Nonprofit Grupo Guayacán looks back at work done after Hurricane Maria

Participants during an EnterPRize workshop (Courtesy)

Has helped 175 businesses in past 2 years of recovery

SAN JUAN — A total of 175 Puerto Rican business ventures have benefited during the past two years of the work done by Grupo Guayacán Inc. to boost the island’s recovery in the aftermath of historic Hurricane Maria.

Grupo Guayacán offers training and business development programs for businesses in different stages of growth. Among its best-known programs are I-Corps PR, the EnterPRize competition, the IDEA Seed Fund, and the Guayacán Venture Accelerator.

Among the businesses it assisted after Maria, 42 were projects in the idea development stage, 100 were startups, and 33 were existing businesses, the nonprofit that specializes in business development said in a release Wednesday, adding that the main sectors it supported with funds or resources were technology, healthcare, retail, agrobusiness, and food and services.

The organization’s latest report, “Guayacán Group: Two Years After María,” documents the more than $1.2 million, of its own funds and donations from corporations, individuals and foundations that were granted as incentives for small businesses’ recovery since Sept. 20, 2017, and invested as seed capital to fan their growth.

Grupo Guayacán’s executive director, Laura Cantero (Courtesy)

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria brought great challenges for local businesses, both for those emerging or already established ones, that faced difficulties to keep running their daily operations, supply chains, customers and expansion plans,” said Laura Cantero, executive director of the organization. “In the midst of such a complex situation, we focused our efforts on bringing resources to facilitate the recovery of these businesses through emergency capital and securing the continuity of our business education programs. Throughout this process we held onto a strong conviction that the local business sector would play a key role of the recovery process, and that these investments would help build a more resilient Puerto Rico,” she added.

The economic impact for the companies assisted, “representing more than 2,500 jobs and an injection of $250 million annually into the economy through local sales and export activities,” is shown in the report, the group said, adding that “80% of the projects in the idea developing stage that received support” from Grupo Guayacán have been able to continue developing their companies.

To support its endowment fund, the group will launch the third edition of its Guayacán Giving Day campaign on Monday. Its goal is to raise $75,000 in donations by Oct. 23.

“During the past two years, Grupo Guayacán has dedicated more than 1,200 hours in the business training of more than 500 participants, work that would not have been possible without the support of a large number of collaborators who help us with the programs through donations to our endowment fund,” Grupo Guayacán Chairman Ángel Pérez said in the release.

“Guayacán Group: Two Years After María” is available on the Grupo Guayacán Facebook page, @guayacanorg, and those interested in contributing to the nonprofit’s efforts, may do so via www.guayacan.org/give or ATH Móvil (/ Guayacan).




Puerto Rico business support network Colmena66 publishes impact report

(Screen capture of www.colmena66.com)

Measures new entrepreneurial ecosystem connections

SAN JUAN – Colmena66, a business support network that operates under the direction of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust and is affiliated with SourceLink, an organization established with the support of the Kauffman Foundation, announced Wednesday the results of its impact report for 2018.

The network focuses on startup assistance in areas such as business plans, mentoring, financing, and the requisite sales and marketing, while connecting and pointing entrepreneurs to support organizations, as well as government-backed programs and educational resources.

At the end of its second year, Colmena66 now has more than 200 organizations and programs in its network. The report highlights the growth of the support network for entrepreneurs and small businesses and includes key performance Indicators of projects such as Tu Camino Empresarial and Boricua Emprende Fest.

Colmena66, or C66, helps entrepreneurs find the resources they need for their businesses through the Resource Navigator and a live chat on its website, www.colmena66.com, and telephone hotline, through which its team learns about the specific needs of entrepreneurs.

The network then taps it resource partners, organizations that provide business support, to whom the entrepreneurs are referred, all while “identifying and addressing gaps” to shore up entrepreneurs’ standing, as well as facilitating access to beneficial events and workshops.

“Just as beehives serve several purposes, such as honey production and cross-pollination, Colmena66 has created an infrastructure to support, build and measure the development of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Puerto Rico. That is the basis of every initiative we develop and we are excited that we have already begun to see results,” said Denisse Rodríguez Colón, executive director of Colmena66.

The network increased its number of affiliated organizations by 20%, and reported having received more than 1,000 phone calls, and 7,443 requests through its online resource browser. Colmena66 made over 1,200 business referrals to network organizations, and published more than 1,300 events and workshops on its calendar.

“Providing the right tools to our entrepreneurs is fundamental and it is precisely through programs such as Colmena66 and its initiatives that we are achieving and bringing together such an important community to encourage, now more than ever, the economic development of our country,” Lucy Crespo, CEO of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, a nonprofit that seeks investment to foster job creation in the knowledge economy, said in a release announcing the network’s impact report.

