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Two Years After Hurricane Maria Ravaged Puerto Rico, Startups Are Thriving Amid Plans to Fix Problems Uncovered by the Storm

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For small-company owners in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Dorian's transient threat in August meant an unwelcome chance to tire-kick their carefully crafted emergency plans. For Jonathan Gonzalez, it provided something better: proof of concept.

A few months after Hurricane Maria battered the island--exactly two years ago today--Gonzalez and three partners founded Raincoat, an insurance company that instantly processes claims. Cataclysmic weather near a policyholder's home or business triggers the payment, which covers not just property damage but also anticipated lost income due to the storm. "With life insurance, someone dies and you get paid the agreed-upon amount. The same concept can be applied to weather," Gonzalez says. "If you know something happened then you can give people their money immediately."

Raincoat's system got a more-or-less dry run during Dorian, which largely spared the island. About 50 beta testers signed on as policyholders. The system generated what--if it were live--would have been $250 payouts to compensate for time lost and money spent on supplies preparing for the disaster.

Gonzalez launched Raincoat in response to the hardships of thousands of Puerto Rican storm victims waiting to be made whole by their insurers. A year after Maria, more than 13,000 remained in limbo, according to the territory's government. That included Gonzalez's mother, a diabetic on dialysis who struggled to pay her bills. "When they finally got back to her, they paid zero," Gonzalez says.

Hurricane Maria killed almost 3,000 people, devastated Puerto Rico's infrastructure, and took a $43 billion swipe at an economy already choking on debt. Seventy-seven percent of small businesses got hit financially, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with the number permanently closed variously reported between 5,000 and 8,000. Recent events--such as the July resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello following release of offensive texts that, among other things, disparaged hurricane victims--have added political insult to personal and economic injury.

In conversation, company owners and entrepreneurs are careful not to downplay the horrors of Maria. But many say that their own companies are thriving, in part because of moves they made in response to the storm. Meanwhile, a spotlight on the island's tax-light business climate is attracting more small companies to move there. And while........

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