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“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”—Hippocrates
It takes a special kind of person to offer a healing touch to someone suffering from a chronic or catastrophic disease. To nearly 4,000 individuals in Puerto Rico, that person is Enid Santiago-Aponte.
Born in New York City, Santiago arrived in Puerto Rico at the age of four, and was raised in her parents’ hometown of Florida –the last town on the island to be named a municipality. Santiago knew she wanted to be a pharmacist since she was in the seventh grade and in 1987, after graduating from the School of Pharmacy of the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus in Río Piedras, she provided a government-required year of public service as a pharmacist to the Manatí Area Hospital.
“I met medical sales representatives on a daily basis,” Santiago says. “Two months before I completed my service, one of them suggested that I would be good in that field, and I went for an interview at American Cyanamid.”
Santiago got the job and worked at the pharmaceutical company for three years before she was recruited by Bristol-Myers Squibb, a move that would eventually change the course of her life and her career. During the 14 years Santiago worked for Bristol, she held various positions, from sales representative and district manager to marketing manager and senior account executive of managed healthcare or direct care. This last role would define Santiago’s future.
“While working in the area of managed care I visited a specialty pharmacy, and instantly fell in love,” Santiago declares. “I liked the idea of having close contact with the patient, of going that extra mile to help the patient obtain his or her medication.”
Over Christmas in 2004, a friend of Santiago’s said to her “this is your moment, go for it”. Inspired by her parents, both of whom suffer from chronic diseases, and encouraged by her friend, Santiago lost no time in going online to research the concept and structure of a specialty pharmacy. She worked at the pharmaceutical company during the day and spent her nights designing a business plan, later hiring an economist to help her with its financial aspects.
In July 2005, Santiago created SPS Specialty Pharmacy Services Inc., which would be engaged in the preparation and distribution of specialty pharmaceuticals to treat chronic diseases. In January 2006, she presented her business plan and loan proposal to Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and was soon approved for a $750,000 loan under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 7(a) Loan Guaranty program.
“In this type of business everything is very costly, and I will be eternally grateful for the trust the bank had in me,” Santiago says.
The SBA’s most sought out financial product, the 7(a) provides long-term financing to acquire equipment and machinery, inventory, fixtures and accessories, renovations, purchase land, build new buildings, purchase existing businesses, and for the repayment of debts. The agency can guarantee up to 85 percent on loans up to $150,000 and up to 75 percent on loans higher than $150,000 up to $5 million.
With the loan proceeds, Santiago purchased equipment and inventory, and made improvements to a commercial building on Luis Muñoz Marín Avenue in Caguas that she had leased due to its ideal setting in one of the city’s most traveled roads. The location is less than a mile away from the Inter-American Advanced Medicine Hospital (HIMA by its Spanish acronym), providing patients with immediate access to treatment.
Santiago hired a pharmacy assistant, resigned from her job at Bristol on December 22, and on December 26, 2006 she opened the doors to SPS Specialty Pharmacy Services. Nevertheless, it took a few months before patients began to arrive.
“My first patient was my mom,” Santiago recalls. “It took a while before people knew us, so during that time I hired another pharmacist and began distributing flyers and calling and visiting doctors.”
At the same time, Enid’s sister Mildred --also a licensed pharmacist and former medical representative-- joined SPS, bringing with her a wealth of experience in the field. The Santiago sisters’ previous experiences with doctors, in addition to SPS’ home-delivery and infusion services, achieved great and fast acceptance from doctors. The business took off, and one year after opening day, SPS had served nearly 700 patients.
“I’ve had great acceptance from doctors,” Santiago says. “Many of them already knew me from my days working at the pharmaceutical companies, so there was an established relationship.”
In Puerto Rico, there are approximately 10 specialty pharmacies, all operating under a different model. What makes SPS stand out is the direct relationship it establishes with patients, dispatching pharmaceuticals expressly to their homes, and educating patients on the proper and correct use of medication. Specialty Pharmacy Services also serves homes for the aged, dispatching and refilling prescriptions. The pharmacy prides itself in offering excellent customer service to all patients and people from all walks of life, a significant aspect in its success.
“There are many prescriptions that arrive by fax directly from the doctor,” Santiago says. “Patients don’t necessarily have to come in to fill a prescription. I will deliver to any patient anywhere on the island, even in Vieques and Culebra.”
Today, SPS Specialty Pharmacy Services employs 22 people and provides services to about 4,000 patients throughout the island, helping treat such diseases as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, and hepatitis, among others. The business generates over $12 million in annual revenues. The business has grown so steadily, in fact, that Santiago’s next step is to purchase a lot that’s even closer to HIMA Hospital and construct a larger commercial building where she can move the pharmacy.
When asked about the most satisfying moments of her business venture, Santiago points out “to have worked with excellent professionals who come in to do their jobs, people who understand that if the business grows, they will grow.”
Then, the pharmacist goes on to talk about the significance of establishing direct contact with a patient, something not many pharmacists do, and of becoming someone the patient can rely on for support and comfort.
