When Hurricane Maria raked across Puerto Rico last September with wind speeds of up to 155 miles per hour, it left a path of massive destruction. The storm flattened houses and forests, flooded towns and made hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
It knocked out most of the island’s power grid, leaving nearly all 3.7 million residents in the dark, and severed 95 percent of cell networks as well as 85 percent of above ground phone and internet cables. Eighty percent of the island’s crops were destroyed.
Local emergency responders became overwhelmed. There was, memorably, public fighting among political officials — San Juan’s mayor versus President Trump. Relief agencies and volunteers flooded in. People who wanted to help could find long lists of organizations to donate to, though, however typical after a disaster, it wasn’t clear where the money was best spent. Dollars often flowed indiscriminately. All this chaos, fueled what was a somewhat silent growing trend of entrepreneurship before Hurricane Maria came with its destructive visit.
Several initiatives to support entrepreneurs are trying to stop the flight of talent from the island after Hurricane Maria and this is fueling a rebirth of the entrepreneurship spirit in Puerto Rico. As the saying goes; “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
Parallel 18, an accelerator program founded in 2015, offers $40,000 in funding, along with mentoring, consulting, and introduction to investors, to small companies who are looking to scale up and have not been in operation for more than three years. In exchange, the entrepreneurs live and work in Puerto Rico, and collaborate with local universities and mentor students. Parallel 18 takes its name from where the island is located on a map.
So far, the companies participating in the program have generated$14 million in sales, more than half of that on the island, and new jobs.
The island continues to grapple with a crushing debt of $70 billion and a decade of economic stagnation, but Parallel 18 executive director Sebastián Vidal says that entrepreneurship can be pivotal to Puerto Rico’s growth.
One of the companies participating in the program is CleanCult, a “green” non-toxic manufacturer of laundry detergent pacs. Based in California, the small company was looking for opportunities to operate in a less costly area when they applied to the Parallel 18 program.
Once the hurricane moved on, an all-too-common aftermath unfolded. Local emergency responders became overwhelmed. There was, memorably, public fighting among political officials — San Juan’s mayor versus President Trump. Relief agencies and volunteers flooded in. People who wanted to help could find long lists of organizations to donate to, though, as is typical after a disaster, it wasn’t clear where the money was best spent. Dollars often flowed indiscriminately.
Another of the most outstanding initiatives to retain entrepreneurial talent in Puerto Rico is Animus(link is external), a platform founded by two Puerto Ricans to promote and support female entrepreneurs on the island. The goal of the founders of Animus, Carlos Cobian, and Lucienne Gigante, is to stimulate the creation of companies run by women, as well as attract capital and resources to the island.
With more than 1000 participants, Animus has been organizing for the last three years the largest gathering of innovative women in America from Puerto Rico. The meeting focuses on promoting mentoring, networking and relationships, among others. “After the hurricane, I felt it was my duty to rebuild my sweet island,” said Gigante to Latina magazine during the summit celebration. “All the entrepreneurs gathered today in this room just want to live better, raise capital and change the world.” Among the most inspiring attendees were some of the best Latino leaders in the community, such as the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony award winner, Rita Moreno.