C66 has implemented three main initiatives: Red Colmena66 Meetups, Tu Camino Empresarial and the Boricua Emprende Fest.

Red Colmena66 Meetups gather resource partners to discuss challenges and identify solutions to address gaps in services and programs. The meetups take place across the island to ensure “a diverse range of visible access points or onramps for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and regions,” a C66 release reads.

Tu Camino Empresarial, which serves as a map for entrepreneurs and business owners with the network’s affiliate organizations. The initiative involved an event tour with stops in Mayagüez, Ponce, Gurabo and San Juan, to which more than 1,000 participants registered, and included more than 280 mentoring sessions. Some 30 business support organizations participated per event, and more than 2,000 printed copies of the map were distributed, while some 800 maps were downloaded from the website www.tucaminoempresarial.com.

Boricua Emprende Fest (BE Fest) will be an annual event to celebrate entrepreneurial talent, as well as serves as an educational spotlight on business development at all levels. Its first edition last month had 1,157 participants from across the island and several states. It featured 72 speakers and 32 sessions. The BE Fest facilitated expert mentoring on intellectual property, exports, business development, access to capital, development of business plans, legal matters, among others, from Parallel18, a business accelerator program that co-invests in those with potential, and Animus, an organization that holds conferences and networking events focused on professional women.

See the results of C66’s second business impact report here: www.colmena66.com




Aurora Angel Network picks Puerto Rican tech startup as first recipient

Aurora Angel Network’s founding members (Courtesy)

Investors seek to help create a new generation of Puerto Rican companies

SAN JUAN – Startup capital nonprofit Aurora Angel Network announced that after considering several applicants it selected Zomio Inc., a security company that develops smart technology, as its first firm to invest in, providing it $210,000.

Aurora, which was created in January to match angel investors with emerging companies, ultimately intends to invest in four companies a year.

Managing Director Liana O’Drobinak, who herself has experience building a business, had previously spoken to Caribbean Business about her experience collaborating with the island’s startup ecosystem through Parallel 18 and Grupo Guayacán, both of which run business accelerator programs and co-invest in those with potential.

However, she sought to help improve the investment infrastructure for startups.

“Aurora was created to address the gap between the growing number of innovative startups and young companies in Puerto Rico and investors who are interested in advancing and accelerating the entrepreneurial movement,” O’Drobinak said in the announcing release.

Zomio was created in 2018 with the goal of developing new technology to help protect homes and vehicles. Its first product, ARK, is a sensor that detects drastic environmental changes within a car that can be harmful or fatal.

The startup was one of the winners of EnterPRize 2018, Grupo Guayacán’s annual business competition, during which it also won the Innovation Award from Ferraiuoli LLC.

Zomio CEO and co-founder Ishmael Lebrón delivers his pitch presentation. (Courtesy)

“Ever since I walked through Guayacán’s doors, I felt like I was at home. Through EnterPRize, we received world-class mentorship and education with experts in relevant fields. Today we’re happy to share that, thanks to this preparation, we’ve received an important investment from the Aurora Angel Network that will allow us to bring our product to market and save lives, while also demonstrating the entrepreneurial talent that Puerto Rico has on a global scale,” said Zomio’s CEO and co-founder, Ishmael Lebron.

The Aurora network of investors comprises executives and entrepreneurs looking to spur the growth of innovative and scalable startups to create “a new generation” of Puerto Rican companies. They support entrepreneurs not only with seed capital, but also with access to a broad network of professionals and mentorship support.

“We are very proud and excited about this first achievement with a company as innovative as Zomio, Inc. We’re confident that this is the first of many companies that Aurora will help take to the next level,” O’Drobinak said.

Aurora evaluates companies that are ready for investment on a quarterly basis. For additional information, contact auroraangelnetwork@gmail.com.

MCS Foundation partners with Grupo Guayacán to promote economic development




Evertec partners with startup accelerator Parallel 18

SAN JUAN – Transaction-processing company Evertec Inc. and the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust announced Wednesday the signing of a collaboration agreement with the latter’s startup-accelerator program, Parallel 18 (P18), whose mission objective is helping entrepreneurs with their short-term expansion plans and funding with the aim of seeing them scale abroad.

The Trust’s business program operates in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) and the Economic Development and Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish initials),

Via the new partnership, Evertec said P18 will “leverage many of its assets as well as receive a cash investment that will be awarded to participants to foster the next generations of entrepreneurial companies,” according to the announcing release.

