Puerto Rico - Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Universidad del Sagrado Corazon
Over the last decade, Puerto Rico has experienced the most severe and prolonged economic crisis in its modern history. During that time, Puerto Rico’s economy has shrunk by 16%, while employment has fallen by 27%. As of 2020, Puerto Rico’s public debt is equal to 66% of its own GDP. Traditional approaches to economic development on the island have been inorganic, focused on tax incentives and subsidies designed to bring multinational corporations to Puerto Rico. However, an awakening is occurring in Puerto Rico. More organic solutions, such as supporting local small businesses and startups, represent an opportunity to provide sustainable economic growth and employment in an authentically Puerto Rican way.
What was the problem?
In our third year of collaboration with Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (Sagrado), it was clear that Sagrado is dedicated to helping students reconstruct the island and overcome Puerto Rico’s current challenges. More specifically, Sagrado aims to create a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem on campus that will lead to a wealth of new successful startups benefiting Puerto Rico’s economy. The University has already taken significant strides to create a required four-year curriculum component that teaches entrepreneurship and innovation concepts. With the curriculum component completed, our Business on the Frontlines team was asked to provide recommendations on additional co-curricular programming that Sagrado could use in an effort to reach a more mature entrepreneurship ecosystem.
What did we do?
We decided to break down our team’s scope of work into three phases.
- Identify Key Elements of an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
We were able to identify nine common elements of a mature entrepreneurship ecosystem. After identifying those common elements, we highlighted Sagrado’s current elemental strengths and formulated changes to Sagrado’s primary elemental areas of opportunity.
- Determine Opportunities for Co-curricular Enhancement
Our research started with analyzing other entrepreneurship programs including pre-accelerators, accelerators, and university-hosted incubators in order to better understand industry best practices.
- Formulate Recommendations to Implement Co-curricular Programming
The resulting recommendations are expected to drive real-world business experience, improve graduate employment rates and student retention, as well as encourage full-time entrepreneurial ventures for those students who wish to continue them.
What was the turning point?
Naturally, projects where those consulting with a client are not in the same geographical region lead to difficulties in problem-solution translation. Our team felt we had a solid understanding of the challenges faced at Sagrado and in Puerto Rico. Because we needed to provide recommended solutions without confirming our hypotheses in-country (due to COVID restrictions), our partner’s visit to South Bend, IN during the interterm week would prove instrumental in the course of our final deliverables.
Grateful to finally speak in person with our partner, we set to work on validating our assumptions. Originally, the team had six recommendations that were grouped into two buckets. The first was programming, such as competitions and summer programs. The second was network-related. After meeting with the partner, we discovered it was possible to incorporate this second bucket of recommendations into the first. By doing so, the three remaining recommendations were more inclusive of all aspects involved with successful execution.
Arriving on three confirmed recommendations on the first day of our visit enabled our team to spend the next two days with our partner to build out tactical details of how to launch each one. We covered prioritization, phasing, staffing, financials, and oversight responsibilities. Direct interaction on these details reduced churn and helped us reach a seemingly practical, yet effective, final set of recommendations.
What did we recommend?
Our team concluded that Sagrado should focus its efforts on three key programming vehicles and tools, essential for achieving Sagrado’s long-term goals.
- An academic year-long, multi-phased annual startup competition. This competition would be designed to provide students an opportunity to present their ideas, go through the process of building a business plan, win prizes, and connect students with industry experts or mentors.
- Extended co-curricular programming. Many reputable academic institutions host pre-accelerator programs, which give high achievers additional resources and closer mentorship that they need to accelerate their business. This programming will also be a vehicle to foster network growth between alumni, donors, and the entrepreneurial community on the island.
- Understanding and tracking key performance metrics across student projects. Our team reviewed which metrics were utilized at other top academic institutions and researched several accelerator-specific tracking tools that Sagrado can use to help aggregate and report this data.
Our recommendations are focused on not only growing Sagrado’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, but doing so in a manner consistent with the school’s mission to “build an authentically Puerto Rican society, creating supportive communities, and educating people with an entrepreneurial vocation.”
By providing students programming to apply their learnings in Sagrado’s existing entrepreneurship curriculum, we believe these recommendations will drive real ventures and employment in Puerto Rico for the long term. BOTFL looks forward to seeing the outputs from these recommendations and the impacts on Puerto Rico for many years to come.