You have a startup that has already generated traction, validated one market, and is now ready to scale. What’s the next step? Most founders will look into raising seed funding, getting a mentor, and expanding to new markets. In their quest, they may find startup accelerators as an all-in-one solution to jumpstart these efforts. But let’s break it down, what exactly is an accelerator? These curriculum-based business development programs support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing. The aim is to accelerate the life cycle of young innovative companies by compressing years worth of trial and error into a few months.
In a nutshell, accelerators literally get startups ahead in the game. Why? Because 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 one envisions. That’s when the right business connections, grant money, and world-class mentorship go a long way. A community of entrepreneurs, a solid network, exposure to investment, and a curriculum structured for growth can take your company to the next level and prepare you for the next step.
So, how do we do it at parallel18? P18 opens space for underrepresented entrepreneurs from all over the world and empowers them with education, business connections, concrete investment opportunities, and a community that goes beyond cohorts, physical spaces, and countries.
We’re a program of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust (PRSTRT), a nonprofit organization that has the mission to invest, facilitate and build capacity to continually advance Puerto Rico’s economy through innovation-driven enterprises, science and technology, and its industrial base. Therefore, our alumni have benefited from our close relationship with the PRSTRT, as their efforts include a variety of programs with which startups can engage in collaboration or as participants.
Now let’s deep dive into what P18 does! We host up to 40 companies that are chosen per cohorts, that we call generations. Here’s what selected startups can expect!
More than seed funding: a community
In addition to the US $40K equity-free grant — which always comes in handy for any early-stage company — accelerators can help drive startups forward by providing strategic guidance, validation, and a sense of community. Programs like parallel18 have a diverse network of alumni, collaborators, and all sorts of business contacts that work closely with participants to ensure the acceleration process is one that tackles every key aspect of the company’s needs. Our network goes from graduated entrepreneurs and the P18 Team to potential investors or business partners from different parts of the world who can help the company move on to the next scale.
Furthermore, the P18 team is focused on continuously supporting the startups. In a digital world and, through a pandemic that made remote work the norm, this team went out of its way to understand how to build a community on the virtual sphere. In 2020 alone, we held our traditional Welcome Event (DJ included) and a Holiday Party for alumni and participants of the third generation of our preaccelerator, pre198. Amidst the process, we’ve found that virtual settings provide a great opportunity to magnify reach and engagement, as having different locations is no longer a barrier.
“I transitioned from a person who was part of the community — but not a participant of the program — to a P18 startup founder myself. What I noticed during that transition is how you share the experience with your peers and build a strong support system where you can celebrate or cry together. That’s one of the added values, that bond you create with fellow founders. We play tropical but we also meet every week to continue to work hard,” said Lisandro Martino, CEO of P18Alumni Fitverz, on being part of the P18 community.
“Another thing that I think was great is how the program opened doors for us to start looking at other startup programs not only in the island but in Latin America,” added Lisandro.
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 (hopefully it will open soon, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve.) The best part of your P18 journey is that, at the end of the program, startups continue to have access to our community through our Alumni Program, which caters to the next phase of our graduated startups’ growth through connections.
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. Think big names like Bristol Myers, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Puma Energy, and Hewlett-Packard!
This provides plenty of opportunities to connect with global companies in a whole different way and it’s something the program works on from the moment we select the companies that will be part of a new cohort, through our Corporate Innovation Program, P18Connect.
P18Connect is focused on helping startups grow on the island while promoting that Puerto Rico’s biggest industries become more competitive by integrating the latest innovations. Corporate Partners include big local businesses and multinational companies that commit to having their C-level executives meet with parallel18 startups. These connections can sometimes turn into key partnerships that set the ground for startups to enter new markets with a strong lead.
Among the deals closed thanks to this program during the last year and a half are Brands Of (Puerto Rico) with Triple S and Puma; Debmedia (Argentina) with Mapfre; Nilus (Argentina) with B. Fernández, and Silabuz (Peru) with Evertec.
“One week after the global lockdown started, I remember parallel18 sent a survey asking us if we needed any help. So I asked if P18Connect could help me arrange follow-up meetings with those partners we had begun to establish conversations before the pandemic started, as well as new meetings with new partners. I got even more connections after I finished the program,” shared Alonso Mujica, Founder of Gen.7’s Silabuz on working with P18Connect throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other hand, P18 takes promoting collaboration between our startups very seriously, as the program hosts companies from diverse industries per cohort. This enables an exchange of knowledge and experiences that would not have happened any other way for most of our founders. Learning first-hand about how your peers have succeeded or failed can help you make wiser business decisions.
Access to investment
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 a United States territory), investors are more confident to invest in them. And because the program’s focus is to help companies get exposure to deals and investment opportunities, P18 has an initiative dedicated to maximizing this opportunity. P18Ventures focuses on helping startups create a strong investment strategy while connecting them with a growing curated investor network.
“We had a great advantage when getting ready to raise investment because we had Lucas — P18Ventures’ Managing Director — there to guide us and coach us through the process. We asked him about how to present our numbers and our projections. We even held pitch practices before pitching to this big investor network. Therefore we were able to implement feedback beforehand,” shared Jonelie Vélez about her experience with investment education through P18Ventures.
The subprogram has also invested in P18Startups through two funds: the Matching Fund, designed to co-invest in promising startups fresh from the accelerator; and the Business Continuity Fund, a one-time fund designed to support P18Alumni at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. All P18Ventures investments are made by the PRSTRT.