Parallel 18 will receive a $50,000 investment, to be awarded to four participating companies, according to the release.

“Technology and innovation are key elements for the competitiveness and success of businesses today. We are very excited about this partnership with the Puerto Rico Science Technology & Research Trust since it provides us with the opportunity to stay at the forefront of new business ventures and at the same time, add value to its P18 program and its participating companies from around the world,” said Guillermo Rospigliosi, executive vice president of Product, Marketing and Innovation at Evertec.

Among the other benefits of the newly forged partnership, Evertec will waiver P18 participant “fees on payment products and services”; enjoy “expedited merchant account opening”; and learn from Evertec personnel who are expected to mentor and speak at P18 events.

In the release, Trust CEO Lucy Crespo said the partnership is an “opportunity to leverage their great experience in technology and innovation,” referring to Evertec’s payment-processing networks, which the company says processes more than two billion transactions annually.

“It should encourage our entrepreneurs to use technology to take advantage of opportunities in the market,” Crespo added. The fact that Evertec operates in 26 Latin American countries and is based in Puerto Rico, a U.S. market, could be what the CEO meant by market opportunity.

The Trust, a nonprofit, is responsible for public policy on Puerto Rico science, technology, research and development matters.

For more information, visit www.prsciencetrust.orgwww.parallel18.com.




Green Crack, Blue Dream, Gorilla Glue: The problem of pricing pot

NEW YORK  – In 2014, as Jonathan Rubin and Ian Laird considered investing in the booming U.S. cannabis industry, they hit a problem: How to value pot starts-ups with little-verified data on the price of the weed itself?

While a smoker may know the going retail price for “Strawberry Diesel” or “Buddha’s Sister”, the sector’s wholesale tier still operates much like a black market because of ongoing federal prohibition, despite legalizations in 30 U.S. states and Washington D.C. since the 1990s.

That left Rubin and Laird puzzled on the investment value of a dispensary, a weed farm or a factory making pot-infused candy. The problem spawned a different investment: The founding of New Leaf Data Services LLC, a Stamford, Conn.-based wholesale price data service that fields reporters to take on the steep challenge of cataloging going rates.

Started three years ago, New Leaf now publishes weekly benchmark spot prices and forecasts on wholesale indoor-, outdoor-, and greenhouse-grown marijuana for 17 regions with legalization laws.

New Leaf makes money from about 350 pot proprietors and other subscribers who buy reports and custom analytics. It has raised money from investors who want exposure to the cannabis sector without the risk of breaking federal law.

FILE PHOTO: Employees prepare recreational marijuana orders for customers at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California, U.S., January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The model is roughly based on S&P Global Platts, a firm where Rubin once worked that researches and publishes wholesale prices for crude oil, fuel and other commodities such as metals or agricultural crops.

The task is much harder for pot, and New Leaf’s experience stalking prices sheds light on the murky trade of what might be the fastest-growing U.S. commodity, sold legally and illegally for untold billions of dollars.

Cannabis firms still deal almost exclusively in cash to avoid a paper trail or because they have almost no access to banks and financial services. Because it’s illegal to transport the drug across state lines, prices and available products vary widely in different regions based on whether a state has both medical and recreational markets and the number of licensed dispensaries and producers.

Last week, spot prices for flower in Alaska were $5,496 per lb, while prices in Colorado and Oregon fell to historic lows of $1,008 and $1,166, respectively, according to New Leaf.

Legal pot prices are also impacted by supply and demand fluctuations in the illegal market, and the spread between the two can vary.

In California, regulated market prices are more than $1,000 per lb, whereas prices for illegal weed can be as low as $500 per lb, estimated Scott Davies, a California cultivator. Legal market marijuana tends to be more expensive because supplies are more restricted and because it is taxed.

“Consider each state to be a different country when it comes to their laws, amount of licenses issued, what the qualifying conditions are for entry into their medical program, as well as what the political climate and current illicit market looks like,” said Nic Easley, one of New Leaf’s market consultants.

Easley, a disabled veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said he moved to Colorado in 2006 to use cannabis to ease the pain of injuries. He’s one of New Leaf’s team of a dozen price experts who chase down their market data and intelligence through a network of commercial players and cannabis industry groups, such as the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association (ORCA). The data suppliers agree to submit weekly prices anonymously and, in exchange, get discounted subscriptions or other services.

LEGAL BUT UNDERGROUND

A multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has developed despite federal prohibition, but many executives, farmers and employees are still wary of federal prosecution.

Davies, a farmer in Humboldt County, California – a region renowned for its premium cannabis – said growers have historically done and still do handshake deals with counterparts vouched for by shared acquaintances. Davies sells directly to dispensaries, essentially relying on the rumor mill to set prices.

