Cuba’s Startup Path to Entrepreneurship
The country’s growing private business sector faces challenges as it
forges an internet economy.
By Kamilia Lahrichi | Contributor
Aug. 18, 2016, at 10:49 a.m.
HAVANA – For José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas, the journey in developing an
internet-based business presents unique challenges. Nievas is
coordinator at El Toque, a digital platform that aims to tell the
stories of young entrepreneurs having a positive impact on Cuban
society. Developing the site has been challenging, he says, largely
because of digital infrastructure that can’t accommodate a skilled and
“We live in a country full of contradictions, sometimes ironic ones,”
says Nievas. “It (the country) has formed more than 10,000 IT engineers
and it’s practically disconnected.”
Overcoming that disconnect will take time. The country’s economic growth
in the first half of 2016 slowed to 1 percent, Reuters reported, thanks
in part to the economic crisis taking place in Venezuela, which has
supplied the island nation with oil, as well as reduced income from exports.
Still, an entrepreneurial spirit is taking hold in the country. Spending
is increasing to invest in the tourism sector, such as hotels and
restaurants. Cuba’s future economic health may depend on a private
sector maturing outside of state government regulations.
In a country where media is tightly regulated and internet access is
limited by cost, censorship and limited bandwidth – roughly one out of
three Cubans have digital access – people in Cuba are hacking their way
into developing a digital culture. Digital apps are frequently developed
offline. Where broadband is available, people download online content
onto hard drives to distribute to others.
“In Cuba, a lack of internet access doesn’t mean a lack of understanding
what the internet is; these are two different things,” says Ariel Causa,
marketing director of A la Mesa, a mobile app that acts as a directory
of restaurants in Cuba that can be downloaded and used offline. A la
Mesa is Causa’s first venture into the turbulent world of business startups.
“There wasn’t this willingness, need and desire for entrepreneurship,”
she says of the business climate in Cuba. But, she notes, “In Cuba,
people are often entrepreneurs without being aware of it.”
[READ: Learn which countries are viewed as best for entrepreneurship]
Last year, the government established more than 30 Wi-Fi hot spots in
various cities across the island in an effort to make the internet more
accessible. In May, the government announced it will legalize small- and
medium-sized private businesses, a first for the communist government.
Those efforts are paying off for people like Adriana Heredia Sanchez,
commercial director of Kewelta, a social network for cultural
advertising in the country.
“The impact we’re going to have on Cuban society is huge,” she says.
“We’re going to bring institutions and entrepreneurs together. We’re
going to connect people so that they help each other.”
The growing embrace of entrepreneurship is having a subtle effect on
Cuban society, says Cárdenas, the coordinator of the El Toque digital
“I don’t think that the young Cuban entrepreneurs see themselves as the
new face of capitalism that will take down socialism,” Cárdenas adds.
Still, he notes a shift away from more than 50 years of Cuban history
under communist rule that, as he says, focused on, “… the great social
project, the ‘mass’ – which was the term used.
“We’ve changed the focus from the collective history to individual stories.”
In March, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Cuban entrepreneurs to
jump-start the economy. Obama’s visit, during which he called for an end
to the U.S trade embargo with the country, meant that new doors would be
opened for Cuban entrepreneurs, Cárdenas says.
“Cuba is only 90 miles from the U.S. It has to create its future by
counting on the U.S.,” he says. “But one shouldn’t think, either, that
Cuban entrepreneurs are nothing without the U.S. “You can blame the
government, people or the law. But at the end of the day, you’re the one
responsible for not trying.”
Adds Causa, of A la Mesa: “We’re throwing ourselves in the digital era
with great optimism.”
Source: Cuba’s Startup Path to Entrepreneurship | Best Countries | US