Traditionally, post-disaster recovery models have a stronger focus on infrastructure, restoration and other elements of household recovery than on economic resilience, including business continuity. That is why we created after Hurricane Maria the Small Business Support Program: to support existing business owners remain open, retain employees and optimize their business through immediate financial relief and technical assistance.
In early 2020, we reactivated the program to support the small businesses affected by the series of earthquakes that struck Puerto Rico in January, including a 6.4 magnitude event that wreaked havoc and devastation across the southern coast of the island.
disbursed in cash grants
supported across 11 municipalities
of mentorship and technical assistance
Most of FPR’s assisted businesses remained open pre-pandemic. That’s compared to FEMA’s benchmarks that show 40% – 60% of SMBs close a year after a natural disaster
disbursed in cash grants just 2 months after the earthquakes
supported in Guánica and Ponce
of mentorship and technical assistance
No open solicitations.
Instead of opening the program to all businesses in Puerto Rico through an open solicitation process, FPR pre-selected the geographic areas of impact. The decision was made for two reasons.
Partner collaboration, leaning into their strengths.
In order to implement and strengthen this initiative, we joined forces with experts from Centro para Emprendedores and the Puerto Rico TechnoEconomic Corridor (PRTECH) to support and provide different types of support during these interventions. These organizations had the infrastructure in place to perform the business census, conduct needs assessment, and provide technical support. If FPR had attempted to build capacity to operate all components of the program, grants would have not been distributed so quickly after the storm and earthquakes, respectively.
Cash assistance supplementation with technical support.
The merger of cash and coaching was crucial in the program design. To provide the second installment of the cash assistance, the business owner had to receive technical support from the partner organizations, which ensured that investment priorities and strategies were taken into account to mitigate risk and enhance the sustainability of the business.
During this stage businesses will gain deeper understanding on financial management, credit and financing. With the guidance and counseling of experts, businesses will generate and interpret financial reports. As a result of this stage businesses can expect to:
During this last stage, businesses will understand their financing needs and have a clear path to reach those. If necessary, client will apply for financing through LEDC. With the guidance and counseling of experts, businesses will understand the importance of recordkeeping, assists clients to apply for a loan, overcoming barriers to accessing financing.
•Trainings per cohort: 3 workshops (2 hours each)
•Individual counseling: 3 sessions per business (6 hours of direct services and 4 hours of indirect services)
•Total hours per business/per cohort: 16 hours
Through three educational modules business owners will go from the basic concepts of the industry to the complexity of developing marketing campaigns, as well as strategies for customer acquisition and loyalty. It will provide individualized technical assistance to each business to develop a humanized brand, a marketing strategy (including digital) and to establish e-commerce as one of the company’s revenue streams, on an industry-specific platform. As a result, it is intended that businesses establish e-commerce (as applicable) with a sales strategy and a complete the development of a marketing strategy.
•Modality: Face-to-face/ in-person
•Trainings per cohort: 4 workshops (4 hours each + Q&A session)
•Individual counseling: 1 session per business (1.5 hours)
•Total hours per cohort/per business: 17.5 hours
The Business Innovation stage looks to encourage a growth mindset based on problem solving and identification of innovative business ideas with high potential to evolve into business. Using INprende’s methodology businesses will learn about the process and the necessary steps to develop an innovative business plan in a structured and result oriented way. Participants will receive a business innovation manual detailing the business plan methodology and a working template, which will guide businesses in their innovation journey. Through a series of workshops and innovation sessions, participants will conduct commercial, technical and financial validation exercises with the guidance of INprende. As a result, businesses will complete a detailed business innovation plan tailored to their business by the end of this stage.
•Trainings per cohort: 3 workshops (2 hours each)
•Counseling per cohort: 3 innovation sessions (1 hour each)
•Total hours per cohort/per business: 9 hours
Business 101 is an introductory stage that paves the way for strategic business development, optimization and innovation. Through a series of workshops and individual technical assistance, businesses will be diving into their existing business models and learning about opportunities to grow under a new economy. Businesses will learn how to re-evaluate their customer segments, assess the viability of their existing business model, and identify key areas of opportunities considering new industries demands around the world. Businesses will also receive educational material and a revised business profile with an action plan to identify and assess new business opportunities.
With the help of experts, businesses will :
•Identify pitfalls and areas of opportunities under existing business models.
•Identify strategies to address challenges
•Evaluate and ensure business follows existing laws and regulations.
•Trainings per cohort: 4 workshops (2 hours each)
•Individual counseling: 2 sessions per business (2 hours of direct services and 3 hours of indirect services)
•Total hours per cohort/per business: 13 hours
Once selected to participate in the program, you will go through an assessment with Colmena66 that will establish a baseline for your journey before proceeding to the following stages. This assessment will also provide you with a profile of your business as well as referrals so you can leverage the network of entrepreneurial support organizations in Puerto Rico and expand your own connections to other business development resources and support.
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His business is the first and only one in Puerto Rico that distributes innovative handbags and other accessories made from sustainably harvested cork. At first it was a challenge to convince people that these were high-quality products, because people normally associate cork with wine bottles and nothing else. Despite that, Morgan promptly started to move the product, making outstanding sales in festivals and major events in Puerto Rico. After seeing his huge success during these initial months, he decided to bet on himself and his business and invested all of his savings and earnings in new merchandise. Unfortunately, just days after his big investment, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the island and caused a complete lockdown – shutting down all events and malls island wide. This left Morgan with no liquid assets, no source of income and a house full of products that did not have a point of sale. Desperate, he turned to sell his products on the streets or wherever he could but was understandably worried about the image his brand would now portray. He really wanted to maintain his brand’s high-end look but was struggling to make ends meet.
