A little 411 on parallel18 and how we help startups

Not long ago, the right accelerator for your startup used to be really hard to find. Today, this type of business training multiplies every year and, as they do, so do the programs you can pick from to help you scale your company.

But let’s break it down, what exactly is an accelerator? You sort of understanding the term, but you’re still a little bit confused as to what they really do. It’s all about improving what’s already working well on its own and making sure it’s a match, in terms of how the accelerator is willing to support you according to your company’s dynamics.

The program adapts itself to the startups, not the startup to the program. Companies in the startup world usually develop a strong culture from within operations. So when applying to a program, one must understand how the accelerator works together with the company without trying to change it.

What makes a startup a startup is its ability to grow fast, measurably, and consistently to get through all of its important phases. However, the process doesn’t always come as easily or as fast as you’d imagined. That’s when the right business connections, funding money, and world-class mentorship come in handy. A coworking space, a solid network, exposure to investment and a packed curriculum can take your company to the next level and prepare you for future projects.

In addition to capital which is the heartbeat of any early-stage company, accelerators can help drive startups forward by providing strategic guidance and validation. So, how does the San Juan-based accelerator parallel18 come about it?

First things first, P18 welcomes companies from around the world to help them scale from Puerto Rico to global markets beyond the island. Our team works hard to develop business connections and create investment opportunities for all our startups.

Our parent organization, Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust (PRSTRT), has made it their mandate to invest, facilitate and build capacity to continually advance the Puerto Rico’s economy through innovation-driven enterprises, science and technology and its industrial base.

And so our alumni have benefited from our close relationship with the Trust, as their efforts include a variety of programs, much like P18, with which our startups can engage in collaboration or as participants.

Some of their programs include the Research Grants Program. Focused on biotechnology, electronics, cleantech, agriculture, environmental sciences, medical devices, and aerospace. This program seeks to advance developed science and technology projects.

Now let’s deep dive into what P18 does! We host up to 40 companies that are chosen per cohorts, that we call generations.

What does the program offer?

A place to make business

Puerto Rico’s economy has strong ties to pharma, in fact, according to Invest Puerto Rico, 12 out of the top 20 pharma, biotech, and medical devices companies in the world have operations in the Island. Add to that that at least 150+ Fortune 500 companies have a presence in Puerto Rico.

This provides plenty of opportunities to connect with global companies in a whole different way and it’s something the program works hard-on from the moment we select the companies that will be part of a new cohort, through our subprogram P18Connect.

P18Connect aims to create connections with big companies in the island and LATAM. How? By facilitating that first introduction through group meetings, conferences, and pitching events. These connections can sometimes turn into key partnerships that set the ground for startups to enter new markets with a strong lead.

On the other hand, P18 takes promoting collaboration very seriously, as the program hosts companies from diverse countries per cohort. This enables an exchange of knowledge and experiences that would not have happened any other way. Learning first-hand about how your peers have succeeded or failed can help you make wiser business decisions.

Access to investment

And because the program’s focus is to help companies get exposure to deals and investment opportunities, we designed a follow-up fund called P18Ventures. The main purpose of this project is to co-invest in promising startups fresh out of the program. With the fund, the Trust (PRSTRT) matches private capital raised by the entrepreneurs up to US $75K, in exchange for stocks or convertible notes.

This specific part of the initiative is recognized as a player in the local investment scene. The success of the startups that have received the fund has proven that there is a strong market led by these high-quality companies. Some of the international companies that have received the follow-up fund are Wisboo, Workep, Cinemad and Quiena Inversiones.

During 2018, P18 Startups in the P18Ventures portfolio BUREA, Abartys Health, and Brands Of raised more than US $1M, each, from international funds. This means that the local investment ecosystem is taking risks along an international community of investors.

With this in mind, starting this year, P18 will have a team member fully committed to exploring the investment opportunities in the region. Something that we’ve proven over our years in operations, is that, because the startups that participate in the program are required to incorporate their companies in the US (for Puerto Rico is an American territory), investors are more confident to invest in them.

US $40K free grant

Accelerators are known for the seed capital they grant their participants. In the case of P18, we offer US $40K, which is divided into two payments: one at the start of the program and one after Midpoint Evaluations. Of course, the fund’s disbursement is subject to startups complying with the program’s terms and conditions.

Every Monday, the companies gather up per industry to have weekly KPI meetings with their assigned Startup Executive. After the first 10 weeks of the program, each startup’s growth is evaluated according to their performance which measures traction and each company’s team efforts. This, in turn, becomes an evaluation criterion for the grant’s remaining US $20K. The process is what we call Midpoint Evaluations.

This is why the program holds an emphasis on the compromise founders has with their businesses. Being in a stage where they’re supposed to be ready for expansion, During the first week of acceleration, each company presents their 20-week-long plan, highlighting the goals they’d like to achieve at the end of the curriculum. The P18 team then commits itself to help the companies make it happen. They also encourage entrepreneurs to work hard and make the best out of their acceleration experience.

1 on 1 mentorship and curriculum

By default, entrepreneurs should include a craving for learning. An accelerator provides constant education with a curriculum that broadens founders' horizons with knowledge.

Every new batch of companies is different in terms of industries and needs. With this in mind, our Operations Team goes over the startups’ specific growth necessities and, from that, they contact the mentors that are the best to address them. Lo Toney, Neil Cohen, Alicia Syrett, and Devin Baptiste are among our renowned visiting mentors.

