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Ko-KEE! Published: Sunday, March 13, 2016 12:01 am By: Ulises Pabón, President

When I was in third grade, my grandfather told me that our autochthonous coqui frog could not leave Puerto Rico; that if it did, it would die. I’ve always been a bit skeptical so I decided to do some research.  We’re talking circa 1965 here so forget the internet.  A review of the World Book Encyclopedia at home yielded zero results.  I didn’t find any reference to coqui frogs. I decided to consult an expert on the subject so I went to my science teacher.  To my surprise, she confirmed the fact.  Our coqui, she explained, is truly Puerto Rican – if it leaves the island, it dies.

I had forgotten about this story until some time ago when I was reading the newspaper and came across a surprising event unfolding inHawaii.  Coqui frogs are multiplying inHawaii!  The Hawaiian government has tried to squelch the little critter, to no avail.  They’re concerned that the coquiwill ruin the eco-balance of their islands.  The frog just keeps multiplying and multiplying, filling the Hawaiian night with its Puerto Rican song: ko-KEE, ko-KEE!

You can argue thatHawaii’s climate is similar toPuerto Rico’s, and you’re right.  The truth is, however, that somehow, the Puerto Rican coquimade it there and has decided not only to survive but to thrive.  The score …Grandpa’s folklore 0, Globalization 1!

Let’s fast forward to 2008.   It’s April and we’ve just run 250 recently formed businesses through our innovation profile framework to determine how innovative their business model or business concept is.  The candidates studied were chosen at random from lists we obtained from various governmental programs providing incentives to new businesses.  Most have been in business for about a year.  We looked at their value proposition, the business model, the managerial profile of the founders, and their position in a technological continuum determined by variables such as use of collaborative networks, degree of value proposition co-creation, internet presence, and other technological indicators.  Many were the run-of-the-mill bakery, laundry, or hair salon.  From an innovation perspective, we did find some nuggets.  About 15% of the companies we studied had either a significantly differentiated offering (10%) or a vanguard concept (5%).  Eighty five percent of the new businesses, however, were conventional.  More importantly, less than 5% of the business owners had their eyesight on exporting goods or services.  To our disbelief, just a few business founders had a passport! The score? Grampa’s folklore 1, Globalization 1 – “se empató el juego”.

That brings us to 2011.  We traced the 250 companies we studied in 2008.  Less than 50 survived.  That’s a rate of 20%, which is in the ballpark – albeit, in the low side – of figures published on new business 5-year horizon survival rates.  When you take into account the recession that hit the island in 2009, it’s not a surprise.  What was interesting was that more than two thirds of the survivors were actively exploring, preparing for, or already experimenting with the idea of exporting products and services.

For sure, the current local economic condition prompted many to look elsewhere.  Advances in communications, information, and transportation technologies have helped as well.  However, whether driven by need or by strategic foresight, the fact that, today, entrepreneurs feel more comfortable setting their eyesight abroad is good news.  Grandpa’s folklore 1, Globalization 2!

The increased interest in exporting goods and services is good for our economy.  Contrary to the brain-drain phenomenon, exporting goods and services contributes to the islands GDP.  And as local business owners become more experienced doing business abroad, a support networkfor emerging entrepreneurs will naturally emerge, helping new comers to the field engage in exportation activities.

I’m happy for the coqui frogs in Hawaii.  We can use all the help we can get in shattering the insularism mindset we were taught and in opening up to the world.  Next time you hear a coqui sing, stand up to the challenge; the world is waiting for your move.


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