San Juan, Puerto Rico
By Carlos Cobian, Founder, COBIAN MEDIA
As has been well documented, Puerto Rico is facing challenging economic times and a grave fiscal crisis. The island has faced a deep and prolonged recession since 2006, 2 years before the start of the global financial crisis. Job losses have been steep, resulting in high levels of unemployment (11.8% in Puerto Rico compared to 5.5% in the mainland US as of March 2015), lower levels of per capita income and a general deterioration of the country’s economic and social fabric. The economic situation has resulted in a lack of opportunities for highly qualified, talented, motivated, and experienced professionals, as well as limited prospects for the younger generations. Some of our best and brightest leave to be educated elsewhere and never return due to limited opportunities. These conditions have accelerated a wave of emigration, estimated by some at over 300,000 individuals in the past years.
Within this crisis, entrepreneurship has emerged as an attractive alternative to those with bold ideas and the passion and drive required to execute them. Many have been surprised by the sudden rise of the local start-up scene which has quickly come together to start building the foundations of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. The development has been so fast that it seems every day a new initiative or event comes along. This budding activity is also surprisingly multi-sector with entrepreneurship offerings from non-profits, corporate players, academia and investors accompanied by grassroots initiatives built for and by entrepreneurs. Some initiatives worth highlighting include: Startup Weekend, the EnterPRize Business Competition, Founders Institute, I-Corps Puerto Rico, and the H3 Tech Conference, to only name a few. Physical infrastructure is also rapidly becoming available for local entrepreneurs with new co-working spaces like Piloto 151 or Engine4 and incubators like INTECO or PRTECH. Interest around maker spaces and fab labs has also increased. Local universities are developing entrepreneurship curriculums and Puerto Rican students are making waves globally at international competitions in fields like robotics, aerospace and other STEM disciplines. It’s becoming less taboo to hear of corporate-types leaving their safe jobs to take the plunge towards launching a new ventures. Women entrepreneurs are also taking an active role in this budding ecosystem with programs fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. Even big corporates are getting in the game by supporting ecosystem initiatives through mentoring opportunities and networking activities. Our most successful entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico and beyond are becoming more engaged every day, looking to give back as mentors and angel investors. In sum, Puerto Rico’s entrepreneurial scene is making waves, and people are noticing.
Even with all of this momentum, we still face challenges and gaps in our ecosystem, such as underdeveloped funding offerings that limits access to capital to emerging entrepreneurs and being geographically and culturally disconnected from mainland resources and opportunities. We also have a long way to go in terms of strengthening links for collaboration, making sure we don’t duplicate efforts but instead focus our collective influence and resources on the programs and initiatives that achieve the greatest impact. There are also great opportunities for building and developing a stronger network that current and aspiring entrepreneurs can navigate easily, accessing the tools they need to increase their chances of success. These are some of the objectives we can further through the events of Global Entrepreneurship Week. By increasing access to resources, tools, and networks we can strengthen the foundations of our budding entrepreneurial ecosystem to make sure we serve the needs of our entrepreneurs.