Using Early Entrepreneurship Education to Drive Economic Growth in Puerto Rico

December 6, 2017

MIT REAP Team Puerto Rico joined forces with LaunchX (formerly MIT Launch) and Banco Popular de Puerto Rico last month to foster economic expansion in Puerto Rico through entrepreneurship education.

During the summer of 2014, a multi-stakeholder Team from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico joined the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP) in order to drive social and economic impact in the region. The Team is comprised of high-level representatives from government, corporate, and universities, as well as risk capital providers and entrepreneurs, including Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Microsoft and Grupo Guayacán, Inc.

Throughout the 2-year program the Team worked with strategic MIT REAP faculty advisors in order to analyze the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and develop a strategy to address specific problem areas by supporting regional innovation-driven entrepreneurship (IDE). Examples of the Team’s efforts include championing the accelerator program, Parallel 18, the development of a strategic plan for the region and the integration of a high school focused entrepreneurship program, LaunchX. During the 2-year program, the Team began to engage with LaunchX team to develop a program for the region’s high schools to deliver MIT developed curriculum that leans toward design and fabrication. LaunchX engages high school students through student-led clubs that provide their peers with the skills and mindset to pursue entrepreneurship during and after high school.

“We were thrilled to see our REAP Team Puerto Rico take advantage of this additional opportunity from the greater innovation ecosystem here in Cambridge Massachusetts,” said Sarah Jane Maxted, Director of MIT REAP.

LaunchX founder and executive director Laurie Stach traveled to San Juan to host a workshop for educators on September 1st, 2017. Focused around building classroom cultures that foster creative problem-solving, resilience, and collaboration, the workshop was attended by educators and administrators from 34 public and private high schools across the island, as well as by U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and directly served the Department of Education’s initiative to accelerate entrepreneurial culture on the island— “seeding the next generation of Puerto Rican entrepreneurs.”

As part of the workshop, a small group of students were invited to join the training in an effort to showcase what this method for teaching and learning looks like in practice. The students went through abridged processes for team-building and identifying one another’s strengths. Engaging with brainstorming exercises and opportunity analysis, they were asked to apply enterprising skills, communications skills, and project management skills to arrive at viable solutions that addressed real problems in the market.

Said LaunchX founder Laurie Stach, “The training in Puerto Rico was an absolute success. The educators we worked with were clearly an engaged group, committed to the growth of their students and their island and open to new approaches.”

Soon after the teacher training, students across Puerto Rico participated in the LaunchX Blastoff event, a one-day “invent-a-thon” during which teams of high school students from around the world worked together to prototype and pitch solutions around the theme of environmental sustainability. The event in Puerto Rico, hosted at the Museum of Science (C3TEC), was the largest of its kind—attended by over 200 young innovators.

Rebuilding in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the importance of this initiative is more glaring than ever. As CNBC’s David Bogaty recently reported, “As we prioritize recovery… we should not forget the importance of long-term economic planning. Encouraging entrepreneurship is critical to helping Puerto Rico build a brighter future.”

As Puerto Ricans rebuild and future academic years unfold, teachers and administrators in over 30 schools in Puerto Rico plan to support students in ideating, innovating, and building startups as participants in LaunchX Clubs—a program designed to guide high school students through the steps of starting a company. While school groups generally pay to receive LaunchX curricular materials through the clubs program, the organization is waiving fees this year for any group of young Puerto Rican innovators that chooses to participate.

“Taking initiative to instill these creativity and innovation-focused values in our youth is one of the best mechanisms we have available to drive long-term change in the region,” says Ángel Pérez, Vice President of Rock Solid Technologies and Champion of MIT REAP Team Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican students and families continue to be in urgent need of our support. Consider donating to UNICEF’s hurricane relief efforts, or use GiveWell to identify other charities that will make the most of your contributions.

For more information please visit MIT REAP or LaunchX.