The P18Venture Matching fund invested US $1.6M in startups such as EduSynch (US), Datawifi (Colombia), CINCO Engineering (Puerto Rico), Amasar (Puerto Rico), Agtools (US/Puerto Rico), The Live Green Co (Chile), BoxPower (US/Puerto Rico), and Fitco (Peru). Meanwhile, the Business Continuity Fund helped 39 startups with a total investment of US $1M (around US $25K to US $35K per startup.)
“When lockdown started I knew P18 would be there. However, what took me by surprise was how it was there because I would’ve expected that the team was going to help us access aid resources. It turned out that P18 was the resource itself with its Business Continuity Fund. I think above all it shows how much P18 believes in its alumni,” said Suhaily Sepúlveda, Co-Founder of Gen.5’s Guilty on receiving P18Ventures’ BCF.
Data shows that P18 alumni from Gen.1 to Gen.8 had raised over US $20M from Puerto Rican investors on the island. So far, P18Ventures has been recognized as a catalyst of an investment scene on the island. The success of the startups that have received the fund has proven that there is a strong market led by these high-quality companies and the metrics in terms of investment activity in the island continue to grow year over year.
US $40K equity-free grant
Accelerators are known for the seed capital they grant their participants. In the case of P18, we offer US $40K equity-free, which is divided into two halves: one at the start of the program and one after week 10, when startups go through what we call Midpoint Evaluations.
What does that mean? Well, when companies start the program they have an initial meeting with our Ops Team. In it, they draw the plan they will follow during the next 20 weeks. That plan is monitored in weekly KPI meetings to make sure founders have the resources and support they need to make it happen. If by week eight a startup is not progressing as expected, the team holds a meeting to see how they can help and set short team goals to determine if they will get the second half of the grant. If the goals are met, the company gets the rest of the grant.
This process does not apply to companies that are meeting goals. Their Midpoint Evaluation will be oriented in seeing how the program can keep providing opportunities and letting them know that they will get the rest of the grant.
Of course, the fund’s disbursement is subject to startups complying with the program’s terms and conditions. All of this is thoroughly discussed in P18’s orientation materials.
1 on 1 mentorship and curriculum
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 Manager goes over the startups’ specific growth needs and, from that, they contact the mentors that are the best to address them. Devin Baptiste, founder and CEO at Groupraise; Jose Martins, Business Development Manager for North America at Husbpot for Startups; Holly Chen, growth advisor and former Head Of Growth at Slack; Niniane Wang, board member, CTO and VP of Engineering for Startups; Alexandra García, Program Manager at Google; and Neil Cohen, Marketing Guru, are among our renowned mentors.
The ultimate goal is to help our startups reach their goals. 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. Many of the mentors we bring have grown very successful companies or are experienced investors. Another great perk of mentorship is how they come packed with connections, business opportunities, and even money to invest.
“If there was a mentor that we knew could help us, we could just walk over and reach out after their session ended. I’m an engineer, so in terms of sales and marketing I didn’t have a clue, but that’s what the mentorships were for,” said Jesús Martes, Co-Founder of Gen.7’s Amasar.
On the other hand, P18 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.
Moreover, taking into account that underrepresented communities face particular challenges, our team is constantly looking for ways to address these hurdles within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s how “A Seat at The Table” was born as a series of sessions with female investors on giving actionable advice to our female founders. So far, Gen.7 had a record amount of female-led companies looking for investment and, in our alumni sessions, one of the investors reached out to start evaluating a P18Alumni.
“I think A Seat at The Table has great potential to impact not just the women in P18’s portfolio but also others from the general public. Learning from successful women makes a pathway for more successful women. I believe the series is a great initiative and I look forward to seeing it grow,” shared Juana Barco, CEO of Gen.4’s Backstartup about participating in A Seat at The Table.
The opportunity to give back
Giving back is part of the program’s mission as we believe forging innovation-oriented communities results in the direct creation of 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, we created our GiveBack Program. In collaboration with the island’s universities and entrepreneurial organizations, the project seeks to impact 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.
About the application form
So, where and how do you apply? 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.
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:
- What problem are you solving?
- Why are you the perfect team to lead this project?
- How will P18 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. This video should be uploaded on YouTube or Vimeo with no passwords, so make sure you don’t reveal your secret sauce.
How the application is evaluated
There are three stages of evaluation:
- Internal screening: the P18 Team evaluates all applicants based on the basic requirements.
- Judging: A pool of more than 100 international judges (that includes mentors, investors, and other founders) will receive guidelines to evaluate your application. They will award points to each section and the sum of those points will help create a ranking.
- Selection Committee: The ranking groups the top 80 startups and those will be evaluated by a Selection Committee composed of local experts of the startup community, mentors, investors, and even alumni.
Applicants will be notified along the process and they are more than welcome to ask for feedback. It is important to note that startups 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.
Will the program be remote or in-person?
How about blended?! Being an international program and with travel restrictions still in place, it is uncertain to say whether we’ll be able to go back to our in-person format by August. However, rest assured that our team is beyond prepared to take on a blended format in immersive ways that will give you a full scope of the acceleration experience.
Now, you must keep in mind that founders that get selected must be able to travel to Puerto Rico in order to open a commercial bank account and receive our US $40K grant. If you’re an international founder, we recommend you start working on the B1 or B2 Visa application process ASAP once selected.
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, culture, and increasing innovation potential. Entering the island’s ecosystem prepares and allows our companies to build up a US-based structure within Latin America. Meaning startups
can reach wider market opportunities on either side of the hemisphere. 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 different industries. In addition, Puerto Rico is a United States Territory which means that haven a customer in here means having a customer in the U.S.
By 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 means 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 partners available!
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? Applications are open NOW! Click here to start yours. Questions? Hit firstname.lastname@example.org up!