“It’s all been word-of-mouth, through people we know and trust who are established players,” he said.

But the market in California – which recently legalized recreational use – is evolving rapidly and becoming more like a traditional industry, with buyers and sellers now sometimes meeting at industry events, Davies said.

Market transparency has seen a boost from heightened regulations as authorities in states like Oregon rolled out legal recreational markets, said Casey Houlihan, head of ORCA.

Under the new rules in that state, dispensaries must purchase cannabis from registered producers, who are required to track their sales and report them to the government. Previously, dispensaries could buy more liberally through a medical marijuana program.

The data New Leaf collects is still fairly rough, and the marijuana market has nothing like national benchmark prices or futures contracts common to other legal commodities trades. There’s no real way for businesses to hedge, and price-setting remains largely guesswork, said Josh Richman, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Franklin BioScience, which grows cannabis and manufactures branded products, such as mints, in Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

“There isn’t something where I can sell long or short,” he said.

BLUE DREAM, GREEN CRACK AND GORILLA GLUE

The retail market is somewhat more transparent, and a pricing service called BDS Analytics runs an online database of more than 140,000 types of pot and pot products. BDS sells pricing and popularity data to retail shop owners.

Roy Bingham, who co-founded BDS Analytics in 2015, is a veteran of the finance and consultancy industries.

“We knew this data is really invaluable for the retail business,” Bingham said. “There are people in this industry who have been in supply chains at Walmart, GNC and other mainstream operations.”

His firm collects point-of-sales data from retailers and lists the details for products such as “Blue Dream” and “Green Crack”.

Joseph Hopkins, co-owner of a dispensary called The Greener Side in Eugene, Oregon, uses the data to deal with suppliers.

“When vendors come in and say they have x, y, z products, I can go back and look at whatever the going rate is for that product,” he said.

Still, the metrics are imperfect. State regulators increasingly perform quality tests to ensure safety, but no one checks to make sure that what someone is selling as “Green Crack” really matches weed branded under the same name elsewhere.

The data show variations in demand for various brand among regions. For example, Blue Dream has reigned as the most popular strain for flower in Colorado and Washington since 2014. But in Oregon, tokers favor a strain known as GG – formerly “Gorilla Glue,” until its purveyors got sued by the makers of the actual glue by the same name.

(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Simon Webb and Brian Thevenot)




Filming of ‘StartUp’ in Puerto Rico to generate thousands of jobs

SAN JUAN – “Tens of millions” of dollars could be injected into the Puerto Rican economy with the filming in Puerto Rico of the third season of “StartUp,” which will feature actors such as Adam Brody, Ron Perlman, Edi Gathegi and Otmara Marrero.

Economic Development (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Manuel Laboy, along with the director of the department’s Film Development Program, Pedro Rúa-Jovet, revealed the news Tuesday. For Laboy, the film industry has become an important source of economic development.

Pedro Rúa-Jovet, director of DDEC’s film program; Ron Perlman, actor and co-producer of ‘StartUp’; and DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy (Courtesy)

“Contrary to other productions of U.S. capital, it will be filmed entirely on the island, which represents a major achievement at a time when the island is recovering,” Laboy said of the series.

The series, created by Ben Ketai and produced by Crackle, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television Networks, is scheduled for release this year. According to Sony, the tech-based thriller was its No. 1 title on the free, ad-supported Crackle service.

Rúa-Jovet said the filming of its 10 new episodes on the island would generate thousands of jobs in an industry that has flourished in recent years.

“Thanks to the work of many, season three of ‘StartUp’ is a reality, which produces thousands of direct and indirect jobs and injects many tens of millions into the economy of the island,” Rúa-Jovet said.

“StartUp’ joins the series “The Oath,” also from Crackle and filmed on the island before and after the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. For this, Laboy thanked Sony Pictures for its “support in continuing with their project at such a critical time for Puerto Rico.”

“Balance is the key to success. We will strive to be an attractive jurisdiction for capital investment, while being fiscally responsible. We have to promote the production of local, national and international projects, supporting those that best impact our economy,” the head of DDEC said.

Reports state that the island’s film industry has contributed $225 million to the economy from the beginning of 2017 to the end of this fiscal year, generating 12,200 jobs, 1,100 production days and 23,200 hotel room nights.

“Film and television series producers choose Puerto Rico for our attractive and diverse natural settings, highly trained workers and our competitive 40% tax credit. There is no doubt that the film industry of Puerto Rico will continue to flourish in the coming years,” Laboy said.