“To take a patient by the hand, and lend them a shoulder to cry on, to see happiness on the face of a patient I have helped, to serve others, that is my greatest satisfaction.”
For more information on SBA programs and services, visit www.sba.gov/pr.
MOROVIS, PR -- For almost two decades, Edwin Ortiz has dedicated his professional life to the business of supermarkets.
In the heart of Morovis, a town with a population shy of 30,000 in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico, Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash serves close to 2,000 customers a day. Its success is largely due to Edwin, who bought it from his brother Ovidio in 1995 and turned it into a service-oriented, customer-friendly shopping venue.
The supermarket wasn’t always thriving. In fact, Ovidio acquired it at public auction in 1983, shortly after its previous owner declared bankruptcy. Ovidio saw an opportunity to re-establish the store as a profitable business and named it Mr. Cash. True to its namesake, the supermarket generated $6,000 in sales on opening day and began growing steadily, employing 30 people. Soon after, Mr. Cash required additional space, and Ovidio moved it to a bigger commercial lot across the street. Mr. Cash had indeed begun to thrive.
After 12 years of successful operations, however, Ovidio decided it was time for someone else’s turn at the wheel, and he asked Edwin to go work with him at the store. Ovidio’s plans were to employ Edwin and later sell him the business, which he did in 1995.
“I had no money and no idea how I was going to buy the supermarket,” Edwin says. “But my brother set forth some reasonable conditions and gave me a term of five years to pay him. I accomplished it in a little over four.”
Edwin was already well-familiarized with the food industry. Years before, he had worked as a sales rep for a meat distributor and his routes included supermarkets, butcher shops, restaurants, and cash and carry warehouses. His experiences served as a basis for his future success in the supermarket business. Edwin was also well-trained as an administrator. At the time his brother called on him to join the supermarket, Edwin was the manager of credit union Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito Moroveña. In that position, he got to know the people in the area and establish a direct relationship with his customers.
During Edwin’s first year as Mr. Cash president, sales increased by 17 percent. In 2000, Edwin decided to join Supermercados Selectos, a local supermarket chain that allows its members to partner in making purchase negotiations in bulk and offer more competitive prices to their customers.
“The Selectos concept relieved me from having to pay for advertising or a warehouse,” Edwin indicates. “I don’t have to design or distribute my own shopper. The Selectos chain has an in-house advertising team and a central warehouse that serve all member stores.”
But renaming the supermarket wasn’t an easy task. The townsfolk saw Mr. Cash as the supermarket in Morovis, and Edwin felt that by changing its name he would somehow be taking from its identity. A deal was reached with Selectos’ board of directors, and the supermarket became Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash. The chain of Supermercados Selectos has a track record of excellence in its industry. Upon joining Selectos, Edwin’s supermarket experienced an increase in client demand, resulting in a 10 to 12 percent increase in sales, figures that have remained steady throughout the years.
Sales continued to rise to the point where the supermarket needed bigger space. In order to solve the problem, Edwin visited Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, who referred Edwin to Marketing Small Business Finance Corporation, a Certified Development Company (CDC) authorized to deliver the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program. Also known as the Certified Development Company Program, the 504 Loan Program’s main purpose is to provide long-term, fixed financing to purchase land, machinery and equipment, and for business expansion. A 504 loan originates through a CDC – a non-profit corporation that invests in its community’s economic development and helps generate jobs—together with a bank.
With the loan proceeds, Edwin purchased four cuerdas of land –or 16,000 square meters- outside the urban center of Morovis and built several commercial buildings. In 2003, Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash moved to its new facilities, occupying close to 30,000 square feet and leasing the remaining space, which is occupied by a restaurant, a beauty parlor, a dry cleaner, and a cake decorating school. Also, the stores share a parking lot that accommodates close to 300 vehicles.
Today, Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash’s sales are four times higher than when Edwin bought it from his brother, and 80 people are employed. Successful as he is as a small business entrepreneur, when asked about his most satisfying moment Edwin laughs and says “the day I paid off my mortgage”. But then, he grows serious.
“The most satisfying thing is to see my family well positioned,” Edwin declares. “My oldest son owns a bakery, two daughters are engineers and another a dentist, and my youngest son will soon graduate as an engineer. All that was possible thanks to this business.”
Edwin is also quick to attribute his success to the dedication and commitment of his wife Carmen.
“I have been married for 30 years to a wonderful woman who has always supported me and has shared with me an entire lifetime. Her name is Carmen M. ‘Mary’ Rivera and nothing of what we have achieved would be possible without her unconditional devotion and disposition to work alongside of me.”
For more information on SBA’s 504 Loan Program or other programs and services, visit: www.sba.gov/pr.
BAYAMÓN, PR -- Jatniel Vázquez-Álvarez knows all too well the importance of hard work and the immeasurable value of family.
At 28, he has already dedicated almost half a lifetime to building a career, an enterprise and a better quality of life for those he loves.
