P18Turns5: These are the 11 things the team has learned

Innovation and change go hand in hand. So for a team whose work is directly related to innovation, five years can turn into many lessons that lead to personal growth or learnings that they can apply to improve our community.

While some of our team members have been with the program longer than others, everyone has their own set of unexpected pivotal realizations alongside the startups we have vowed to help and support since parallel18’s inception in 2015.

And because each journey is different but equally important in the history of our program’s evolution and results, we asked active and past members of the team to share their biggest #P18Turns5 learning! From developing a strong sense of community and diversity awareness to becoming self-committed to spread the entrepreneurial spirit. Here’s what their time in P18 has taught the team.

*Team members are arranged in the order they joined the team

Intentionality is everything

When did you join the team? Officially in June 2016, but I started collaborating as a consultant in January of the same year.

Learning: When I started working at parallel18 I was a feminist, but sadly, I was not aware of how important it was to be intentional when we set to reach a goal or increase the representation of a minority, in particular, to increase participation of female founders. In my four and a half years in the program, I have seen how being intentional with the goal of increasing the representation of female founders has paid off. And this began in Gen.4 — back in our second year — when we started making direct calls to female entrepreneurs.

So, how were we intentional? We began raising awareness in the team about the importance of looking for more female mentors, including more women in our selection boards, and being active in connecting with female investors. We also started putting more family-friendly content out there to let women with families know that Puerto Rico has a lot of activities for children. What I saw was that when women see more representation and their questions or concerns are addressed, they identify the program as a safe zone and seriously start to consider applying. When we have more females involved in the selection and judging processes, we amplify the perspectives and can make stronger cases for the markets and solutions female entrepreneurs bring to the table.

The results came first-hand with pre18’s Gen.1, where 45% of the cohort was led by females, which, in turn, translated to P18’s Gen.5 having more female representation because half of the pre18ners (20 startups to be precise) joined that cohort.

We saw it once again in Gen.7 when 42.5% of the batch was led by women, Gen.8 had 46% female founders, and again 42.5% in pre18’s Gen.3. Keep in mind that the industry standard is around 22%, so we are way above average.

I would love to see that happen with other underrepresented groups. I mean, we already work with an underserved population focusing on Latino founders, but I would love to see more BIPOC and black founders, more entrepreneurs from the LGBTQ+ community be part of parallel18. And I would love it if those companies were targeting solutions for problems their community face. We’re also working hard to make our community a safe place for them, and everyone, once they get accepted and participate in our initiatives. I’m in no way perfect in terms of diversity, but I’m doing my best to listen, learn, and to be vocal (and show the results) about why being intentional matters.

Selfless connectors are essential to bringing together the ideas, talent, and capital

When did you join the team? Since the beginning!

*Lucas now assumes a role within our parent organization, the Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust, leading investment efforts under P18Ventures’ infrastructure

Learning: Selfless connections will continue to keep growing our startup ecosystem. The more we give back and pay it forward without expecting anything in return, the more win-win relationships and the more positive impact we can generate for our entrepreneurs and the surrounding community.

For parallel18’s first five years, I was in charge of leading all of the support the program provides to our startups to help them grow their business towards global markets. A guiding principle for designing the curriculums that made it all happen — through P18 and pre18 — was maximizing the practical learnings entrepreneurs could immediately apply. Learnings meant not only to move their companies forward, but also to stimulate their skills, professionalism, and empathy as businesspeople that rely on building effective relationships.

Building a robust network of over 200 experienced mentors, who have been dedicated to advising on a volunteer basis, has been essential in making invaluable professional and human expertise accessible to our startups and showing them firsthand how great leaders are great givers.

An entrepreneurial mindset is very contagious and it should be spread far and wide

When did you join the team? October 2016

Learning: When I started working with parallel18 four years ago, I had no clue what entrepreneurship was. I came from a world of traditional career paths and I didn’t know how this startup-verse worked. However, not very long into it, I myself became entangled with an entrepreneurial mindset. I started thinking out of the box looking for all the possible ways to build and grow a Corporate Innovation Program from scratch, and not taking “no’’ for an answer. What this experience taught me is to not discard opportunities because things have always been done a certain way. Acquiring this innovative-driven state of mind helps our startups achieve tremendous results in such a short time. So I took the responsibility of spreading that ethos very seriously.

Looking back at the work we’ve done with P18Connect, it has been such a pleasure to spread this mindset beyond myself to those that surround me at parallel18. Being able to witness how high-level executives from big enterprises have embraced new ways of thinking and growing — while getting excited to continue interacting with those that propose crazy and new ideas — has been the highlight of my time in the accelerator. If traditional corporations can jump onto the innovation wagon, anyone can! Let’s keep spreading it!

It all comes down to people. Focus, and always go big!

When did you join the team? I joined the team as a Startup Executive in January 2018

Learning: The best thing about the P18 community is that, after a few months, you start appreciating the long list of learnings. So many case studies, opinions, frameworks, tactics, industry insights, mindsets, work discipline; it’s almost like a custom MBA degree! But let me bring it down to three:

First, one never builds alone. You ride rough waters and build resiliency with peers that are focused on the same mission. Entrepreneurs can reach a Northstar with a great team, community, and clients; but, to do that, they need to have people working under and towards the same values, purpose, and goals. When a founder takes the first steps to build a startup, goals can’t be aligned with self-interest only, but with the community in mind.

Second, the startup ecosystem has tons of buzzwords, endless opportunities, and not enough time for all one wants to do. Founders can be stretched thin and run out of time — and cash — trying to attend or chase every small opportunity and mystery door. Focusing on just a few things can be hard, as it doesn’t make much noise in the beginning for founders. They may feel like they’re not moving fast enough and so they tend to move towards other initiatives. But if you start taking on the big boulders (meaning the big opportunities) and chipping them away bit by bit, you are focusing on one big thing. This allows early-stage startups to get a highly-valued case study much more quickly, communicate clearly on what they do, and build a team aligned towards the same goal.

