and any other assistance they need through this process.

“The CCE will continue to provide training to new companies through the Puerto Rico Emprende Conmigo program, so they can maximize their business opportunities,” Llerandi said.

“Similarly, the participants in the Business Briefcase for Women program can undertake their business from [DDEC’s] New Entrepreneurship Center, which offers a range of services, including open job spaces [co-working], private offices and a conference room with high-speed internet access, printing services and complete equipment to make presentations,” Llerandi said.

Llerandi indicated that entrepreneurship centers will soon open in Ponce and Mayagüez.

The governor explained that the Business Briefcase for Women Act gives DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy the opportunity to establish a website where self-management can be boosted, educational tools can be accessed, and incentives can be awarded.

Furthermore, the law includes the capacity to export services. It gives DDEC the ability to offer webinars and guidance from one location, where women can access services and start creating their small or midsize business.

“The idea behind this is that when we see the distribution of the new jobs being created at a global level, it’s not the big companies, it’s not the government, it’s the small and midsize businesses that are creating the new jobs,” Rosselló Nevares said. “We must adjust to this reality and bet on self-management.”

He acknowledges that many women are the heads of the household, with many also single mothers, and a lot of their time is committed to other tasks, and sometimes following traditional structures is harder for them. The Business Briefcase for Women program adjusts to these women’s needs, so they have the time to take the necessary workshops and prepare their business plans.

“So, we can get to that group of Puerto Rican women, who have the capacity but maybe didn’t have the structure or opportunity to make their business possible, and here at the Trade & Export Co.’s New Entrepreneurship Center, they will have the tools to develop them,” the governor said.

The governor said DDEC and the CCE joined efforts to offer training to young people, who were seeking an opportunity to prepare themselves, the same way they were able to establish the Business Briefcase for Women program, through a convocation that was made so those interested were able to submit business plans and develop them.

The women who received their food truck will serve various kinds of products. The food trucks were delivered to six entrepreneurs, who are participating in the Puerto Rico Emprende Conmigo program.

This was the second “mobile business” the government has made, which now totals 26 food trucks granted to develop micro-entrepreneurs through training and the granting of the vehicle from which they will sell food and other products and services.

Dayana Miranda García, founder of Loading Creation, a family business created in 2017 to sell crafts and design shirts, mugs, uniforms and drinking glasses. She has been selling her creations through her businesses’ Facebook and Instagram accounts. In an interview with Caribbean Business, Miranda García said she will be selling her items from the cart the government granted her, within different towns across the island, participating in artisanal fairs and other events on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. She will continue her online business during weekdays.

She started her business because she wanted to be independent and to dedicate more time to her children. She also has various health conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, systematic lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. All these conditions attack her body in one way or another, and some days she simply cannot work if she’s sick. Her husband, Daniel Alamo, a cancer survivor, joined her effort with the goal of reinventing themselves, and started their own business. Their commerce has now expanded with the receipt of the cart from the government, from which they now will also be selling their products.

“We hope to be able expand the business in the future, and we are already exporting to the mainland U.S. because friends have placed orders from Connecticut and Florida,” Miranda García said.

She currently is working on her cart’s “final touches,” such as designing and placing signs, and by April will take the cart to different areas of the island to sell her items.

Meanwhile, Cyndia Ríos Guzmán will sell typical Puerto Rican sweets and piraguas, a frozen delicacy made from shaved ice and covered with fruit-flavored syrup, in Bayamón.

She told Caribbean Business the process to obtain her food truck began in October 2018, when she participated in an orientation seminar. She received her cart last week. Ríos Guzmán said she has to make some “minimal modifications to the cart” to adapt it so the ice used for the piraguas can remain in a fixed space.

“These are minor changes, but we have to work on them. We hope that by March 23, we can have the truck set up on Santa Juanita Avenue in Bayamón,” Ríos Guzmán said.

Her food truck will be open for business Friday to Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

She added that the process to obtain her truck was not difficult. She currently has one worker who helps her with her business.

“Between the permits that had to be obtained and other requirements that I needed to comply with, I understand that the process and waiting time [to receive the food truck] was adequate,” Ríos Guzmán said.

Upgrade served

She is expanding operations because the food truck the government provided her is an “upgrade” from her previous vehicle, and she can always run her business “even when it rains.”

Ríos Guzmán’s goal is to be able to sell her products in various towns and then expand operations in Fayetteville, N.C., “where there is growth in this kind of mobile business.”

“Exporting to the U.S. is viable. We already completed the studies and this concept can work in the States,” Ríos Guzmán said.

