Written by Michelle Kantrow
In its quest to assist entrepreneurs parlay their ideas into successful businesses, Grupo Guayacán has teamed up with the Georgia Institute of Technology for “I-Corps Puerto Rico,” a program offering mentorship and training over the next five weekends.
During a news conference Friday, Laura Cantero, executive director of Grupo Guayacán, explained that following this past weekend’s training session for more than 20 mentors, a total of 20 participating teams — chosen out of a pool of more than 70 applicants — will have the chance to take part in the workshops funded through a $62,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.
“Grupo Guayacán has been working with entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico for the past 19 years. We’re thrilled to partner with Georgia Tech to bring the innovative I-Corps Program to Puerto Rico,” she said. “Our heartfelt thanks to the National Science Foundation for designing and promoting this great program, and to the EDA for making the program a reality for researchers and entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico.”
Keith McGreggor and Paul Freet, Director and Principal, respectively, of Georgia Tech’s VentureLab, will teach the I-Corps Puerto Rico courses.
“Georgia Tech VentureLab is excited to launch I-Corps Puerto Rico, with the support of our partners at Grupo Guayacán. We’re enthusiastic to watch these 20 talented teams of innovators go through the program and discover a new approach to entrepreneurship and commercialization by using customer discovery as the first step to creating their startup,” said McGreggor.
“This collaboration allows us to bring our experience to Puerto Rico and also provides us a unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said, stressing how difficult it can be to evolve projects from the idea to the market.
“We practice a very deliberate form of entrepreneurship in which we start with the customer, not the product. One of the things we expect is for the teams to emerge knowing who their customer is and what they should build,” McGreggor said. “We don’t want to build something no one wants.”
As for the program’s success rate, McGreggor said his team has seen more than 1,000 people go through the process at Georgia Tech, with more than 140 start-ups moving forward to apply what they have learned.
“Perhaps only half of them will get to the next stage, but we’ve had companies that have garnered great sales, investments and exits from following this process,” he said.
Meanwhile, Iván Ríos-Mena, executive director of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, said the program that just launched will help “a growing critical mass of people, innovative scientists — many of whom are new — who are ready to face the challenges of opening a new business and creating economic development based on science and technology.”
Applicants were screened
The 20 participating teams were chosen out of more than 70 online applications, screened by Grupo guayacán and Georgia Tech staff to determine readiness, likelihood of success, team strength and cohesion, and ability to receive coaching.
Applicants were also ranked based on the level of innovation demonstrated, their commitment to the commercialization of their innovation, and the viability of the potential business model.
The selected teams, ranging from two to six members, include high-ranking researchers and professors representing top public and private higher educational institutions in Puerto Rico, including the University of Puerto Rico, Turabo University, and Interamerican University. The participants’ diverse fields of study include: cancer research, energy and biofuels, information technology, agriculture, and aerospace.
Through the intensive five-week I-Corps program each team will learn about their potential markets by conducting more than 100 customer discovery interviews with likely customers and market influencers.
After this weekend’s kick-off, the teams will participate in a series of three weekly reviews during the month of February, complementing lectures by the Georgia Tech instructors with interactive presentations and in-depth feedback sessions.
The program concludes with a final session, scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 27th, where each team will present a finalized business model canvas based on the feedback and evidence gathered through the customer discovery phase, detailing the venture’s value propositions, customer segments, key activities, resources and partners, sales/distribution channels, cost structures, and revenue streams.
“This project is of great importance for the development of new businesses and entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico,” said Puerto Rico Industrial Company Executive Director Antonio Medina-Comas. The agency is one of Guayacán’s main supporters and is pushing for a more robust innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystem in Puerto Rico.
“The Commonwealth and its economic development team supports efforts such as those led by Guayacán to promote the economic transformation of Puerto Rico. We know that the island needs more of such initiatives to help transform and evolve the perspective of our people, providing them with the tools and knowledge needed to create innovation-driven enterprises with the ability to grow exponentially in global markets,” he said.
The I-Corps Puerto Rico program will be supported by a variety of public, private, and nonprofit organizations, including: The College of Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico (Mayagüez), Microsoft Puerto Rico, University of the Sacred Heart, the Echar Pa’lante initiative from Banco Popular and the Puerto Rico Department of State.
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