Orlando Bravo on why it’s vital to remember your roots
Orlando Bravo He is one of the most important businessmen in the world. With over 25 years of experience in private equity, Orlando has become someone who has a hand in shaping global trends, all while launching technology and software companies on a daily basis.
Orlando is also the first billionaire born in Puerto Rico. He is someone who is proud of his roots and never forgets where he came from. In an exclusive conversation with Hola! United States of AmericaOrlando spoke about the work of the Bravo Family Foundation, a nonprofit that began as an effort to help Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. What began as a philanthropic effort to provide water to small, remote villages has grown over time to now provide equal opportunities in business and technology to Puerto Rican youth, regardless of their origin or income. We also talked about one of the foundation’s flagship efforts, the Emerging Entrepreneurs Program, and Orlando’s plans to invest and grow technology in Puerto Rico. He assures us that this investment can transform Puerto Rico and Latin America as a whole.
Can you tell me a little about the Bravo Family Foundation?
The Bravo Family Foundation started when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. At that time I was doing humanitarian work in the United States, but I am originally from Mayaguez, a small town on the island. And I remember when the storm hit, I was in Japan with my investors and I was on my way back to San Francisco. After I landed, I couldn’t communicate with anyone in Puerto Rico, not even my family or friends. I knew the situation was bad. From there, we started a humanitarian initiative to help the island. The Bravo Family Foundation is based on social justice. And our mission is that we want all Puerto Rican youth to have a real opportunity for personal and professional growth. All the programs we have are based on this vision.
Can you explain what this foundation does after a natural disaster?
Thanks for the question. My philosophy is that if something personal happens to someone and that person doesn’t do anything, no one is going to do anything. And that work and effort is more important than money. When Hurricane Maria hit, I knew nothing about humanitarian aid, about disasters, about how to help cities that had gone through this. But my training from a young age in business school is about entrepreneurship, positive risks and fast action. With that as a base, on the second day of the hurricane, we made contact with a town near Mayaguez that was not receiving any aid from the United States or Puerto Rico, as these places were hard to reach. And we let them know that we would be at the Aguadilla airport with water and food, because that’s what the cities needed at that point, the most basic things. And people got there. After that, we started a more formal project. We started flying in every day or two from Florida, where we had a few warehouses. Then we began to bring ships to the island until these towns had enough provisions to stay on their feet. What we did was also done by different people in Puerto Rico. It was a time when communities came together to help each other and we were a part of that.
I know Puerto Rico has been very important to your career and to you as a person. Can you explain why? I know there are many people who come from the same place and do nothing about it.
Yes, because my personal experience is based on two things. Number one, I come from a small town in Puerto Rico. I was lucky enough to always have someone there to help me and give me new opportunities, I started playing tennis and sports when I was nine years old. This allowed me to go to Florida and Latin America. I remember my first tournament in Latin America was in Caracas, Venezuela.
Where am I from (laughs)
Yeah. And those experiences of seeing new things, seeing a bigger world, and competing with others in a fair way helped me. Thanks to these opportunities, I was able to go to the United States and study at Brown University. After that I went to Wall Street and then to Stanford. And the one who got me a job in private equity, my partner Carl Thoma It gave me the opportunity to work in technology, which is what I wanted to do. At that time, there weren’t many jobs in that area or companies wanting me to work in Latin America. So, the first thing is that I am passionate about philanthropy and I want to help young people have the same opportunities as me. The second point is that I had a mentor who told me that it was important for me to be myself, unique and Puerto Rican rather than trying to imitate others. Because that’s what I used to do and imitate my patterns in trading. And when I started thinking about the most important things about myself, where I came from was at the top of the list. Since then, the business has grown and I have made better decisions. I felt more comfortable. That’s why I care about where I came from and never let go of it.
One of our programs strives to do just that, helping community leaders be proud of who they are and where they come from. In that program, we support them as we would if they were part of our business, teaching them how to develop their unique skill sets. These teachings are important because they make people feel good about themselves and make them happier and more productive.
one hundred percent. I also read that you want to make Puerto Rico into a tech hub. What does this mean and how will you achieve it? I don’t know if I’m saying anything that doesn’t make sense, but is it going to be something like Latin Silicon Valley?
The first task is to use software as a technology base. This is the future of everything. Software is a new way of communicating that helps us think differently and more effectively. Software can help with big social problems like income inequality and education problems, which are topics that are often discussed in the United States.
Software is the future of all businesses. So, if you want to grow and develop as a society, you have to engage with technology, which Puerto Rico and Latin America have not done. It has been an effort that has involved the United States, a little in Europe, and a lot in Asia. In this new post-pandemic world, tech companies want to work remotely. Wall Street has decided to return to the office, but in technology, this has opened many doors. This is a huge opportunity for Latin America and Puerto Rico, allowing entrepreneurs to work in places where they were previously unable to work. Therefore, securing this technology is the first step. The second step is that it is possible. And the third is the University of Puerto Rico, which is amazing. And what we’ve seen with our program is that it’s as good as anything in Silicon Valley. I’m not the only one saying this. My team at the Foundation and all the judges of the program are all very impressed.
My last question is about the Emerging Entrepreneurs Program and you tell me a little bit about that.
The Emerging Entrepreneurs Program was one of the first programs we had at the foundation. We asked ourselves, “If we are going to provide equal opportunities for talented Puerto Rican youth, how do we find them?” First, we go to the entrepreneurs. We have a unique program built after studying some of the best entrepreneurship programs in the world. What we do is we give capital to entrepreneurs first to help them. And it’s free. The second thing we are doing is that we have created a management school in Mayaguez based on the philosophy of my company. This is where entrepreneurs learn how to manage sales, manage customer support, how to organize, how to price their product, etc.
Young people love this program. They’ve said it’s the best management school they’ve attended, something that’s given them the tools, not just for their business, but for their lives as people working in businesses. The third thing we do is combine all this with one-on-one coaching, with our partners from Thoma Bravo and also with volunteers. And the fourth thing we do is we bring in the CEOs of the big companies that work with Toma Bravo to help these entrepreneurs. Last year, we added another big thing to the program, which was to bring venture capitalists from the United States to our foundation to invest in and fund these projects. We have several companies that have already received these investments.