February 19, 2017
Las Mujeronas of "Puerto Rico Women in Startups"
By Ana Portnoy Brimmer
You could hear them clinking glasses, their drinks sloshing back and forth, laughing over their witticisms and end-of-the-day anecdotes. Business cards sliced through the air as they exchanged them vigorously among each other, making sure no one was left without one. And ideas. How they exchanged ideas with an eagerness for collaboration, cooperation and partnerships.
The lights were dim in La Penúltima, a hipster-ish bar right on Ponce de León Avenue in Santurce, San Juan.
The walls were painted in fading shades of gray, and the patio outside was roofed over with small, shimmering light bulbs. Instrumental jazz simmered in the corners and crevices of the joint, and home-made seltzer water (one of the bar’s interesting features) fizzled inside cups and cocktails across the counter.
“This is a space to exchange ideas, and to talk about the particular experiences that women entrepreneurs encounter. Estamos en son de alianza(1), we’re connecting more and engaging in service exchange,” Laura Arroyo Lugo, a lawyer from San Juan, explained as she searched inside her purse for one of her business cards. She had recently established a firm called Ambiente Legal, which focuses on helping local businesses become sustainable.
On the evening of Wednesday, January 25, Laura was one of the many women who attended a networking event hosted by an organization called Puerto Rico Women in Startups.
This organization, founded by Stephanie Kruger and Marie Custodio, has been up and running since November 2014, that night having been their 7th meetup, their success growing exponentially with each gathering. Kruger, totally on top of things at the event, simultaneously making sure women were interacting with each other, ordering a beer and attending to her phone, remembered how it all started with just a little bit of curiosity.
“In 2013, after participating in The Founder Institute, I discovered the need to know how many women in the world, who are creating and running startup businesses, are Latina. There is no current data that just specifies Latinas as startup women,” Kruger explained, wanting to fill the information void with regards to Latinas in startups and to take an active role in the process.
With this idea in mind, Kruger, who is a project manager for a high profile telecommunications company, recruited Marie Custodio, former journalist of El Nuevo Día and currently working for Parallel 18 (a Puerto Rican startup accelerator), and they decided to start hosting networking events in Puerto Rico with the purpose of promoting entrepreneurship and economic development among women, technology being at the core of the initiative and the events.
Kruger is aware that women are often excluded and dissuaded from engaging in fields involving technology, which is why she has made sure technology plays a central role in the organization and events.
The meetups are promoted exclusively via social media and quarterly interactive gatherings are held to educate women on and promote the use of technology with regards to the creation or growth of a business. Kruger wants women to feel empowered to take on these fields and to engage in the conversations and opportunities arising within that business terrain.
These meetups, held on a monthly basis, serve as safe spaces for women entrepreneurs to establish relationships with each other and to fish for business opportunities and service exchanges.
“The primordial purpose of these events is that the women attending establish at least one relationship, that they leave with at least one new contact,” Kruger emphasized as she looked around at the 12 women who had already arrived only a half hour into the start of the event.
However, Kruger is emphatic about the project’s inclusivity with regards to men. The project “is not for women only, that is a misconception. It’s focused on women, but we are inclusive. Men within our community are an important part of the game. But we do want to focus on women’s relationships to and strengths in the startup world,” Kruger, her lipstick and eyeliner on point, handed out nametags to women who had just arrived.
Looking at the huddled up groups of women complotting and consorting, she recounted how many of the women who have attended their events aren’t necessarily involved in startups. They’ve had women from all walks of life visit their gatherings, everything from lawyers to women who work in dairy farms, to coffee baristas, to doulas, to students, to fashion designers, to programmers and game developers; the list goes on.
Maricelis Rivera Santos, a journalist and communications and press consultant attending the event, believed Puerto Rico Women in Startups events to be “based on fruitful exchanges and solidarity.” Rivera Santos is the founder of Access All Services, a communications and press consultancy that offers training workshops and focuses on the democratization of information.
Kruger also emphasized the current importance of startups in Puerto Rico with regards to the impending financial crisis the Archipelago is going through. She believes startups to be an influential boost to the local economy and that they would allow people to create their own jobs and businesses.
“I see startups in Puerto Rico not only creating jobs but changing the mindset of how business can be done,” Kruger revealed as she took a sip from her beer. “We have two coworking spaces that house local and international startups: Piloto 151 in Old San Juan and Engine4 in Bayamón. These two spaces are key to our success because of their commitment to Puerto Rico,” she waved to a pair of women sitting on the other side of the joint, and headed over there for a chat.
Kruger is aware that startups aren’t the absolute solution to Puerto Rico’s financial crisis, but she is emphatic about the level of agency that startups give people over their futures, and how they are an opportunity for individuals to stay on the Island by creating their own jobs.
Conversations were at an all-time high, and the third round of drinks was being ordered. Kruger had only one thing left to say about women and their involvement in startups: “We are here and we are here to stay!”
Cheers to that, Stephanie Kruger, Marie Custodio, and las mujeronas (2) of Puerto Rico Women in Startups.
Always keep learning
For more information on the resources mentioned here:
1. "We are eager to form alliances..."
2. The amazing women