Op-Ed: 5 Puerto Rican startups that stood up to the hurricane and won in ’17

Written by  //  January 3, 2018  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

Author Sebastián Vidal is executive director at parallel18, a global startup accelerator based in San Juan, operated by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust.

We can all agree that it has been a difficult year for Puerto Rico. Just as we started to see emerging and innovative companies grow like never before, and as we reap the sow of the historic hit “Despacito” attracting new tourists to the island, we were hit by a devastating hurricane that has left our population in darkness for more than three months and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Honestly, I had trouble understanding how the companies we work with at Parallel18, that depend almost exclusively on power and connectivity, would rebuild from this disaster.

But, logically or illogically, they proved us wrong, and I saw companies that were not only surviving but thriving and growing faster than before.

In their honor, I am highlighting, just like in 2016, those that in my opinion grew even MORE in Hurricane María’s aftermath, are generating innovation in interesting industries and, on top of everything, have solid teams.

Let’s see who dominated the storm:
BrainHi: If you ever wonder how the future of Puerto Rico should look like, I suggest you sit for a few minutes with Emmanuel Oquendo and Israel Figueroa. These engineers from El Colegio are revolutionizing the customer service industry with a robot that responds automatically (and intelligently) to the clients’ needs and is accessible to small and medium businesses.

This company managed more than 1.5 million messages received by meteorologist Ada Monzón before, during, and after Hurricanes Irma and María. To this day, they’re seeing a monthly growth of more than 50 percent with a focus on medical services/healthcare.

EntregaMeds:  Alberto Santiago is one of those entrepreneurs that you’d enjoy working with because he knows his industry better than anyone. Owner of a local pharmacy, with vast experience in the healthcare industry, he noticed that he could reach agreements with employers around the island to provide prescription delivery to the workplace, allowing employees to focus on work without worrying about picking up their meds.

EntregaMeds was already working with businesses in Puerto Rico, but after Hurricanes Irma and María the growth was impressive. After Irma, the company offered prescription delivery to their clients’ employees on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the aftermath of Hurricane María, with the power outage electricity, communication problems and shortage of products, it was harder for a regular person to find their medication, which is why many businesses reached out to Alberto to solve the situation.

The end result was a 400 percent (yes, you read right, 400 percent) growth for EntregaMeds after the hurricanes, compared to the previous period.

Aseguratec: The insurance industry is one of those sectors that, as as client, you’d want to see innovation, and a modern approach to their products, marketing and sales. This is what entrepreneurs Jose Fernández and Robert Calvelsbert are doing with Aseguratec.

They both worked in the industry, selling insurance the typical way. It was then when they realized that they could change the industry. This innovative, efficient and direct model allowed them to get back to work just two days after the hurricane, and their sales and team has grown significantly in this period.

BrandsOf: This company was one of my 2016 highlights, but I decided to include it once again because they deserve an honorable mention for the historic growth it has had in these last months. BrandsOf has such a powerful proposal that it’s exciting.

In their online platform, you can find the local products you love so much while living outside of your homeland. Recently, they officially opened Brands Of Mexico, after an important investment round that includes Puerto Rican and Mexican funds. I am sure that this team has more surprises to come. Keep it up!

StageBoom: When we evaluate companies to be part of P18 (or any other start-up program), we look at the founding team’s experience and, more importantly, at the motivations behind the solutions that they’re seeking.

With StageBoom, that was one of the qualifications that grabbed our attention: their passion for music and their obsession to formalize an industry, keeping in mind the benefits for the local artists. It was an important consideration for a sector that does not have the necessary structure.

In simpler words, StageBoom manages to simplify the process to find, hire and pay musicians for your event, making it easy and efficient. After María, there was no projected growth for their platform. But, they held tight to their vision and two weeks after the hurricane they organized an event with free live music when the people needed a distraction the most. This attracted interest from allies and clients, allowing them to grow four times faster than before the hurricane.

I hope that these stories motivate you to keep supporting local Puerto Rican entrepreneurs. For me, these are not examples of hope, these are results of entrepreneurs that are not waiting for something to be done; on the contrary, they are doing whatever they need to do for their businesses, their clients and Puerto Rico.

In times when the U.S. tax reform threatens the industry that contributes the most to the GDP, it is fundamental that we start recognizing, validating and supporting successful stories, like these, which are examples of new economic sectors, that are building on the most important active in Puerto Rico: its talent.

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