COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, but if there is one place on earth that knows how to deal with a crisis it’s Puerto Rico. In a recession of its own that has lasted thirteen years and, most recently, suffering through devastating hurricanes, political turmoil and bizarrely extreme earthquake swarms, the people of Puerto Rico are among the most resilient you will ever meet. While the events of the Coronavirus are definitely taking their toll on businesses and morale, it is without a doubt that Puerto Rico will come through this current crisis and continue to emerge from the rubble stronger than ever before.
“Trust me when I tell you that, compared to months of a sudden, brutal, nature-forced shutdowns during which we not only lacked toilet paper and hand sanitizer but also food, water, electricity, internet, cell service, and even the most basic medical supplies, that this quarantine thing is easy.” Puerto Rico resident.
While heading into Week Six, not many would call the quarantine “easy,” those who are able are making the best of it for sure.
Prior to COVID-19, Puerto Rico was seeing evidence of the hard work put in over the past six-plus years to prepare the island for becoming the world’s newest startup innovation and technology hub. Today, that has not changed. Although founders, investors, and NGOs are all currently co-working from home, they are still doing just that, co-working! Progress continues on the island in technology and digital industries and I, for one, remain emphatically enthusiastic about the investment opportunities here.
How can I be so confident? I am on the ground, firmly entrenched in the startup community and, although the media likes to focus on the turmoil, the uncertainty, the “corruption” and the devastation, I see first hand the resilience, determination, and innovation of Puerto Rico’s entrepreneurs and, therein, lies the difference between today and past attempts to revitalize the economy. This time, the economic turnaround is being driven by entrepreneurship, not just small businesses, but high-tech, disruptive, unicorn-potential startups that are springing up out of PR universities and arriving from the USA in search of affordable talent, a higher quality of life and the opportunity to reinvest future profits rather than pay them out to the federal government.
The road will be long. We have important infrastructure issues to address and we must do a better job attracting outside investment capital to support our startups’ inevitable growth. I am projecting a ten to fifteen year period of metamorphosis into a leading, global innovation hub. It is important to note, however, that we are not starting from scratch. As Dante Alighieri Disparte points out in his Forbes article critiquing whether or not Puerto Rico can become the Singapore of the Caribbean, “Puerto Rico has ranked in the top 10 globally in terms of research, development, and production, as well as other industries, like financial services, technology, manufacturing, and logistics, to name a few.”
What does that mean for investors? It means that, if ever there was a time or place to make a bet, it is now, in Puerto Rico. The groundwork has been laid, and startups are not going to wait for the landscape to be perfect. Creative founders are building and launching now, amid craziness, amid crisis, amid uncertainty. They are finding innovative, creative solutions to press forward and meet their revenue goals. Perhaps it is this Puerto Rican resilience and creativity that gives us our strongest competitive advantage. Whatever the case, you can be sure that you will be hearing much more about the PR innovation story over the years to come. Don’t miss out!
In an upcoming article, my teams at Hopp.vc and ATO Ventures and I will be taking an in-depth look at how other parts of the world such as Singapore, France, and Israel were able to evolve into robust technology centers, drawing comparisons to Puerto Rico’s current state and future potential. Our goal is to learn from those that have gone before us to ensure we, as a determined island, get this right!
If you would like to be notified when that research is available, or if you would like more information about investing in Puerto Rico technology startups, please message me on LinkedIn (@JenniferPHopp) or Instagram (@Hopp.vc)
Image: The Raices Fountain of Old San Juan. The Raíces Fountain, which was completed in May 1992, was designed by architect Miguel Carlo to commemorate and celebrate the New World’s 500th anniversary. This collection of bronze statues honoring Puerto Rico’s mixed African, Spanish and Taino/Amerindian heritage, is represented as a ship being steered out into the open sea with leaping dolphins leading the way to a bright 21st century future.
Jennifer P. Hopp is an angel investor and the Managing Partner for ATO Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund focused on technology companies in Health, Fitness & Wellness and Digital Media & Entertainment. Based in Puerto Rico, ATO Ventures mainly backs pre-launch startups located in the USA and LATAM using a risk-mitigating, Market Validation Testing strategy. To find out more about investing with ATO Ventures, message Jennifer on LinkedIn (@JenniferPHopp) or Instagram (@Hopp.vc)