And finally, during my time growing within the P18 team, I’ve learned that just because it hasn’t happened before, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you. Don’t settle for the norms, don’t build on the traditional, and under an “it has always been done this way” mentality. Build your own path, even if the resources are not there yet. If you have the right team to tackle the opportunities in hand, go for it!

Female founders have a different journey. Accelerators have a duty to address it.

When did you join the team? I joined the team as a Business Development Intern in July 2018

Working at parallel18 has been a life-changing experience, to say the least. To be in the midst of working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs from Puerto Rico and around the world is an opportunity like no other. Throughout time, I understood the importance of supporting female founders and how particular their founder journey can be. When you look at the statistics, they show how not only access to capital is significantly less, but that they face the scrutiny that their male counterparts don’t. For example, VCs or angel investors ask women about their personal life, focusing on their personal ambitions, like having a spouse or children, and how that would affect their venture. Their demeanor when answering these questions or negotiating is under the microscope as well. Is she too aggressive, too passionate?

Having grasped that contrast quickly working directly with female founders as a Startup Executive, I realized that there needed to be a space in which our participants could feel comfortable about asking how to address this disparity from other females. That is how A Seat at the Table was born. An initiative that is not only necessary but fundamental to support them and really be able to provide the resources and tools they need to face the sometimes unfortunate reality that comes with the territory. Every founder’s journey has its own set of hurdles, and being aware of each reality is how we can really cater to our startups and support them in their journey.

Entrepreneurs are stronger together

When did you join the team? September 2018 as a Marketing and Communications Intern

Learning: One of my main tasks as a Content Specialist in charge of most of the program’s editorial content is gathering testimonials from the program’s alumni. Therefore, I can say that if there’s one thing every single founder agrees upon is that parallel18 gave them access to a myriad of entrepreneurial perspectives that come from our pool of international entrepreneurs who share insights, advice, contacts, and emotional support with one another, no matter where in the world they’re from.

Access to this network positions our founders at a competitive advantage where they feel they’re no longer solo in their hurdles, they have someone who can help them, and most importantly, relate with. So when it comes to the human aspect of the program, they and I agree, that’s just exactly it.

Branding can make it or break it

When did you join the team? December 2018

Working closely with startups has shown me just how much impact the branding of a startup has on the perception of its quality, therefore opening opportunities for partnerships and customer acquisition (nobody wants to deal with a sketchy looking startup, right?). Branding is how a company presents itself and communicates, thus it makes sense that you’d want to make a good impression on both clients and investors. With time, I have seen that founders are taking that into consideration much more or that they are more willing to take our advice and ask for our feedback.

Growing a startup ecosystem is not only a team effort but rather a community undertaking

When did you join the team? Early 2019

Learning: By leading parallel18’s GiveBack and Talent programs, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the effects of sharing entrepreneurial tales with a broader audience, one that had perhaps never considered entrepreneurship — much less scalable forms of entrepreneurship — as their path forward.

It’s often simple interactions that have the most lasting effects: exposing university students to our ecosystem, encouraging freelancers to get creative with their offerings, or putting the right people in contact. Again, it’s often the simple things.

As long as there’s synergy, a small team can achieve great things and build a community in the process

When did you join the team? October 2019

Learning: The P18 team is a small team, but when we work together the results can be bigger than those delivered by an army. Keeping each other on taps to see if we might need support or help is this team’s modus operandi. Working under that framework has helped me grow personally and professionally. My managers when I joined the team, Marie and Wanda, have also been a really big part of that process and I’ll always be grateful for their guidance.

At first, like with any other new job experience, it felt challenging. But once I got to know and work with everyone, I started to feel a strong sense of community. Nonetheless, like everything in this world — and like startups themselves — we’re still growing and evolving as a team constantly each day. I’m proud to be part of that process and I hope that I will still be here in the year to come to continue contributing to the program’s results.

If there’s one thing that has been really eye-opening is getting to know founders from all over the world. By engaging with these people, outside of their role as business leaders, I learned that getting to know each other is also key to build up the perfect multiculturally diverse community. I missed that this year since we had to go virtual. However, during the last months working virtually with the P18 team, I’ve realized that when in need of help “no te vayas por el roto” (a Puerto Rican slang for: “don’t lose it”) but instead, reach out to your peers. You’ll find that you’re not alone, and sometimes that other person can see where you’re stuck. It’s the little things like that that make me cherish this community and why I always give my best to them.

Time goes by fast, but the results are steady

When did you join the team? October 2019

Learning: I have heard of the infamous “fast-paced environment” phrase and most of the time it is said in regards to the type of job that takes your life-force away. But in parallel18 I have observed the contrary.

We may be moving at a fast pace but we still have the time to nurture different opportunities for the entrepreneurs. Many weeks go by in a blur where sometimes you don’t know where one group ended and another began. However, when you have the results and you look back at the things that happened over a short period of time, the reality becomes clearer. It’s gratifying to help founders and see how our efforts — no matter how big or small — positively impact them.

There’s a thrill in learning more

When did you join the team? Four months ago, August 23rd, 2020

Learning: Every day I’m learning about the entrepreneurial ecosystem, I’m new here! I am learning how everything works, the processes, the programs, sub-programs, the organizations, the mentors, the startups.

Just like Menchu, the rest of the team is still learning. But if there’s one thing we’re certain about is that entrepreneurs make the future look promising. Only time will tell, but hopefully, corporations will have a greater eye on innovation, diverse talent will be willing to take more risks, and investors will understand and bet on those risks.

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