We asked Puerto Rican professionals about their take on the current situation and what startups and small/medium business owners can do to keep going.

Here’s what we asked them: 
1. What are their expectations on what is to come next given the past few months dealing with Covid-19? (Business Related)
2. If they could provide entrepreneurs with advice on how to succeed Against The Odds during these difficult times? 

All these answers and recommendations can be useful and applied to entrepreneurs worldwide. Below is a summary of highlights from the interviews.

Healthcare Professional: Dr. Díaz Ortiz
“Vaccination can’t be something we rely on at this point. Researchers are working towards a viable vaccine, but we must understand that development, testing, and distribution is still a long time away. We are still learning about the virus, how it behaves in the human body, how to control symptoms, and how to treat it. Patience and understanding are key.”

Advice:

  1. Be accessible to clients at all times so that they don’t feel neglected. 
  2. Learn to adapt and think outside the box in order for your business to flourish despite difficult times. 
  3. Reach out to successful entrepreneurs if your current model isn’t working out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Brainstorming with others might just help you come up with new ideas.

Accountant: Business Owner & CPA with 32 years of experience

Advice:

  1.  Take advantage of  all the help, financial assistance and payment moratoriums provided.
  2. Adjust operations to the new requirements (technologically and physically).
  3. Maintain constant communication with current clients and marketing differently for new clients.

Young Entrepreneur’s Opinion: Gustavo Diaz-Skoff, 24
“COVID has altered the way small, medium, and large businesses operate. One of the biggest changes comes from the increased positive perception that you can indeed work for a listed top Inc. 5000 company  and do it from the comfort of your own home.”

“Without bordering desk walls, or glass buildings keeping employees in, almost half of the US workforce will now have the freedom to make a decision: do I stay here or should I move?”

Advice:

  1. Labor Mobility will increase, this means a surge in interstate migration (PR losing 300K by 2020) and an increase of demand for multiple industries and services. Stay focused on the trends, and the opportunities will reveal themselves.

    “One of my favorite companies to come out of COVID taking advantage of this trend is Atmos (https://buildatmos.com/timetobuild), they are working with developers and work placement agencies to facilitate the home search process. Oh, and they got backed by Sam Altman DURING COVID-19.”
  2. Find ways to reduce your square footage and cut costs. Now more than ever free cash & cashflow is the only thing to keep your business or startup open for the next months. Find ways to reduce as much spending as possible and keep running leaner than before.

    “Have you gone to Martin’s BBQ recently? They are operating with a fraction of their square feet, the rest sits idle; and that idle square feet — they eat up their cash.”
  3. If you’re building a new company, start hyper small. Keep your costs flexible, and avoid fixed & long-term costs as much as possible, unless they are of utmost necessity.

Economy Expert Writer for National Radio in Puerto Rico:
“As for the economy and business at first glance, it can be perceived that there will be a gradual recovery in the different economic activities that allow people (businesses or employees) to return to their jobs and start generating income. There has even been a delay in the payment of contributions, loan payments have been deferred and from the United States, an aid program for individuals and companies was developed that exceeds $ 2 million (“trillions”), which had never happened in history since World War II and the Federal Reserve promised liquidity where it was needed. There are conditions to recover slowly.”

“However, all of this is subject to people’s reactions. If these [people] perceive that the government or the scientific community, and the private sector have not carried out a credible reopening plan, people will spontaneously take to the streets in massive violation of established rules. This is fueling the epidemic and it is what we saw on the beaches on Memorial Day Weekend”

“Different econometric and demographic models have shown that people’s health is a very important determinant in economic development. And what I perceive from the business sector is a rush that can be very expensive for the economy in the long term, precisely because of the reaction of the public in the face of an institutional crisis.”

Advice:

  1. Always be on the side of people and know what they think. We will all get through this together.
  2. Do not let go of any government incentive program (state and federal) for business. Take advantage of moratoriums for loan and contribution payments.
  3. Think about the Big Picture and be patient. Don’t make hasty decisions. Take advantage of the internet to extend the areas of opportunity of the company.

Health Care Opinion: Jorge L Martinez-Díaz MD FACP FACC
“As of May 31st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov) reported 1,761,503 cases of COVID-19, 23,553 more than the day before, and 103,700 deaths which are 915 new deaths as compared with yesterday’s data.  Locally, Puerto Rico’s Health Department reported 3,776 positive cases and 136 deaths for the same date.

Since there is no specific therapy or vaccine available, it is inevitable that this pandemic has impacted the lives of all our fellow citizens, including businesses large and small.

The impact of this pandemic has been largely blunted after a strong lock-down and government-imposed quarantine that our society has endured since mid-March. We now face the fact that our society cannot endure this strategy permanently since many sectors of our economy have been impacted significantly.

This presents an ethical dilemma; how much are the lives of our people worth? Is it justifiable to let the most vulnerable segment of our society suffer, striving to survive without a way of providing for their sustenance?

These issues are for our leaders to ponder and for us to debate. Science may help us get the facts objectively, but it does not necessarily point toward the most ethical and humane strategy.

I believe that the apex of this pandemic wave has been blunted, dodging the bullet for the moment. The governess of Puerto Rico has begun to relax the restrictions though a multi-phased plan. The response during Memorial Day weekend was somewhat expected, although unwanted. Our beaches were packed and measures of social distancing non-existent.  The scenario that we witnessed brings to mind the possibility of a second wave of new cases and deaths.

The impact may overwhelm our ability to treat all the patients if the contagion rate is too high. The impact on our economy could be devastating since people may be scared of participating in the economy and supplies may be affected.”

What can we do individually to lessen the probability of this scenario occurring?

  1. Encourage your employees and clients to protect themselves by using face masks and practicing social distancing.
  2. Adapt to your clientele’s needs by looking for alternatives like offering them to pick up merchandise or host remote meetings via several internet applications available .
  3. Wash your hands as often as possible, use hand sanitizer if running water and soap are not available. Do not touch your mouth, face or eyes. 
  4. Stay home if you feel sick. Quarantine yourself if needed and protect those who live with you. Do not assume that a person who is not sick is not infected.  Remember that the World Health Organization (WHO.int) has reported that up to 80% of infected persons may be mildly sick or asymptomatic.
  5. Be safe.


Magdalena C. Carbonell is the Investment Analyst for ATO Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund focused on technology companies in Health, Fitness & Wellness and Digital Media & Entertainment based in Puerto Rico. ATO Ventures mainly backs pre-launch startups located in the USA and LATAM using a risk-mitigating, Market Validation Testing strategy. To find out more about investing with ATO Ventures, message Magdalena on LinkedIn or email magdalena.carbonell@atoventures.com.