In Puerto Rico, Building a Disaster-Proof Business Is Part of Recovery

For a little over three years, Parallel18 has worked with 168 tech-based start-ups, each of which receive $40,000 in equity-free funding, co-working space and coaching.

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For nearly a year after rain stopped falling on Puerto Rico, the island was without full power. For months, thousands of businesses closed and did not reopen. And for nearly as long, internet was scarce. So when Emmanuel Oquendo and Israel Figueroa Fontánez found connectivity along a central strip in San Juan known as the Milla de Oro (the Golden Mile), they plopped down on the sidewalk, opened their laptops, and worked from the street.

“It was during Hurricane Maria that we found a purpose,” Mr. Oquendo said.

Mr. Oquendo and Mr. Figueroa had been trying to start a company, BrainHi, that automated communication with doctors’ offices. If a human receptionist did not pick up the phone, BrainHi’s artificial intelligence chatbot would step in to answer questions, helping the offices that were severely understaffed after the hurricane.