From Little Pioneers To Pioneers Of Entrepreneurship / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez

Panel of Cuban entrepreneurs in Miami, during the 'Emerging Tech In Cuba: Meet Its Pioneers' event. (14ymedio)
Panel of Cuban entrepreneurs in Miami, during the ‘Emerging Tech In Cuba: Meet Its Pioneers’ event. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton Martinez, Miami, 8 December 2016 — “Starting a new business should start with a good financial advice,” says the business card of Marta Deus’s company. After 15 years in Spain, this entrepreneur returned to the island and now advises self-employed workers on accounting. She was in Miami on Monday to attend a technology event where the public was invited to meet the pioneers of entrepreneurship in Cuba, Emerging Tech In Cuba: Meet Its Pioneers.

Cases like Deus’s are becoming more common. Other people are opening the way into the emerging Cuban private sector Cuban, mixing creativity, daring and technology. These pioneers of virtual businesses on the island presented their achievements in the meeting organized by #CubaNow and Techweek in front of an attentive audience, made up mostly of Cuban Americans.

From the stage were heard stories like that of Hiram Centelles, founder of the popular classifieds site Revolico. The stars of the day were some of the most visible faces of the emerging business community that has converted challenges into opportunities, finding business niches among Cuba’s many daily difficulties. All of them have been trained since childhood, as “Little Pioneers,” in a system that demonized the market, capital and business. But ultimately they have shaken off those prejudices to become entrepreneurs.

Centelles is currently heading up two other projects. The first Yagruma, is a crowdfunding platform for Cuban artists who are waiting for new US regulations to operate without the restrictions imposed by the embargo. The other is Fonoma, which facilitates the payment of Cubans’ telephone bills by family and friendsmabroad and has excellent business prospects, according to its developers.

Others, like Yondainer Gutierrez, are betting on the restaurant industry. Speaking in Miami, he explained the details of the restaurant directory Alamesa, which he created to bring customers to the best paladares (private restaurants) in the country. Started in 2011, there is now an Android app that contains records of more than 600 restaurants in nine provinces, with geolocation and offline maps.

The guest who generated the most excitement, however, was Elio Hector Lopez, also known as El Transportador, who talked about the origins of the “weekly packet,” an illegal compendium of audiovisual and digital content that is distributed on the black market throughout the country, which he has been a part of since the beginning.

With the rule “zero politics, zero violence, zero pornography,” Lopez’s packet has managed to avoid official censorship, although it is not looked on kindly by the cultural institutions which accuse him of encouraging frivolity and bad taste. In recent months the advertising potential of this product has grown, becoming a vehicle for disseminating the work of other entrepreneurs in the country.

The dialogue with the audience addressed the biggest obstacles facing these pioneers of digital enterprise. Difficulties in internet access and the high cost of connections was at the center of complaints. The need for banking reform to enable payments and collections online was also mentioned, as well as the obstacles of the bureaucracy and slowness of some official paperwork requirements.

To the question of how the island has changed since last 17 December – with the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States – the young entrepreneurs agreed that they see it as “an opportunity” to learn about the business model in the United States and also to train tomorrow’s entrepreneurs in American universities and through academic exchanges.