Meet the change agent using Ponce’s architectural heritage to jump-start a new era of entrepreneurs.

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Jaime Yordán-Frau is a change agent, entrepreneurship mentor and economic developer who was born and raised in Ponce. He has over 30 years of experience in strategic planning and a deep passion for his hometown. His skills and intrinsic relationship with the town led him to establish El Nodo, an entrepreneurship development initiative that’s currently supporting the business community in the southern region of Puerto Rico by priming downtown Ponce to act as an entrepreneurial hub for the island and ultimately, the Caribbean. 

The organization serves a dual mission: the economic advancement of the area and the
conservation of the municipality’s rich architectural patrimony. Incorporated in August 2017, a month before hurricanes María and Irma landed in Puerto Rico, El Nodo is a community project that aims to attract more resources to Puerto Rico’s second largest city. By acquiring, protecting and preserving historic properties in Ponce and working to bring true gigabit speed to the city center, the initiative hopes to fuel local business and job creation. in the destination.

Almost all of the structures of downtown Ponce were built with private funding by entrepreneurs during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although for the past 50 years the town’s economic activity has dwindled, founder and executive director of El Nodo Yordán-Frau is hopeful that its historic legacy will serve as a platform for new and upcoming enterprises. “I truly believe that the seeds are still there; all we have to do is fertilize it well, water it well and it will flourish,” he said.

Yordán-Frau originally conceived of the organization in 2014, when he began to research similar programs in cities like Barcelona, Medellín and across the United States. He was not only looking for programs that were revitalizing the downtown area of the cities, but also for a variety of coworking models.

The entrepreneur ultimately incorporated the 501(c)3 nongovernmental organization in 2017, though he didn’t complete the journey alone. After coming up with the idea, he began selecting and reaching out to a diverse team that he thought was well-suited to the vision of El Nodo. The team comprises a variety of professionals who come from unique educational backgrounds. Among them are intellectual property attorneys, energy startup professionals, entrepreneurs and an architect who supports El Nodo’s aim of preserving historic buildings in Ponce.

The team at El Nodo now operates 7,000 square feet of workspace, with plans to upgrade to 18,000 feet by the end of 2021. Yordán-Frau is aware that startups aren’t able to afford market rates for rent, but is committed to making the coworking spaces accessible for everyone. “The idea is to have a place that has everything startups need at a reduced cost so they can get up and get going,” the founder explained. He also expressed the importance of providing entrepreneurs access to “a place where they have the resources behind them – to make sure that we mentor, coach them, take them by the hand and push them whenever they need, so they can fly as quickly as possible.”

Since its early beginnings, the organization has faced challenges and navigated natural disasters. Just a month after El Nodo was established, Hurricane María made landfall on the island. A couple of years later, in early 2020, an earthquake of 5.8 on the Ritcher scale that originated in the south and tore across the island caused significant damage in Ponce. It was followed by another earthquake that registered at 6.4 on the Richter scale and was ultimately responsible for thousands of aftershocks that continue to this day.

These events have deeply affected Ponce’s infrastructure and the lives of its residents. In response, El Nodo has created resources to benefit their wider community, including a program developed in 2020 called the Ponce Recovery Fund. The organization has paired up with conservation architects to assess the damages to historic buildings caused by recent seismic activity. Their research concluded that restoration costs would exceed what property owners can afford. According to Yordán-Frau, the fund was therefore created to safeguard the buildings where El Nodo aims to foster business development. 

Gustavo Diaz Skoff

Gustavo Diaz Skoff

Gustavo A. Diaz Skoff is an entrepreneur born and raised in Puerto Rico's startup ecosystem. Gustavo has over a decade of experience leading non-profit organizations, administering real estate ventures, and consulting small family-owned businesses on the island. Gustavo completed his Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration at Babson College. He serves as the president and founder of BASED.