Barely 15 years old, Jatniel began working as a refrigeration technician’s assistant at his father’s business in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, where he not only learned the trade but also all operational aspects of a business. His skill led him to graduate from the Tomás Ongay Vocational High School with a certificate in refrigeration. About the same time Jatniel was completing his education, his father’s business took a downturn, and financial hardship settled upon the family. Jatniel then found a job working the night shift as refrigeration technician at a multinational pharmaceutical company with operations in Fajardo, a town on the island’s east coast.
A couple of years later, however, downsizing strategies led the company to eliminate the night shift, leaving dozens of people unemployed, among them Jatniel. The young man, who by then had close to six years of experience in the trade, felt that the time was right to go out on his own.
“I had between $8,000 and $9,000 in a bank account, so I rented a small space on Road 167 in Bayamón,” Jatniel says. “I also needed to buy a small truck, but since I didn’t have much credit experience I asked my grandmother if she would co-sign a loan for me, and she did.”
In 1999, Jatniel established Jayvee Air Conditioning Inc., a company engaged in the selling, installation and maintenance of air conditioning systems. Jatniel’s mother Maritza, who at the time worked at Police Headquarters in Hato Rey, applied for a one-year leave of absence and went to help out her son.
“It was just the two of us working in a tight little space,” Jatniel recalls. “No more than 15 by 15 square feet.”
But tight a space as it was, Jatniel was well on his way to becoming one of the leading distributors of mini-split air conditioning units in Puerto Rico. Before establishing his business, Jatniel had secured the endorsement of air conditioner manufacturer York, leader in its field. When Jatniel began advertising as a York dealer with financing options, his phones rang off the hook.
“I had a neighbor who worked in advertising, and he suggested I invest in placing a few ads to promote my company --and it worked,” the young entrepreneur indicates. “There was such a boom in phone calls that I had to subcontract employees, and I positioned myself as the number one York mini-split unit dealer. That is when I called my dad to come work for me.”
A year later, when sales surpassed $500,000, Jatniel visited Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, where he was introduced to the SBA’s 504 Loan Program. Also known as the Certified Development Company Program, the 504 program is designed to promote economic development in the community by creating jobs. Its main purpose is to provide long-term, fixed financing to purchase land, machinery and equipment and for business expansion. A 504 loan originates through a CDC – a non-profit corporation that invests in its community’s economic development and helps generate jobs—together with a bank.
Marketing Small Business Finance Corporation joined the SBA and Banco Popular to back Jatniel’s project. With the loan, the entrepreneur purchased a building on the same road where he was originally located. By then, Jayvee Air Conditioning employed six people full time. And, although sales were steady, Jatniel knew he needed to diversify if he wanted to continue growing.
“I had always admired construction projects and knew that I also wanted to position myself as a contractor, so I started looking for commercial clients,” he indicates.
Jayvee Air Conditioning’s first commercial client was a security company, later joined by the municipalities of Bayamón, San Juan, Carolina, Guaynabo and Cataño.
“The most difficult aspect of it all has been my age,” Jatniel admits. “When you go to an auction most contractors are older. Young people are often underestimated. I know for a fact that I can do a job just as well or even better.”
Today, 11 years after establishment, Jayvee Air Conditioning is recognized as one of the leaders in industrial and commercial air conditioning systems in Puerto Rico, representing such popular brands as York, Carrier and Trane, generating close to $2 million in revenues, and employing 14 people. Among his clients, in addition to the aforementioned municipalities, the company serves the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury and the University of Puerto Rico, among others. And, of course, Jatniel continues serving residential clients that still come his way.
In order to promptly satisfy his clients’ demands, Jatniel also took advantage of the SBA’s 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program, which provides long-term financing to acquire equipment and machinery, inventory, fixtures and accessories, renovations, purchase land, build new buildings, purchase existing businesses, and for the repayment of debts. The SBA can currently guarantee up to 85 percent on loans up to $150,000 and up to 75 percent on loans higher than $150,000 up to $1.5 million.
As a matter of fact, Jatniel was one of the first to benefit from agency provisions under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, saving thousands of dollars in guaranty fees shortly after President Obama signed the bill into law.
When asked about his greatest satisfaction, Jatniel proudly states that it was “being able to move my family forward. Our financial situation was precarious at one time. I always told my mom not to worry, that when I made it I was going to buy her a house.”
Jatniel made good on his word. One Saturday morning he woke up, looked through the newspaper’s construction section and set out to buy a house for his mother, who has continued working with her son. In addition, Jatniel makes it possible for his sister to study engineering at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and employs his brother as a refrigeration technician. Jatniel’s wife Emily also works at Jayvee, emphasizing this young man’s principle that there is nothing more important than family.
During Small Business Week celebrations held in May 2010, Jatniel was honored as SBA’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands district and all of Region II, which also includes districts in New York State and New Jersey.
“You can achieve anything you set your mind to,” Jatniel concludes.
For more information on SBA’s programs and services, visit www.sba.gov.