Puerto Rico's problem: lots of help, few takers

Puerto Rico officials had a problem: despite offering hundreds of millions in grants, tax credits, and reimbursements for local businesses, few were biting. Take Luis for example — he wanted to see how the government could help him grow his business. But he couldn’t find any information online, and spent hours calling different government departments. He didn’t get a clear answer. Across the island, hundreds of small business were missing out on helpful incentives that could launch their business to the next level.

Puerto Rico knew they needed to put this information online to help entrepreneurs navigate all the agencies offering incentives. Giancarlo González, Puerto Rico’s Chief Information Officer, brought in a team of Code for America fellows to work on the problem. Together, they built a 10-step online questionnaire that helped business owners find, identify, and apply for resources.

<p>A Puerto Rico government staff member uses Primer Peso.</p>

A Puerto Rico government staff member uses Primer Peso.

Connect the right people with the right incentives

Luis wanted to grow his small business in Puerto Rico. He knew the government offered programs and resources to help business owners invest in storefronts, hire more employees, or reduce their tax burden. But he couldn’t find a list of opportunities online. He spent ten days researching, making phone calls, and visiting agency offices to see what programs his business qualified for. Despite all that hard work, he didn’t find all of the answers. There were too many disconnected offices handling overlapping incentives.

It wasn’t easy to find which programs a business qualified for. There were many restrictions, including:

  • programs that required an application at a certain time; and
  • incentives for business with a specific number of employees.

The system as it existed

Ramonita – an employee at one of the agencies offering incentives – was trying to figure out how to help people like Luis. She tried to match business owners to resources they qualified for. But she felt frustrated that there wasn’t information online. Her phone was always ringing with questions from uninformed business owners, like:

  • “What incentives are available?”
  • “What does my business qualify for?”
  • “When can I apply?”

Ramonita would help find the right incentive for a particular business or direct them to another agency. She would later find out that half of the business owners quit in the middle of the application process because it was too complicated and expensive. She wanted to help, but the system wasn’t working. 

Helping entrepreneurs find incentives

Giancarlo González, Puerto Rico’s Chief Innovation Officer, invited three Code for America fellows to research this problem. They spoke with hundreds of government officials and entrepreneurs across the island to discover the hurdles to giving and getting incentives. Fellows heard the same thing over and over: incentives must be easy to find in one place online.

The fellows worked with González to build and design example websites, each solving a few of the biggest problems. Their experiments and testing helped them build a simple search engine for all business resources called PrimerPeso.

"[With PrimerPeso] the entrepreneur can inquire about all the financing options available, download forms, fill out applications and learn about tax incentives that will even allow them to export their products."

— Giancarlo González, Puerto Rico Chief Innovation Officer

Puerto Rico found that asking entrepreneurs for their feedback on the incentive process led to a better government user experience.

The code that powers the application is open source and available for anyone who wants to copy, alter, or adapt it. View the original PrimerPeso code on GitHub.