Watching, Rooting, and Supporting this thing called "The New Cuba" (Cuba Specialist | Production | Sensei)

Posts from the ‘Tech’ category

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(Marta Deus & Jauretsi of The New Cuba at Media Noche, San Francisco)

“This past week was truly phenomenal” gushed Kyle Maloney, the young businessman and founder of ChefMade), a startup that is trying to bring healthy economical meals delivered into homes of Barbados, his hometown. Kyle was invited to Techcrunch Disrupt by Project Binario, a San Francisco based company whose mission is to provide opportunities for thought leaders. “Being in San Francisco is very inspiring” explains Kyle. “Around every corner you get the opportunity to meet some very interesting people that are very passionate about their view of the world and the opportunity to do something that will be globally impactful”. He grins with the knowledge he can be the next Blue Apron of the Caribbean, “I dont think you get that feeling in high concentration anywhere else in the world”.

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(Invitees: Veronica from Barbados, and Marta Deus from Cuba)

It’s easy to see how young hungry tech minds get hooked into the city. Kyle’s “life-changing” week (I’m using his words, not mine), was part of a larger vision conceived by Eddy Perez, a Cuban-American with a burning belief that Caribbean tech talent is being overlooked by Silicon Valley. Thus the birth of the “Caribbean Pavilion”, a sort of greatest hits sampling of the most promising startups in that region assembled by his team at Project Binario. The mission? Identify talent, and invite them to participate in the worlds largest startup conference, Techcrunch Disrupt. This includes a trip to San Francisco, a trade show booth on the coveted floor, mentor conversations, meeting high-impact investors, pitch opportunities, and networking events. Below are the 5 startups chosen for this journey.

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Arriving one night early, Cuban entrepreneur Marta Deus and I decide to slip into town before the convoy begins. To get warmed up, we get scooped up by Susanna Kohly, Google’s Multicultural Marketing maven, who was one of the figures responsible for Google Cuba, with visionary Brett Perlmutter. Words cannot describe the massive undertaking with installing Google nodes on Cuban soil this year, providing faster internet on all Google platforms for Cubans. This was an achievement of historical proportions between Cuba/US relations. As a celebration of our arrival, we toasted in the Mission District at Media Noche, a Cuban-inspired cafe (where else would you expect us to toast our arrival?). Susannah shared the story of her immigrant family leaving Cuba, with the will and determination to do great things in their new country, the United States. Half a century later, it’s poetic to be gathered with this young blood, still determined, pushing boundaries, and fostering innovation on the island. Marta shared her take on Cuba’s business culture today, and all the “cuentapropistas” she lends a hand to with her business Deus Expertos Contables. Marta is a fascinating figure because of her perspective on entrepreneurship in Cuba. The landscape is too broad and complex to summarize into one statement here, but for those interested, you can begin to scratch the surface through her magazine Negolution , the sum of “Negocio” (meaning “business”) and “Evolution”. I have my own exile story, full of restaurant history with Centro Vasco, and now a newfound attachment to the island through the lens or arts & culture via The New Cuba. It’s been a long road for us all. As we ramped up on this girls night, we waxed poetic for hours on the state of Cuba today, what we had hoped for, and where we dreamed it could be. Although all of our backgrounds varied, with a variety of upbringing, distinct hometowns, we still held on strongly to our roots over a scrumptious tropical cocktail, and toasted to the beginning of a fruitful week.

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(3 Cuban-Americans: Google’s Susannah Kohly, Mano’s Ric Herrero, Binario’s Eddy Perez)

The following day, was officially Day 1, when all the startups trickled into the city, and met each other for the first time. Eddy dutifully papa-beared the entire week starting now. Kyle of Chefmade joined 4 other startups who were invited to partake in the same perks of the week. There was Khalil Bryan and Veronica with their startup Caribbean Transit Solutions, paving the way to make Barbados public transportation easier to use. Second startup was Alfonso Ali, founder of the Cuban app called AlaMesa which has become a must-use application for both locals and foreigners on the island. Alfonso understood a few years ago that the most dire need in the Cuban market are “offline apps”, due to the disconnected nature of Cuban society, constantly chasing Wifi. The idea of having all the best Cuban restaurants, phone numbers, addresses, menus, and photos in the palm of your hand offline was a coup for the young entrepreneur. Alfonso is also active in Cuba’s programming community, having helped to launch Havana’s Linux group and he continues to be an advocate for open source technologies.

