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Government In-Brief

SBA recognizes local entrepreneurs, banks during National Small Business Week

The event also served as a framework to highlight the work of the island’s financial institutions.

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands District Office recognized local entrepreneurs and financial institutions as part of National Small Business Week 2024. The ceremony, held at the Verdanza Hotel in Carolina, celebrated the contributions small business owners make.

Josué E. Rivera, SBA district director for Puerto Rico and the USVI, praised the entrepreneurs for their role in supporting the economy. 

“Every company is exceptional and deserving of this recognition as they have grown their business, created jobs, demonstrated resilience, ingenuity and creativity. It is an honor to present these awards to encourage an entire business community who see them as an example to follow,” he said.

The awarded entrepreneurs were:

  • Small Businessperson of the Year: Eduardo Díaz of Baldwin Animal Hospital PSC
  • Small Business Exporter of the Year: Carlos J. Rovira and Frances M. Rovira of Rovira Foods Inc.
  • Women-Owned Small Business of the Year: Carmen A. Torres of On Point Strategy LLC
  • Family-Owned Small Business of the Year: Alexandro J. Ravelo and Christian D. Ravelo of Metropol Hato Rey LLC
  • Young Entrepreneurs of the Year: Andrés M. Rivera and Francisco J. Cabrera of Tropiko LLC

The event also served to highlight the work of the island’s financial institutions with which SBA collaborates to foster local entrepreneurship and economic growth.

The recognized financial institutions included:

  • Gold Lender of the Year: Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
  • Silver Lender of the Year: Oriental Bank
  • Bronze Lender of the Year: First Bank PR
  • Certified Development Company of the Year: Economic Development Corporation of the Capital City (COFECC, in Spanish)
  • PR Lender Star Award: FirstBank 
  • U.S. Virgin Islands Lender of the Year: Oriental Bank
  • USVI Lender Star Award: Merchants Commercial Bank

“We’re proud to be recognized by the SBA, as it reaffirms our commitment to small and medium-sized businesses,” said Carlos Comas, director of Business Banking at Oriental.

“We continue to work and show that we’re more than ready to continue serving, bringing progress and financial success to our clients. We know the importance of this sector for the island’s economy, and we are committed to continuing to support them so that they can continue to progress,” he added.

Eli Sepúlveda, executive vice president of Commercial Credit at Popular Inc. also celebrated the award. “Being among the winners again is an honor for us. Reaching this achievement is synonymous with the commitment we have to our clients, entrepreneurs and Puerto Rico. We’ll continue working to put the present generation of entrepreneurs and the following ones at the heart of progress,” Sepúlveda noted.

The SBA also bestowed special awards to several organizations for their “outstanding collaboration” in helping the business community recover quickly after Hurricane Fiona, SBA’s Rivera said.

These included the Municipality of Caguas, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, the Sila María Calderón Foundation’s Mayagüez Women’s Business Center, and the Foundation for Puerto Rico. Colmena66, the United Retailers Association (CUD, in Spanish) and the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce were also recognized for their ongoing collaboration with the SBA in business development initiatives.

In total, 608 entrepreneurs received one or more workshops as part of the 156.25 total hours of training and workshops offered by the program.

Foundation for Puerto Rico received the SBA’s 2024 District Director’s Special Award in recognition of the design and implementation of its PULSO business training program.

“This prestigious recognition celebrates the commitment and dedication of FPR’s team of professionals and collaborators towards the local business community and ecosystem, especially after the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona. Over the past two years, through PULSO, FPR has directly impacted 1,300 entrepreneurs through technical training, mentoring and access to capital,” said Alma Frontera, vice president of Operations and Programs at FPR.

The PULSO program, developed in collaboration with the SBA, aims to equip small and medium-sized businesses with the necessary tools to thrive and expand. It supports a diverse array of businesses, primarily in the northern region of the island through various stages of business development.

From 2022 to 2023, 191 companies were selected for exclusive mentoring and technical support from experts within the business ecosystem, including Colmena66, Centro para Emprendedores, INprende, Brands of Americas, and the Latino Economic Development Center. 

These companies participated in workshops and mentorships focusing on compliance, innovation, business plans, marketing, digital commerce and financial education, guiding them toward success.

“From the initial assessment to obtaining financing, each stage of the program was carefully designed to drive growth and innovation. The fact that 64% of the companies that completed the program are led by women demonstrates a commitment to gender equity in the business world. More than a support program, PULSO has been a catalyst for entrepreneurial empowerment and economic growth in Puerto Rico,” said Anneliz Oliver, PULSO program manager.

Although the PULSO program was limited in terms of the number of participants per cohort (150 total), more than 1,300 owners of small and medium-sized businesses benefited from publicly available workshops. In total, 608 entrepreneurs participated in at least one workshop, cumulating in 156.25 hours of training provided by the program.

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