Why this founder sees entrepreneurship as the best socio-economic driver for Puerto Rico


Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Nerma Albertorio began her entrepreneurial journey by trying to build too much without having the right team in place. Does this sound familiar to all business owners? While providing marketing consulting services for businesses and developing a product for high school students, she was simultaneously starting a restaurant.

A community leader active in Puerto Rico’s startup ecosystem since 2011, she was looking for someone to say, “Hey, that’s okay. Making mistakes is part of the process. In the end, she became that person.

“If you try to do too much, something will burn, and in my case everything burned,” Albertorio reflected. “In my head, I had plan A, plan B and plan C, and if plan A didn’t work, I still had plan B and C. In the end, I lost everything. During my soul-searching process, I realized that I didn’t have the skills to find the right team. I did not know my strengths and weaknesses. But I didn’t have to feel like a failure. My mistakes were part of the process of becoming an entrepreneur.

Detach from the paralysis of analysis

Albertorio’s introspection gave the impetus to Centro para Emprendedores, a nonprofit and educational space she founded in 2012 – for entrepreneurs led by entrepreneurs. Wanting to give people hands-on experience, she launched the initiative by organizing Startup Weekends on the island. Later, the program evolved based on the changing needs of participants, and the team created an exclusive program focused on navigating Puerto Rico’s business landscape.

“Through entrepreneurship, you can really empower people to change and come out of cycles of poverty,” she says. “I really love it when you can see in people’s eyes that they understand and understand that they can be masters of their own lives. This is the best part of it.

In its first five years, Centro para Emprendedores helped founders launch their startups, until Hurricane Maria hit the US in 2017. From there, Albertorio and his team designed new programs to help established business owners reinvent and rebuild themselves after disasters, as well as to support new entrepreneurs responding to crises.

Before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was already in debt and had one of the weakest economies in the United States. The impact of hurricane damage on the island was estimated at $ 43 billion by the Puerto Rico Planning Council in 2018.

In 2019, of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people, 43.1% of the total population and 57% of its children lived in poverty. That being said, according to an annual report from Invest Puerto Rico, a local non-profit organization promoting the island’s economic development, new business commitments in the United States have created nearly 3,500 jobs and $ 58 million. in private equity from 2019 to 2020. While these numbers show a positive move in the right direction for the economy, local entrepreneurship can tackle the underlying systemic problem from the bottom up, rather than from the top. below.

“For me, entrepreneurship is the only way,” says Albertorio. “I once heard someone say, ‘We cannot aspire to be a state if we are not prosperous, and we cannot aspire to be an independent nation if we are not prosperous,” and in this moment we are not prosperous. With poverty levels covering half the population, we have a lot to rebuild before we can make many decisions. ”

Bridging the gaps in age, gender and achievement

Making the decision to start a business – allowing yourself to become an entrepreneur – is a crucial first step at any age. At the start of the Centro para Emprendedores, most of the participants were students and young people. As the organization has grown, the community has seen an increase in the number of participants over the age of 50, many of whom are retiring and wanting a source of business to supplement their income.

In terms of gender, 70% of Centro participants are women. This is a promising sign, considering that in the United States as a whole, only nine percent of venture capitalists are women. Two years ago, when Albertorio started a program exclusively for women, what surprised her most was that all of the women seeking support were highly educated and had been successful in their own right. , but were looking for a career change and more fulfillment.

For significant cultural, social and economic changes to take place, Albertorio says: “Women must be at the same level as men in terms of access to capital and investment. We [women] do not speak the same language because we are not built like that. We take a lot of other things into consideration. For me, as a woman and an entrepreneur, it’s more about creating a safe environment, so my team has a good quality of life and access to tools to help them grow. Women take more care of human resources. It’s not just about numbers. We have to learn to find a balance between these two things.

Be competitive with the rest of the world

Regarding Puerto Rico becoming competitive with other entrepreneurial ecosystems, Albertorio says a collective shift in mindset needs to occur across the island. She finds that some community leaders in parts of Latin America don’t really know how to communicate with Puerto Rico, citing the island’s status as U.S. territory as a contributing factor.

“There are a lot of political and cultural things around Puerto Rico that have made us who we are,” says Albertorio. “We have been told that the United States is everything. As a nation, we must learn that we are part of the world and that we have a lot to give.

She adds that the native “makers” and “creators” of the island are committed to making their businesses thrive. And although Puerto Rico has suffered from colonial ambiguity since 1917, its location and association with the U.S. government offers certain advantages, such as protection by the same intellectual property laws as the Americas, as well as eligibility for certain funds and grants.

On this note, Albertorio says: “We have done a lot of great things, but we have not established our position. We have a lot of disconnection because we are looking inside the island, not outside. We need to show what’s going on here in other spaces and global stages. “

To learn more about Centro para Emprendedores, visit www.centroparaemprendedores.org.

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