The next startup were women from the Dominican Republic named Katherine Motyka with Luci of Jompéame, an innovative crowdfunding platform aimed at social causes. Forbes selected Jompéame as one of the most promising businesses in her country. The charismatic Gordon Swaby attended with his startup, Edufocal, an innovative exam prep and testing platform, with thousands of users in his native Jamaica. BBC named Edufocal a “Digital Disruptor”, while the World Bank and IDB have already acknowledged the humble startup. Marta Deus joined the crew as a cherry on top, not as a tech startup, but more to represent in the field of Cuba’s young entrepreneurs with her magazine, which is akin to the Fast Company of Cuba. Marta is also responsible for bringing dreams to life with her firm Deus Expertos Contables, which handles accounting and advisor work in the nascent field of Cuba’s private sector. Google’s Susannah Kohly refers to Marta as “Bossbabe”, which I can easily concur describes the young business lady in Cuba today.

Upon arriving into San Francisco, Eddy and Caribbean Pavilion co-founder Meghan Stevenson assembled their invitees into a hip loft to self-introduce themselves, pitch their business to peers, and receive feedback and questions. I’d say by the second evening, the group began to let their hair down after a smartly held “Happy Hour” event at a place called Cigar Bar — cue the Cuban band & Binario cocktails specials, and now you have a tight crew. Added to the party were old friends that flew into town to join the “magical mystery tour” as Eddy described it. This included Ric Herrero, of Mano Organization, another urban support system who we wrote about last year for their support in Cuba Tech with 10X10K competition (which we covered last year). Add Jesse M. of the Latino Startup Alliance who would later invite us to visit the Impact Hub. Add a few boxes of Cuban cigars freshly flown in from the island (thank you, Obama, for lifting those restrictions), and voila, now we have a Caribbean souffle pumped for the week.

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(Rodolfo Davalos, AlaMesa’s Alfonso Ali. Marta Deus, Binario’s Meghan Stevenson,Jauretsi)

In addition to the three trade show days of “meet and greets” and pitch meetings, one of the cornerstones of the trip was the mentoring sessions led by a spectacular new person I’ve recently met named Jesse Sullivan. What can I say about Jesse? He is a ray of light and somebody born to execute an enormous vision. CNN named him “Most Intriguing Person of the Day” for his earthquake relief efforts with the Haitian Ambassador. But Jesse keeps moving, to places that need entrepreneurship the most and he doesn’t pick easy places. Think Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Haiti. Note: Alter is eyeballing Cuba now. Thank the Lord. Because we need it. His social venture aims to scale the champions of these countries to build their businesses efficiently. How do they do this? Alter finds leaders in these least developed regions and matches them with Silicon Valley resources, including sector experts, management training, talent recruitment, markets and capital. He’s almost like a business fairy knocking on your door, armed with the most seasoned advisors and investors from Silicon Valley. Jesse was accompanied by his colleague, Orlando Zambrano, who both opened up their hearts and rolodex to curate a robust day of mentor talks.

Among the meetings was a visit to Endeavor, an entrepreneurial organization who has Edgar Bronfman Jr as a partner. We met with Managing Director, Allen Taylor, who schooled us on how one focused company can transform the economy of a nation with a “mentor-investment-pay-it-forward” philosophy. For the disbelievers, he had a map to prove it.

