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As a child, Yoel Rivera never imagined that one day he would be the owner of a successful one-of-a-kind business.
Like most, upon graduating high school he attended college; in his case the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Campus, acknowledged throughout the world for producing some of the best engineers.
Shortly after obtaining his degree in Industrial Engineering in 2002, Yoel began working with one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the nation, developing standard operating procedures, and later maintenance plans. The validation aspect of a manufacturing process had always interested him, however, and he moved on to a company that provided this type of service to the pharmaceutical industry. Yoel began conducting validation services in the area of packaging, the final quality-control aspect any production line.
“I loved it,” Yoel says. “Due to market demands, packaging is constantly changing so that products continue appealing to the consumer.”
During the next few years, Yoel continued working in this field and identified that FDA packaging regulations had been included as a critical aspect of every consumer product, regardless of the market. Now, there were companies out there that performed validation in general for various industries, but none that was trained to specifically conduct the service in the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotechnology industries.
Based on this need, in 2005, the young entrepreneur decided to go out on his own and, together with a business partner, started a validation company from home, with two full-time employees. Ultimate Solutions Corporation was born. Soon after, the business was employing 13 people. In 2007, however, his business partner developed a cleaning product and left to pursue another venture.
Yoel maintained his 13 employees and continued working on the validation contract they were performing at that moment. After the project was completed, Yoel realized he couldn’t afford a staff of 13, and had to let five of his employees go.
The businessman then had the opportunity to personally become certified to conduct validation for Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil subsidiary, and he was subcontracted under Ultimate Solutions Corp., conducting validation services for the pharmaceutical company.
“Around 2008, I realized the economic scenario was becoming a little complex for the pharmaceutical industry, and I began exploring other business alternatives,” Yoel states.
Yoel ultimately found a different niche to fill, representing lines of high technology equipment, such as thermo-formers, transfer systems, scan-ware, case-packers, and high-speed troubleshooting cameras, among others. His clients ranged from the pharmaceutical companies he knew so well as Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Warner Lambert, to others such as local brewery Cervecera de Puerto Rico, also known as the company that produces Medalla Light beer.
But being an entrepreneur and handling all administrative aspects of his business, while at the same time managing projects, was becoming a little tough to handle. That is when Yoel visited the Puerto Rico Small Business & Technology Development Center’s Caguas Regional Office.
The Puerto Rico SBTDC, administered by the Inter American University under cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides management and technical assistance to aspiring and potential entrepreneurs. Every year, thousands of men and women like Yoel visit an SBTDC office to get help with their business plans, marketing plans, viability and market studies and loan packaging, among many other services.
After listening to Yoel’s situation, SBTDC Regional Director Lorna Báez recommended he develop a team of talented professionals and move the business out of his home; she also helped introduce Yoel to the New Innovation and Incubation Center (INNOVA), in Caguas.
“I needed a business plan in order to be accepted, and within a period of three months Lorna had helped me accomplish that,” the entrepreneur indicates. “I presented it and was accepted into the incubator program immediately.”
Since then, Ultimate Solutions has grown to 28 employees and continues growing. The business provides services in the following areas: packaging regulatory documentation; packaging equipment and automation; industrial engineering in packaging lines; packaging training; and packaging outsourcing.
Ultimate Solutions currently operates out of a 225 square foot office, and Yoel is looking to rent a 1,500 square foot facility where he can accommodate the office and a workshop, and develop new packaging projects. Yoel is grateful to the PR-SBTDC and the New Innovation and Technological Small Business Incubator for the support they have provided.
“As individuals, we have certain limitations, so you definitely have to develop a team,” Yoel declares. “They [SBTDC and INNOVA] have helped me overcome that conflict, to understand that the human resource is the most valuable asset an entrepreneur can have. You also have to find a product or service that is viable and keep on defining it as time goes by as something that is unique and that customers will trust, and hire you so that you are useful to their operations.”
Recently, Yoel was selected as one of Caribbean Business’ “40 under 40” entrepreneurs to watch. Although this recognition has brought much satisfaction to the businessman, he is quick to point out that “to see a satisfied customer and to see my employees progress while my business progresses are my greatest satisfaction. When I pay the payroll, I feel like I am contributing to society.
For more information on SBA programs and services, visit www.sba.gov/pr.