10 Facts about Puerto Rico's Technology-Focused Future

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After hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the government and its people decided to put technology first to help rebuild the island’s infrastructure, economy, and future.

Today in Puerto Rico, the opportunities are endless. According to the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, “Puerto Rico is a blank canvas, making it a unique platform for investment and innovation. That is why we are actively courting technology companies and investors to establish or expand operations on the island.”

Puerto Rico is home to a well-educated, bilingual workforce. The island’s location makes it a convenient place to do business across North, Central, and South America. Tax incentives across almost every industry are another major draw for technology companies.

Here’s a look at the current technology-related opportunities and initiatives helping to rebuild Puerto Rico.

1. The government is eager to experiment with cutting-edge technologies

Governor Rosselló made it clear that Puerto Rico is eager to partner with technology companies that can modernize the island’s infrastructure. The government has already partnered with Tesla and SunRun to modernize its energy grid, Google and Facebook to reconnect communications and Internet access, Airbnb to bring tourism back to the island, and many more.

If and when implemented successfully, Puerto Rico’s energy and telecommunications systems will be among the most modern in the world.

2. The Puerto Rican tech talent is strong

According to a Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum,

Puerto Rico ranks third for the availability of scientists and engineers. The island is home to the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, one of the best engineering schools in the United States. The Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust is a nonprofit organization that encourages and promotes the creation of jobs in the technology sector.

The island graduates around 22,000 STEM students each year, and the government provides many incentives for hiring locally.

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3. There’s plenty of startup community support

Based in San Juan, Parallel18 is Puerto Rico’s most notable startup accelerator program backed by the government. Since 2015, the program has received 2,741 applications from over 60 countries and accelerated 119 companies.

In addition to mentorship and support, startups are given an equity free grant of US$40,000 to help them scale their businesses. Startups that remain on the island are also eligible to apply for follow-on funding up to US$75,000.

Other organizations such as Startups of Puerto Rico, Code 4 Puerto Rico, Piloto Labs, Startup Grind San Juan, Colmena 66, and the Centro Para Emprendedores all help empower and connect local entrepreneurs.

4. The Startup Hub Caribbean is a new program by Facebook and Parallel18

Facebook and the Parallel18 accelerator recently joined forces to create a 12-week program that will help ten post-revenue startups solving the Caribbean region’s most fundamental challenges.

The new program is called Startup Hub Caribbean and will start in May 2019.

5. Forward787 is investing US$100 million to refuel the economy

Forward787 was started by Red Ventures, a multi-billion-dollar US marketing and technology company founded by Puerto Rican, Ric Elias. The program aims to equip Puerto Rican professionals with cutting-edge tools and skills so they can return to the island and be successful professionally.

The initiative will inject US$100 million into companies in an effort to revitalize the economy via human capital, technology, and business modernization.

6. Puerto Rico is a regional leader in IT outsourcing services

While the average salary of an engineer in the US is around US$100,000, wages in Puerto Rico are lower and can range between US$35,000 to US$75,000.

There are also fewer language and geographical barriers when outsourcing IT to Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are bilingual (English and Spanish), and the island is only a four-hour flight from many US cities.

Many international technology companies have offices in Puerto Rico, including Infosys, HoneyWell, Rock Solid, Truenorth, GE, Microsoft, and more. The island already has a thriving biopharmaceutical sector and is now working hard to attract more manufacturing, software, and telecommunications companies.

7. Puerto Rico appeals to cryptocurrency entrepreneurs

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a flock of 150+ cryptocurrency entrepreneurs headed to the island to take advantage of tax exemptions on capital gains and passive income for individuals who spend at least half of the year on the island.

One of the most notable cryptocurrency entrepreneurs to head to Puerto Rico was Brock Pierce, a former child actor and cryptocurrency ‘guru.’ The crypto hype has died down since the initial surge of entrepreneurs landed. However, Puerto Rico remains friendly toward the emerging technology. The economic department recently hosted a blockchain conference, Blockchain Unbound, that attracted more than 800 hedge funds, startups, and investors to the island.

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8. New ways to communicate during major storms

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s telecommunications systems, and companies are developing preventative technologies for the next time disaster strikes. New technologies to help survivors communicate with authorities and speed up response times are key priorities.

A group of developers created Project OWL – which stands for ‘Organization, Whereabouts, and Logistics’ – to stick transmitters to trees with Velcro that emit a low-frequency WiFi connection that users can link to via their smartphones. Once connected, users can enter their name, medical needs, and report any hazards to emergency officials.

Another project, DroneAid, envisions distributing 5-foot-long mats to citizens with standardized symbols that can place on the mats to indicate their needs. For example, there will be symbols for food, water, or medical attention. Programmed drones will then read the symbols on the mats and relay the information back to emergency responders.

9. Fighting mosquitoes with technology

There are more than 30 species of mosquitoes in Puerto Rico, and while most don’t pose health threats, some carry life-threatening diseases, such as Zika. In 2015-2016, Zika infected more than 35,000 people across the island.

After Hurricane Maria, scientists worried that mosquito-borne illnesses could soar because of the breeding sites created by storm debris and residents storing buckets of water. Therefore, the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit is using cloud-based mapping software to help field workers to collect mosquitoes from traps, pinpoint their locations, monitor populations, and more.

Monitoring, testing, and labeling more than 30 different species of mosquitoes can still be time-intensive. Puerto Rican startup Wovenware developed a machine learning system to automate the classification of mosquitoes and is putting together a dataset of images and labels to train a computer vision algorithm.

10. A new AI and IoT technology center in Bayamon

Located in the northern city of Bayamon, a new technology center will focus on artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to help Puerto Rico create smart cities. Features may include technologies to detect flooding in the event of a storm, for example.

The center will be run by a local company, Engine-4, and receive resources and help from companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Intel, AT&T, and Hewlett-Packard.

Entrepreneurs and technology companies are flocking to Puerto Rico to help rebuild and support the island. It’s not only a convenient location to do business across North, Central, and South America, but the modernization of the island’s infrastructure could make it one of the leading tech hubs in the world if and when these initiatives are fully implemented. For a look at the technology trends in other parts of Latin America, check out our latest eBook, 200+ Fast Facts about Technology in Latin America.