Puerto Rico’s ongoing debt crisis may be one of the worst financial struggles the island has ever faced, but that hasn’t hampered its entrepreneurial spirit at all. In fact, it’s the women of Puerto Rico who are increasingly turning to small business ventures as a way to bolster the local economy and bring sustainable jobs back to the commonwealth.
The challenges of the debt and the obstacles to growth on the island were frequent talking points during the Animus Summit held in San Juan last week, one of North America’s largest conferences for professional female entrepreneurs and innovators.
“What you feel in the atmosphere here is magical,” said Animus co-founder Carlos Cobián of the conference, now in its second year. “Women that are full of hope getting inspired and getting ready to act on their dreams and on how to help society, how to help Puerto Rico specifically, and take action.”
The event, now in its second year, drew over 800 participants and 40 speakers to San Juan, including fashion designers, tech entrepreneurs, social justice advocates, and even Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents immigrated from Puerto Rico to the Bronx in the 1940s.
The popularity and spirit of the event showcased female speakers from all walks of industry, from small business owners to federal government aides. According to the 2016 “State of Women-Owned Businesses” report by American Express, the number of Latina-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased 137% since 2007, with nearly 1.9 million firms today generating $97 billion in annual revenue. For entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike, the reasons for starting a new venture are clear: 83% see it as a lifestyle choice or a way to increase their income.
“Women offer an untapped engine of growth that can help in the current fiscal crisis,” said fellow Animus Summit co-founder Lucienne Gigante. “Women are change makers, they believe that their contribution makes a difference and they believe they can be part of a transformation.”
Likewise, Puerto Rico native Frances Colón, who now serves as Deputy Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C., sees the seeds of change already apparent in the island’s burgeoning tech culture.
“There are tech entrepreneurs really shaking things up,” Colón said. “There is a strong movement — scientists learning how to take their inventions to market and it is all happening sometimes under the radar. I think it is what will drive Puerto Rico within the crisis and in the future.”