Over spring break, half of the students in the Project Pyramid class traveled to Puerto Rico during our immersion trip. Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, this trip looked a bit different than in years past. Though we were unable to meet our clients in-person in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico offered an opportunity to gain insights on entrepreneurship in the Caribbean and connect as teams, which is essential as we produce our final deliverables.
While in Puerto Rico, we visited various local entrepreneurs and virtually met with our clients. On Sunday evening, we started the immersion trip by learning from two young entrepreneurs from the San Juan Hub of Global Shapers, Luriel Laboy Parilla and Oscar Alejandro Cullen Lopez. Luriel and Oscar spent hours with our group of 17, generously answering our many questions and orienting us to life, culture, politics, and entrepreneurship on the island. As Sumit Kar (MBA ‘23) put it, speaking with Oscar and Luriel was crucial in “enhancing [our] understanding of the social enterprise ecosystem in Puerto Rico.”
On Monday, we met the first social enterprise of the week when we visited Brands of Puerto Rico, a San Juan-based company dedicated to creating a marketplace that connects small businesses in Puerto Rico and Latin America to a larger international market. At the Brands of Puerto Rico warehouse, we met with founder Alan Taveras, who shared how the company realizes their mission of “[working] with Puerto Rico’s entrepreneurs to grow their companies and the economy of our country” while giving us a tour of the space and some of their vast inventory.
We then took a trip to Ponce, a city on the southern coast which is also considered the island’s cultural capital. Besides witnessing the colorful colonial architecture and cobble stone streets, we had the chance to tour innovative co-working spaces and learn about life in Puerto Rico outside of San Juan. At El Nodo, a coworking space in Ponce, we met Founder and Executive Director Jaime Yordán Frau. Jaime, like Luriel and Oscar in San Juan, spent a generous amount of time speaking with our group of students to share about the history of Ponce and the opportunity he sees in its future. A sixth-generation resident of Ponce, Jaime shared invaluable perspectives on the strength and cultural legacy of Ponce, as well as the challenges facing entrepreneurship, illuminating the motivation behind El Nodo’s mission to revamp entrepreneurial activity and reactivate the urban center that Ponce once was.
After our quick trip to Ponce, we traveled back to the capital of San Juan for the remainder of the week.On Thursday, we visited Parallel 18, an international social startup accelerator program committed to positioning Puerto Rico as a unique hub for innovative businesses and technology. Through meeting with entrepreneurs and touring their facilities, we learned that many Puerto Ricans migrate to the US mainland in search of better opportunities and leave behind a decreasing, aging population. Nonetheless, entrepreneurs and innovators are working to create sustainable economic development in Puerto Rico.
Here’s more on each team’s Project Pyramid clients and projects –
Yspaniola – Alekhya Maddila (MBA ’22), Julia Weber (MBA ’23), Noor Ali (MPH ’22), Stephanie Noll (MBA ’23), Urja Thapa (MA Economics ’23)
Despite our Project Pyramid clients being in other countries, our experiences in Puerto Rico were invaluable for our consulting projects. One group of students is consulting for Yspaniola, an education nonprofit building a model of high-quality education programs in the Dominican Republic. Their consulting project will provide teachers with more effective teaching strategies, including optimizing technology in the classroom. Noor Ali (MPH ‘22), an Yspaniola consulting team member, notes that the immersion helped her team understand “how history and politics impact current demographic trends and business opportunities.”
Impact Investing – Artie Ihomori (MBA ’23), Ergisa Bejkollari (MA Economics ’23), Joe Love (MBA ’23), Maria Sheridan (MPH ’22), Will Radney (MBA ’23)
Impact Measurement – Ariane Willson (Leadership & Organizational Performance ’22), Parker Willmon (PhD Biomedical Engineering ’25), Rocío Posada-Castañeda (MPH ’23), Ryo Sakai (MBA ’22), Sumit Kar (MBA ’23)
The other two student consulting teams are working with Nudge, a social enterprise connecting entrepreneurs to the marketplace in the English-speaking Caribbean. As they grow and seek to diversify their investor pool, Nudge has asked Project Pyramid students to help develop an impact investment fund and impact measurement metrics. One student team is creating a pitch that will strengthen Nudge’s ability to attract investment. They are also researching existing impact investment funds to help inform their efforts in building this pitch. The other team is developing a set of metrics to better evaluate Nudge’s impact and providing recommendations for data collection methods and a competency model.
As the incoming Project Pyramid Chair, I am excited to contribute to the TFC’s mission of creating sustainable social impact. My hope is to continue to partner with global socially conscious organizations that will foster a meaningful learning experience for the future Project Pyramid cohort.