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(Endeavor’s Allen Taylor. Caribbean Pavilion crew at Facebook)

Enter the map. Picture, if you will, the “Endeavor Multiplier Effect”, a sample of one of Buenos Aires’ Tech Sector, one of their work cities. At first the map looks like a calming geometrical post-modern piece of art, filled with circles encircling other circles. Big bubbles giving birth to baby bubbles. Upon closer inspection, you discover that each time an entrepreneur is cited as an influencer, their bubble grows. Endeavor builds a culture that encourages and accelerates this pattern. The key to their success is a dedicated group of entrepreneurs who, beyond scaling their business, is committed to supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Here is the general thesis of the map. From 2000 to 2010, Argentina experienced severe economic challenges, including the devaluation of its currency and double digit inflation. The tech sector in Bueno Aires, however, grew significantly to become one of the largest and most successful in Latin America. Hundreds of new companies launched in the city and Google opened its 3rd International headquarters office there. Several exits occurred too such as Digital Ventures sold to Fox, and MercadoLibre.com went public on the NASDAQ.

What the network map illustrates is that more than 90% of the companies connected to this network were founded by Endeavor Entrepreneurs or were influenced by their companies. Each of the bubbles had colored arrows pointing to other bubbles. The colored arrows represented how they influenced the other bubble, for example “mentorship”, “inspiration”, “former employee starting another venture”, and “investment”. The lesson learned here is that all these organized actions created companies that eventually employed 80,000 people (by 2010). Now picture them doing this in Instanbul, Cairo, Medellin, and Denver. This Endeavor model is leading the “high-impact” entrepreneurship movement around the world. Clearly, Endeavor is all about big bubbles.

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(Startups: Gordon from Jamaica, Kyle from Barbados, Veronica from Barbados)

“I’ve learned so much this morning”, articulated an intrigued Gordon after the visit. “I’ve got insight into the future of innovation from companies in Silicon Valley and what they are working on”, said the Caribbean dreamer. “I’m going back to Jamaica to inspire my team to work on being better and doing better”.

Minds blown and tummy’s rumbling, we headed to Facebook campus for a personal tour, and then a feast. One of the perks of a cushy Silicon Valley job is the abundant lunch rooms, flowing endlessly with salad bars, international cuisine, and baked cookies. Back in the headspace for more, our crew headed to meet Scott Brady, one of the areas resident visionaries. One of Palo Alto’s heavyweights, Scott has served as CEO, Chairman, and Advisory Member to big league ventures. Suffice it to day, that Google’s Eric Schmidt looks to Scott Brady when picking top talent to invest in. Scott is also the Chairman of the MSx Advisory Board of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and a Member of the Advisory Council of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Did we mention he holds numerous technology patents? Scott Brady is king.

A pragmatist with a nose for wit and passion, we’re graced with his presence for a solid hour. “Being tenacious is necessary” says Brady, “but not sufficient” to building a great business. As a Professor at Stanford with a class “Formation of New Ventures”, Brady shares a wealth of concrete tips, and healthy discourse about risks, failure, examples, the how and why. Once he makes his point, he opens the field to abstract thinking. Dream big, he tells our team.

We hear this term always, but how does that translate into actual business practices? Brady explained it this way. There is local way to solve problems and there is a global way to solve problems. Just jump in the game. “There is no clear path to find an idea, or fund an idea”. If you have no idea what the hell you want to do, just begin your journey and start incubating your big idea. Think of solutions to global problems, take lots of chances, create experiments, learn from them, and refine your process. According to Scott, the fabled “struck-by-lightning” phenomenon is a fantasy. “Finding a great idea is a process, not an event”. His message: Do not let the lack of an idea prevent you from being an entrepreneur. Scott also spoke about one of my favorite topics – Intuition, and the importance of it. Do NOT be paralyzed by your lack of what you DON’T know. Some of the best founders had no idea what their final product would be at the start.

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(Alter’s Jessie Sullivan leads the group in discussion at Endeavor)

Other standout comments of Brady was his advice to be VERY careful when picking founding partners. I’ve always been surprised at how quickly some people jump into [business] bed with each other, sometimes upon meeting one weekend. But if you look at their marriages, think how long they dated their spouse before saying “I Do”. For business formation, marrying the wrong person could make or break you, so choose your founding partners wisely.

And the final golden nugget he offered. Always develop the skills of great storytelling. “This can advance you in moments of funding, recruiting, and selling”. If you want to move mountains with your words, sharpen your ability to tell a good story. I think we can all see this through orators like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson.