Although Morgan was able to open a store in a prominent northern region mall once social distancing measures were dialed down, he was still worried about his venture’s future. 2021 was a year in which both people and small businesses received financial relief aid, which allowed clients to continue buying his products, allowing his business to stay afloat. He anticipated that 2022 would be different, as financial aid became less available. He desperately needed entrepreneurial training to ensure that his business could bounce back and continue growing.
When Morgan entered SBA’s community navigator pilot program in Puerto Rico, PULSO, he confessed he was very skeptical about the training he was going to receive, worried they would be a waste of time. His worries and skepticism faded away as soon as he began his first stage of the program, with spoke Colmena66. He described this as an enlightening moment that set the tone for the rest of this journey. During this stage Morgan was provided with a roadmap called “Tu Camino Empresarial” (Your entrepreneurial roadmap), which clearly detailed trails of business support programs and organizations that could help entrepreneurs and SME’s in establishing and growing their business, no matter what stage they were in. Morgan explained how he shifted to a more optimistic outlook, feeling that he was beginning to understand that he was not alone in this journey. Following the program’s second stage, “Business 101” led by spoke Centro para Emprendedores, Morgan was surprised at how mentors explained typically complex terms in ways that were easier for him to understand and apply to his business. The program’s third stage led by spoke INprende allowed him to better understand who his target client was, and that his current location may not be the place where they would typically go shopping, making him reconsider his point of sale. N’Corcho also benefited from the manual that this stage provided to improve his business plan, making it easier to plan ahead and make future projections. In addition to this stage, he also benefited greatly from the tools that spoke Brands of Americas provided him during the “Marketing and Digital Presence” stage, which helped him develop a more structured plan towards gaining more brand recognition in the Puerto Rican market. He also acknowledged that his social media skills received a major boost and that this, combined with his plans to expand, will duplicate sales and increase brand recognition in Puerto Rico.
Morgan explains that following the program’s services, he now feels more confident about N’Corcho’s future, especially now that he has developed his support network with PULSO’s mentors and peers. After going through most of the program’s curriculum, Morgan was ready to apply for financing to implement his plans to expand based on his newfound knowledge obtained in PULSO. With the help of the spoke Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC), Morgan was able to structure his business’ finances and work on his loan readiness. LEDC was also able to guide Morgan through his loan application, which was ultimately approved for $45,000.
After months of only having one point of sale and one part-time employee, Morgan is set to open a second location in a mall with higher traffic, recruiting 3 additional employees starting December 1st, 2022. In addition to that, Morgan was finally approved to receive a $45k loan thanks to the guidance from Latino Economic Development Center, the organization that led PULSO’s last stage. Morgan expresses immense gratitude for the support he has received from the CNPP consortium, insisting that given the chance, he would do it all over again.
Wafol Café Success Story
Both were self-taught entrepreneurs, with completely different career and education paths (Alexander studied Electrical Engineering and Calibration, and Daphne was in the Natural Sciences field). By reading books they managed to learn about how to establish and run a restaurant. Prior to the program’s impact on Wafol Café, this innovative restaurant had a very distinctive business model. The restaurant had no servers and was based on a self-serve business model that allowed customers to come in and make their own waffles and breakfast by adding the toppings that they desired.
However just 1 month after its opening in December 2019, Puerto Rico was struck by a series of earthquakes and 3 months after that, the first COVID-19 patients were confirmed and Puerto Rico was put under a mandatory lockdown. These measures put a serious strain on many entrepreneurs and small business owners like Alexander and Davny. In their case, they were able to partially resume their business after restrictions dialed down. Still, local regulations only allowed 50% capacity in restaurants, which ultimately pushed Wafol Café towards re-inventing their original business model into a dine-in experience with servers, while also implementing delivery services.
PULSO’s stage-based assistance allowed Alexander and Daphne to overcome many of the challenges that they were facing, specifically in reassessing their original business plan to consider pre-existing and new challenges through the Business Assessment, Business 101 and Business Plan innovation stages of PULSO. In an interview with the CNPP Hub team Davny recalls that after a counseling session with spoke, Centro Para Emprendedores, they discovered that the way they were managing their inventory was part of the reason behind their cash flow limitations.
Thanks to these services being provided early in the program, Davny and Alexander were able to learn about how discarded products, employee meal benefits and price inflation increased costs per unit, and how to adjust their pricing strategy to stay on top of it.
They then began developing a standardized system to help them have more control of their finances. In addition, program services allowed Davny and Alexander to become aware that 40% of their sales revenue came from a specific product, which ultimately led them to develop a sales strategy to continue driving revenue through their star product. Additionally, counseling sessions made them realize that they were overlooking their weekday consumers (such as employees from nearby offices, parents that take their kids to school early in the morning, and retired/elderly people that live in the area), which represented an additional business opportunity for growth. The program’s innovation sessions with other cohort participants were especially helpful for Davny and Alexander in identifying additional business opportunities.
By connecting with other entrepreneurs from Vega Baja and nearby municipalities they concluded that their area did not have sufficient food delivery options, which was an area of opportunity to expand their services. The duo is now developing the second phase of their business plan that considers a rebranding effort that includes a new webpage connected to a new delivery system to help them take advantage of the opportunity and reach their ideal customer. As their business slowly moves into the digital experience, they recognize how workshops from spoke Brands of Americas are helping them ensure the successful implementation of these efforts.
After having an original plan where they only contemplated 3 employees, they now have 14 employees and are in the process of restructuring their kitchen and buying advanced equipment to help them achieve their projected production capacity. What began as a part-time venture, is now a full-time source of income. They both expressed that since enrolling in the program they no longer feel like they’re raising a business on their own, and their progress has made it possible for Alexander to quit his day job and make his living wage completely off their business.