One of the things I value most about active angel investors is their role in nourishing the “startup ecosystem,” supporting entrepreneurs with money, mentoring, and much more. Occasionally some of these angels and ecosystem leaders really go out of their way to make huge differences in these entrepreneurs’ lives.
That has been the case as angels, accelerators and entrepreneurs helped in unique and extraordinary ways to support the startups affected by recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Lots of attention has appropriately been focused what these hurricanes did to people’s lives and homes, taking away water, food, cell communications and much more. Less covered is the loss of businesses, people’s livelihoods, and long-lasting impacts on the economy, especially in Puerto Rico.
The Houston startup ecosystem was first, really pulling together – and quickly. The leading investors, accelerators and co-working space leaders not only got the message out for their networks on where to donate to support victims in the region, but they also helped tech companies get out great innovations to help victims communicate when cell service was out or get exactly the right information to know about shelters. And they got these same apps and knowledge to Florida, ahead of Hurricane Irma.
This week, I heard of the new story of R. Stewart Thompsonand must tell you about his extraordinary efforts to support Puerto Rican startups and their employees. Mr. Thompson is a Calgary-based angel investor and business leader, as Chairman and CEO of Valhalla Private Capital (which includes VA Angels). Other angels, entrepreneurs, and ecosystem leaders need to know this story and support these efforts. Bottom line, Thompson is leading an effort to bring 70 employees of Puerto Rican startups to Calgary to help keep their businesses up and running. This includes transportation, housing, food, office space, and normal business equipment so that their employers can continue doing business. You can help.
Thompson tells me that he began providing training, mentoring, and investment in Puerto Rico six years ago after serving as a judge in a business pitch competition connected to the Guayacan Venture Accelerator. He and others in Valhalla have been back to the American territory many times and he knows many growing startups there. So, it probably isn’t surprising that one of those CEOs contacted him to let him know that they were sending several employees to a U.S. city so the company could complete a contract. He knew of other companies doing the same thing.
Thompson knew this company would incur extremely high costs to move its employees to keep these projects. He realized that the best way to help these startups was to provide their employees a temporary place to operate and live, with easy access to normal business tools like internet, phones, and office space.
Right away, Thompson contacted Aspen Properties, landlord for Valhalla’s offices, and they agreed to dedicate a floor in the building with space for 70 employees. That launched a new GoFundMe campaign to help support part of the $50,000 needed to support those employees in Calgary for a number of months, with the exact length of time not known.
The time to do this was now, so Thompson and his partners began supporting these startup employees before supporter money was raised. The first of 18 employees from five companies arrived in Calgary on October 3. Many others are expected to follow.
This initiative is compelling, not only for the benefit of the individual lives and livelihoods involved but because it is so important to the economy of Puerto Rico. The theme of the campaign is “ You can have a hand in preserving the startup ecosystem in an emerging economy. ” As I’ve written before, high growth startups are responsible for most job growth and innovation. The 60 companies Thompson has met are doing between $2M and $90M in business and employ thousands of people.
“Imagine trying to run your tech company with no power, and no way of getting your employees to the office. Imagine that you have no hope of completing projects, providing customer service, getting new clients, or getting paid because the infrastructure around you collapsed instantly,” said Mr. Thompson. “This is the situation for tech companies in Puerto Rico and this is why we must help. Right now in Canada we can make a huge difference to their future.”
Thompson and his team at Valhalla are committed to this whether or not they raise money via GoFundMe. They also do not have investments or other business interests in these companies, so this is purely an effort to help. For me, that is all the more reason to donate to the cause. And to my American friends, are there other things we can do support our brethren startup ecosystem in Puerto Rico? Canadians can’t be the only ones to provide such awesome support. And many of us have a warmer climate, requiring fewer new winter coats that might be unfamiliar to these islanders in Calgary.