In Puerto Rico, a struggling economy plus the onslaught of two hurricanes is often seen in either of two ways: opportunity for investors with innovation from entrepreneurs or a landscape of serial disasters.
Pipeline Angels, a group of more than 300 Latina investors funding Puerto Rican female and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs, sees this as the first option– a way to change the face of angel investing.
With 300 members making more than $5 million in investments in more than 50 companies, Natalia Oberti Noguera, CEO and Founder of Pipeline Angels, launched the group in April 2011.
The unemployment rate in the island is over 12 percent while 60 percent of Puerto Rico’s small businesses have closed temporarily. According to the Center for Venture Research, in 2016, only 26 percent of U.S. angel investors were women and only 5 percent were persons of color. Only 2.3 percent of all investors are Latinx, and an even smaller percentage are Latina.Only 2.3% of all investors in Puerto Rico are Latinx, and an even smaller percentage are Latina. @PipelineAngels are in the business of changing this. Click To Tweet
Launching their first Pipeline Angels Bootcamp for investors in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 14-16, the intention is for the 15-20 investors attending to move forward with the promised $5,000 each in funding. With local organizations (including Grupo Guayacán, Parallel18, Santurce POP, and Animus), Pipeline Angels has committed to doubling the number of Latinx angels nationwide. A Pitch Summit for entrepreneurs is slated for August 8 in San Juan with additional summits in 10 other cities this summer.
“Women and femmes on the mainland, especially those who are part of the Boricuan diaspora, are strongly encouraged to apply–become an angel investor, power the local economy, and help us unleash more capital for Puerto Rico-based founders,” according to Pipeline Angels.
“The more, the merrier,” says Karla Fraguada, Pipeline Angels member and Director of Business Performance for Bacardi North America, based in Miami. “Many see the open spaces here for opportunity and the need is huge.”
“Having Pipeline Angels launch in Puerto Rico will help transform the economic landscape by mobilizing more capital for Boricuan founders,” says Carla Lopez de Azua, founder of Santurce POP, a retail incubator for small businesses.
“The programs, courses, and speakers are perfect for someone with some angel investing experience or a complete novice, as I was. There are plenty of accredited investors in Puerto Rico who would benefit from understanding angel investing and how we can enable more local women and femmes to grow financially and professionally,” says Fraguada.
A Pipeline Angel since Feburary 2017, for Fraguada this path to investing is both personal and professional. A native of Puerto Rico, she moved to the U.S after graduating in 2003 with a bachelors of science in n Chemical Engineering from University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez.
“I left Puerto Rico when I was 22 and all my family is there and my husband’s family.” Recently her husband moved back to Puerto Rico. “Now I commute every Thursday to Monday,” Fraguada says.
Her mission is to help local entrepreneurs whose companies are “social impact related,” she says. That includes companies centered on safety, education and communities.
“The misconceptions about Latin entrepreneurs is that we have less experience, less capability,” Fraguada says. “we are looking for founders who are coachable, who have done the research and know where they want to take the company and also have an exit strategy.”
She adds,”You want to watch out for the founders who want to keep their company forever. You can get acquired or move on,” Fraguada says.
Working in corporations for the past 15 years, Fraguada says she is familiar with strategies in maneuvering corporate spaces and also with seizing opportunity.
“I fell in love with the food industry,” Fraguada says, unlike her graduating peers who went into petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Starting in Research & Development at Kraft Foods, she stayed for five years moving because of the patience. We’re less volatile in making changes and up the ladder, and then moving in 2008 to Pepperidge Farm, where she worked until 2011, before moving to Unilever. She has been with Bacardi since 2013.
What is gratifying in the process of being a Pipeline Angel, Fraguada says, is the women who say the pitch process is very different from any other funding efforts they have sought.
“They tell us it was wonderful to look out and see friendly faces and that it was less daunting. There is no sexual harassment and it is a safe environment,” Fraguada says.
Laura Cantero, executive director of Grupo Guayacán, Inc., a private sector driven non-profit organization, works in Puerto Rico with Pipeline Angels. Founded in 1996, Guayacan couples private equity investment with programs aimed at developing, strengthening, and advancing Puerto Rico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.@GrupoGuayacan is a private sector driven non-profit organization working with @PipelineAngels in #PuertoRico to double the number of Latinx angel investors nationwide. Click To Tweet
“At Guayacán, we welcome efforts to increase access to capital for our local startups, particularly when it means that founders will also get access to a powerful network of new mentors, partners, and potential clients,” Cantero says.
Working with entrepreneurs in technology, agriculture, food and other businesses, Cantero says her organization has funded $19 million to local companies in the last 22 years. But what had been predominantly male-owned companies has shifted in the last few years.
“We have seen a change that over 50 percent of the start-ups here are women-run,” Cantero says.Working with entrepreneurs in technology, agriculture, food and other businesses, @GrupoGuayacan has funded $19 million to local Latinx companies in the last 22 years. #LatinxBusiness Click To Tweet
“I like to say in Puerto Rico we are entrepreneurs because of a necessity to provide for our families and communities. Many households are women-run,” she says.
“There are a lot of people coming to the island just to offer help. There are a lot of donations that were given to the island focusing on small businesses, startups and other economic development initiatives. I think that is going to keep growing,” Sebastian Vidal, a member of the founding team of Startup Chile, told Entrepreneur.
According to Peru Reports, “Abartys Health, a Puerto Rican healthtech startup that facilitates and streamlines communication between insurance companies and healthcare providers,” was founded by Lauren Cascio and Dolmarie Mendez, who recently received a $1.45 million seed investment.
“Sure, sometimes we are underestimated because we are women in tech, not only tech but healthcare, which is a very serious industry,” Cascio says. “Sometimes people will assume we work for someone, or request to talk to the person in charge – it is comical. But we use this to our advantage. We don’t have time to waste on worrying what others might think about our gender, after all, that is not what we are selling. You have to have thick skin to make it as an entrepreneur, so these occurrences of prejudice are just practice,” Cascio told Peru Reports.
Cantero is familiar with those attitudes. Now living again in her native Puerto Rico, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003, Cantero lived and worked in Argentina, Chile and Bogota, before going to Spain for her masters degree. Now five years with Guayacan, she says the oraganization’s mission has changed.
“I will not say the hurricane and the aftermath did not significantly change our work, but it made it more important . We encourage women to find mentoring opportunities. There are not thant many successful women entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico as heroes,” Cantero says.
“My biggest pet peeve are the misconceptions about Puerto Rico,” Cantero says. “Things were bad before the hurricanes, they just made it more visible. Together we can see some of these women become successful as entrepreneurs. We just need women to go for it.”