The ultimate goal is to help our startups reach the expected results. The topics start off with sales and marketing, and as the program goes the curriculum focuses more and more on growth and investment, which is why we bring a new mentor each week. This is why many of the mentors we bring have grown very successful companies or are experienced investors that have, at some point, invested in some of our startups. Another great perk of mentorship is how they come packed with connections, business opportunities, and even money to invest. Get to know some of our visiting and local mentors here.

Furthermore, parallel18 provides numerous events to its cohorts — and the public — regarding new technology, best business practices, partnerships, and much more, all set in place to improve your venture. Events around the island, particularly at the universities, meetups, and training offered by other agencies and business ventures are also accessible to their cohorts.

This year, for example, Puerto Rico hosted important entrepreneurial occasions like the Americas Competitiveness Exchange on Innovation and Entrepreneurship 11th Edition and the Rise of The Rest Tour with Steve Case. Events in which our companies got to build up their network with world-class innovation exponents.

Engagement with the community

Giving back is part of the program’s mission as they believe forging an innovation-oriented community results in the direct creation of young entrepreneurs. Puerto Rico’s rising business leaders have shown they’re willing to look at things differently and address the market needs that one else is paying attention to and, thus, standing out in the global scene.

To make more of this happen, P18 created their GiveBack Program. In collaboration with the island’s universities, the project seeks to impact young talent with the help of startup founders. Each P18 participant is required to support the local community through several specific engagements. These range from being a guest speaker in local institutions, participating in a community event, or mentoring a local company.

Engaging with the local community gives companies exposure within the ecosystem. Founders have found that this type of activity has helped them come up with fresher and well-thought ideas that address the needs of the regions they’re doing business in.

On the application form

The application process goes very smoothly. Projects must be in a stage where they already have a product with sales, and the company has enough traction to be able to scale operations. These startups must have three years of operations or less. To apply, founders need to fill out the application form on the YouNoodle platform.

There you will answer a series of questions regarding your company and your professional background. Competition managers and judges will review each application and verify eligibility. All documents are kept completely confidential and are not shared with external sources.

Your application will be evaluated based on how differentiated and innovative your product or service is. The company must target a global market and also stand out from competitors, as well as have some measurable traction. The experience and qualifications of team members and cohesiveness of the team will also be evaluated, and lastly their focus and dedication to the business.

For the Evaluation Committee to make their final decision, the application must also include a no more than 3 minutes pitch video featuring the founding team. What should you mention in it? They’ll be looking at the answers to these questions:

  1. What problem are you solving?
  2. Why are you the perfect team to lead this project?
  3. How will parallel18 impact your startups?

And before you start thinking about how to produce a professional video, let us just say that it’s not necessary! What’s important, however, is that judges can hear you clearly and see your face. This is the only interaction they have with the minds behind the project they’re evaluating and a strong pitch video, in terms of content, not video quality, can make a huge difference in their decision.

Thinking about your plan for Puerto Rico

But why Puerto Rico? You may be asking yourself, especially if you already live within a space fit for startups. However, a change might be just what your business needs to start really scaling up. Think about it.

Puerto Rico has become known for its strategic location right in the middle of the Americas. Entering the island’s ecosystem prepare and allow our companies to build up a US-based structure within LatAm. Meaning they can reach wider market opportunities on either side of the hemisphere.

Furthermore, Puerto Rico is the perfect playground for B2B companies as it has a wide range of businesses focused on finding partners that can simplify or optimize their internal processes and operations.

The island has a dynamic and competitive economy when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, with headquarters for Pfizer and Bristol-Mayers, to name a few. Furthermore, tourism, banking, telecommunications, and insurance are the top industries that drive most of the economy. The creative scene is also a blooming one on the island. With a strong movement towards inclusiveness, the incorporation of technology and digital exposure to highlight the island’s talent.

This, along with an innovation ecosystem in constant development, sets the ground for companies that come to Puerto Rico to find large amounts of opportunities that enable them to address different market needs within said industries. And, remember, closing a client in Puerto Rico, means you have a customer in the U.S. market.

More than seed funding

As you can see, accelerators offer startups much more than just much-needed funding. Programs, like parallel18, have a network of collaborators and contacts that work closely with participants to ensure the acceleration process is one that tackles every key aspect of the company’s needs.

This goes from possible employees and interns to possible investors or business partners who can help the company move on to the next scale. Furthermore, the Operations Team is focused solely on continuously supporting the startups.

At the end of the program, you will have a better understanding of what it means to do business and operate in different markets, this, in turn, will result in the development of a solid global component. This, in turn, will mean you’ll have all the necessary skills and tools to make business in unexplored markets. After 20-weeks, you will have learned how to measure KPIs on your own and have a personal network of experts and potential employees available.

Furthermore, you will have built a reputation among investors who think highly of the program’s alumni. “To be at parallel also meant to have open doors with investors,” said Mariano LoCane, founder at Cinemad from Gen.1.

As of the support of the P18 team, we’re always available to keep offering business advice, exposure, and our co-working space in the heart of San Juan. “Not only is it a program that geographically helps you boost your sales in the US and the Caribbean, but the abilities of the team and the quality of the mentors participating in the program are incredible,’’ commented Jacinto Montú, founder at Unicorn Games from Gen.6.

The best part of completing the program is essentially becoming a #P18Alumni wherever you go. But before, how about you take your chances and apply to become a #P18Startup?

Parallel18 is a startup accelerator that represents a unique gateway for global startups to scale from Puerto Rico.