Jackeline Ávila Taveras, meanwhile, founded La Empanadería. In her newly delivered food truck, she will sell gourmet turnovers, or empanadillas, based on typical Puerto Rican dishes. The process to obtain her food truck took about five months.

“I took the workshop and the business plan seminar,” Ávila Taveras noted. “I then submitted the business plan for evaluation in November. In January, I was told the business proposal had been selected and I started the process of turning in the required documents. In March, I received the food truck.”

Ávila Taveras said she was able to take the food truck home last week and is adding finishing touches, installing the necessary equipment and will start operations this week.

“The truck will be located on PR2, near Santa Rosa shopping mall in Bayamón,” Ávila Taveras said. “We will also be available to participate in activities and at private events.”

Her food truck will be open Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The process flowed pretty well,” she said. “Shaping a business idea on paper, in a coherent and convincing way that makes it viable, is not the easiest of tasks. However, in my experience, I can say the Trade & Export Co. awarded us with valuable tools, and they were available to clear up any doubts throughout the entire process.”

She further noted that the Labor Department was efficient while offering guidance and support to the selected participants, to expedite the delivery of the food trucks.

“It should be noted that they also presented us with initiatives and efforts aimed at training [us] and developing a business, especially in the development process, and by offering support to women entrepreneurs,” Ávila Taveras said.

The foodie on wheels said she hopes to expand her “start-up” and open more food trucks under the same concept. She also envisions exporting her services. The entrepreneur is also in the process of recruiting two workers, and hence creating jobs.

“We aspire to contribute to Puerto Rico’s economy,” she said, “not only by creating jobs, but also by betting on Puerto Ricans who have the capacity and creativity to reinvent themselves and be innovative in terms of increasing the exportation of their products and service, and achieving a greater flow of money toward the local economy.”

From the western coastal town of Mayagüez, Astrid Correa Cancel will be in charge of selling typical Puerto Rican foods from her truck, La Cobija. She told Caribbean Business it took about three months to obtain her truck from the government.

She still needs to acquire some of the equipment to cook her typical Puerto Rican dishes and will soon open shop in Mayagüez.

She explained that receiving all necessary documents and permits was not an easy task because it involved numerous trips to various government offices.

“La Cobija will be open Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” she said. Although she currently does not have plans to expand operations, she noted that is the goal, to be able to have several operations running. She has already hired one worker to help her with her day-to-day food truck operations.

In addition, Natashly Echevarría Pérez will set up her tripleta sandwich business, Las Gorditas, in Isabela.

Meanwhile, Marilú Ortiz Maldonado will make and sell Colombian pastries and desserts from her food truck in Vega Baja. Her business will operate Thursday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., on PR155, and will soon operate on Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., from PR137, which runs between Vega Baja and Morovis, taking advantage of local business in the area.

Her Colombian pastries will be filled with pork, chicken, cheese and fish, among other ingredients.

“I did the registration process to take the workshop offered by the CCE online, and sent the business proposal via email to the corresponding offices at the CCE and Labor Department,” Ortiz Maldonado said. “I already had my business operating, but I only had a tarp and a table, so for me this food truck represent an opportunity to grow.” It took her about four months to get her truck.

Her goal is to open an empanadas factory and market these products to local stores and supermarkets. Although currently a family-run business (her daughter helps), the plan is to hire someone to help cook to dedicate more time to promotion and marketing.

Rosselló Nevares said the only requirement to participate in the program is to “want to learn and for participants to use available resources.”

During last week’s activity, Labor Secretary Carlos Saavedra Gutiérrez said program participants signed a use contract for $1 for the next two years and can renew it after that.

Meanwhile, DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy said the government invested $200,000 in the program’s website, from a special Act 20 fund that incentivizes the export of services, “because that should be the long-term goal…to have the capacity to export and bring new money to the local economy.

“At our agency, we designed this website while considering the leading roles women play in our society, and recognizing that due to the multiple functions they assume, they often do not have enough time to go to offices to receive guidance, or that orientation is costly and inaccessible,” Laboy said. “So, we created this holistic digital platform that can be accessed from a computer or mobile phone at any time.”

Laboy further noted that “once they have established their businesses, women entrepreneurs can benefit from other programs and incentives available from DDEC to continue innovating and expanding in local or international markets through exportation.”

Saavedra Gutiérrez, meanwhile, said he decided to bet on the creativity and “fighting spirit” of these entrepreneurs, who “now are contributing to the workforce and taking an important step toward self-employment.

“I am pleased we can place in these women’s hands space where they can develop their ideas,” Saavedra Gutiérrez said. “Some will improve the status of their existing business and others will undertake a new business with the tools and training we have given them to keep their businesses operating and creating jobs.”

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