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New Forward Center to boost STEM tech startups, education

The U.S. Economic Development Administration has published an article on the “Success Stories” section of its website on Puerto Rico’s Forward Center, a 30,000-square foot science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) facility developed by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust. 

The agency, which operates under the U.S. Department of Commerce umbrella and provides financial and technical assistance to economically distressed communities, recalled hurricanes Irma and Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in 2017. 

“The sister storms destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, leaving the entire island in the dark,” the story reads. “Several schools and hospitals were permanently closed, and more than 500,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.”

The EDA’s unnamed writer stressed that, “nearly overnight, unemployment rose an additional 4.3% while business losses exceeded $2 billion” in the aftermath of the historic storms.

Despite the loss of nearly 3,000 lives and a destroyed power grid, the story says, the island is recovering and reinventing itself as a global center for innovation and opportunity, marked by an entrepreneurial spirit that has emerged​.

Key to the island’s transformation, the agency said, is the Forward Center, which was developed by the Science Trust, a nonprofit organization established in 2004 to help Puerto Rico in its economic advancement and took the initiative to support struggling business people. 

“In the wake of the storms, we recognized that many of our citizens had lost their jobs and were eager to open businesses of their own,” Lucy Crespo, chief executive officer of the Science Trust, was quoted as saying in the story​. “We decided to take the initiative and provide those entrepreneurs with the resources they needed to get their businesses off the ground.”

The center, designed to be disaster-resistant, will house up to 60 high-tech startups, focusing on areas such as science, technology and manufacturing. The facility will serve as an incubation and acceleration space for small businesses, entrepreneurs and nongovernmental organizations, providing resources and support for key sectors including information technology, aerospace and the medical devices industry.

The EDA contributed $4.4 million in Disaster Supplemental funds to the Science Trust in 2018 to aid in the construction of the Forward Center. 

“The funds were made available in a short amount of time. I liked the model and the flexibility. Everything worked well and we have stayed on schedule,” Crespo​ said.

The center is expanding to include more industries such as cybersecurity, e-commerce, and health care. 

“The center is an ecosystem,” Crespo said, explaining that the startups involved “are part of a greater facility and they will always have space to continue their work after they have left the program,” according to the story.

In addition to supporting startups, the center is also focused on STEM education, utilizing technologies like virtual reality to simulate future environmental impacts like rising sea levels. 

“We are showing our students the importance of STEM technology by allowing them to embrace it and by giving them the chance to succeed,” Crespo added​.

The center’s construction began in June 2021 and was completed in April this year. Its opening will be celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this summer​​, the EDA said.


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