Promoting Entrepreneurship in Cuba

Cuban entrepreneurs discuss growing their businesses in Cuba and the impact of U.S. and Cuban Government policies on their success

On July 19, 2017 the National Foreign Trade Council’s Global Innovation Forum hosted a luncheon featuring eight impressive entrepreneurs visiting from Cuba to share their personal experiences building a business in Cuba, the opportunities technology creates for them to do business globally and the impact of evolving policies between the U.S. and Cuba in their ability to succeed.  The forum connected these entrepreneurs with American corporations, startups, trade experts and members of the press for a conversation about the roles of technology and of U.S. and Cuban government policies in small business success.

Guests included:

 

  • Nidialys Acosta and Julio Álvarez, Co-Founder of classic car Nostalgicar, a restoration garage for classic American automobiles and upscale car service;
  • Reymel Delgado, Founder of Estudio 50, an audio/visual production business in Cuba;
  • Niuris Higueras Martínez, Founder of  Atelier one of Havana’s most successful paladars (family-owned restaurants operated out of owners’ homes);
  • Celia Mendoza, Founder of Concierge Habana, which provides VIP and specialized services to foreign visitors;
  • Robin Pedraja, Founder of Vistar Magazine, an advertising-supported digital publication distributed via USB-drives that is one of Cuba’s first independent media projects;
  • Julia de la Rosa, Co-owner of La Rosa de Ortega B&B, listed on Airbnb; and
  • Yamina Vicente, Founder of Decorazon, a party planning and decorating business.

What We Learned

Takeaways from the discussion

Cuban entrepreneurs are leveraging the internet to succeed — and developing workarounds to limited connectivity

Julia de la Rosa, Co-Owner of La Rosa de Ortega B&B, remembered how 10 years ago when a customer told her and her husband that they needed to build a webpage, she replied, “Yes, great – but what is a webpage?” She added, “When we discovered the internet, it was amazing because we started to receive more and more requests from people all over the world.” Today, her Bed & Breakfast benefits from being listed on AirBnB, which helps connect her to travelers from the United States and around the world.

Celia Mendoza, the founder of Concierge Habana, explained that when sending pictures of properties to potential clients, she must ask everyone in their office to disconnect from the internet. Regardless, the internet has been immeasurable boon; her concierge services became very in-demand after it was visited by a social media influencer and travel writer.

“The same year I published the magazine, I published a webpage and purchased a domain through my friend in the U.S. so that you can download [the publication] in PDF,” said Robin Pedraja, Founder of Vistar Magazine. He added that he decided to build a full webpage as well to host his content, teaching himself WordPress and using hotel wifi to upload content.


Cuban entrepreneurs benefit from improved U.S.-Cuba relations

 

“More than 55% of our clients are from the US – an increase since 2014 – and 100% of those who visit our garage are American.” – Nidialys Acosta, Co-Founder of Nostalgicar

“I have a business whose clients are 80%, domestic, so I’m not directly linked to US visitors. However, I have felt the impact of a more open policy: my clients are entrepreneurs who solicit my interior design services for their privately-operated homes, hotels, and restaurants.” – Yamina Vicente, Founder of Decorazon

“Over 60% of my clients come from the US. The people who come to Cuba from the US generally prefer smaller, privately-owned, person-to-person, travel.” – Julia de la Rosa, Co-owner of La Rosa de Ortega B&B

“Everyone knows Americans grow up with the freedom to do whatever they want. How can you confine them to a regimented government-owned resort?” – Reymel Delgado, Founder of Estudio 50


The private sector in Cuba is already being impacted by uncertainty around future U.S. policy

 

“We have already received 3 group cancellations after the speech made by Trump in Florida.” – Nidialys Acosta, Co-Founder of Nostalgicar

“We know that the current administration says it wants to help private businesses in Cuba, but the effects of this new policy are harmful to us. We need to work together to make sure that the people making the decisions are as informed as possible in Cuba.” – Yamina Vicente, Founder of Decorazon

Celia Mendoza, founder of Concierge Habana, explained how for her travel agency, new restrictions that make it harder for individual American citizens to travel to Cuba would make it more difficult for her to compete against the large government-run agencies. She indicated that new policies restricting American travel to Cuba would direct more revenue to the Cuban government, and eliminating the “Person-to-Person” business provisions would harm her business.

“If the US government wants to help us, the new policy is wrong. This policy is hurting us, it’s not helping us.” – Robin Pedraja, Founder of Vistar Magazine


Entrepreneurs in Cuba face particular challenges around access to global payments and financial services systems

Julio Álvarez, co-founder of Nostalgicar, explained that even after the loosening of restrictions, he was unable to open a bank account in the US. In the current climate of unpredictability, he foresees that conducting simple business transactions with the US will become even more difficult.

“We don’t have credit cards in Cuba, that means clients have to travel with lots of cash. I cannot ask for money in advance, if clients cancel I lose money because I’m the one paying for deposits.” – Celia Mendoza, Founder of Concierge Habana

“Our businesses are solid, for now. The next step would be allowing us to make payments with American accounts,” Reymel Delgado, Founder of Estudio 50. “I’m not asking for a fish, just a fishing rod.”