Brady was so captivating and magnetic in his talk that the whole team left on a cerebral high. It’s one of those experiences where one witnesses the force of words, encouragement, mixed with hard-boiled instructions. One can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of ventures Brady has doula’d over the years.

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(Alter’s Orlando Zambrano with Project Binario founder Eddy Perez)

After 1 fruitful day of meetings, it’s clear the startups have all been bit by the Silicon bug. Dominican Founder Katherine echoes the sentiment “I have learned that my business [Jompeame] can be global and not local. I want to come home and I want to work hard to see if I can actually come here [to San Francisco] and expand and create something bigger than what I am creating now”. Her partner Lucy responded, “I literally had one of the best times of my life”.

As an experienced New Yorker joining a few small-business entities from Havana and surrounding islands, I will admit that all the meetings arranged by Eddy Perez and his colleagues were mind-expanding. By the end of the trip, I asked Marta what she had gained these past few days. The response was too many things, but she assured, “I am sure inspiration and wisdom will reach the readers one way or another”. Marta continues, “the truth is I didn’t expect anything more than coverage for Negolution” she estimates, “but I didn’t expect to learn so much about innovation and about all the companies that are coming out now, the apps, the websites”. Marta, who is frequently quoted in international papers for her views on Cuba’s youth market, absorbed additional technique from watching pitch meetings. “So absolutely yes”, she laughs, “it was very productive and I felt very inspired”.

As we jump in the vehicle after the last meeting, I see Kyle quiet in the back seat, brewing in his head. He takes a deep breathe and sighs, “Mahn” he reveals in his Barbadian accent, “the projects [Brady’s] working on, or helping to catalyze through venture capital, are things that I can only dream of being a part of or investing in. Things that are really changing the landscape of how we as human beings interact, or how we access things, or how we are able to be more productive”. Kyle’s bar for problem-solving has just been set higher than before this week began. “He embodies so much of what I want to become”, he says of Brady. “That definitely was major light bulb moment.”

Overall, mission accomplished. Tenfold. The Caribbean Pavilion marks the first official activity by newcomers Project Binario. Each of the 5 startups and the supporting teams are all heading back home a bit transformed for the better, thanks to the work of Eddy and Megan, sparking a deeper impact for world solutions. And an extra shout to all the Cuban-American minds merging with Cuban talent today, all part of this interlacing beautiful network I like to call “the new Cuba”. Keep heads up.

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(Facebook Lobby)

Thank you: Jacob Van Winkle for the Design/Logo for Caribbean Pavilion (another cool Cuban-American in support of “la causa”. Special Thanks to Project Binario, Caribbeans in Tech, Latino Startup Alliance and TechBeach for empowering entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Utah is getting a big injection of Cuban fever at the start of 2017. We’ve spent the better part of the year reading about the importance of Cuba/US engagement from media outlets like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and a myriad of other outlets. Journalists have played an important role in opening this discussion while reporting a balanced story line.

This Jan 2017, it’s the filmmakers and artists who will show us what exactly engagement looks like. We’ll see curious cameras entering homes, filmmakers having “on the ground” discussions with every day Cubans, and putting a mirror up to Cuban society. None of the films are about the normalization process per say, but each of the tales are of everyday life — an American concert on the malecon, the only State-run phone company in Cuba (ETECSA), the selling of a home in Cuba, and a school that teaches English to Cubans, and more. Because all these films were captured in 2016, it is all the more reason to pay attention to what these local Cubans are expressing as we enter the Trump administration in 2017. It will take an act of Congress to fully lift the US embargo, but the more that Americans understand Cuban society today, the better it will respond to its needs in order to grow and prosper in this new era. We cannot affect Cuban policy, but we CAN affect American policy through phonecalls to our legislators, and shifting the American consciousness towards a more open relationship with Cuba. Of course Cuba will need to determine their own future, but these films are a peek into a society seeking to redefine itself.

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(Casa en Venta – a short film on the the new real estate sector for homeowners)

I’m lucky enough to have worked on two of these films (Films #1 and #2 below) which will premiere at the festival this January, one as a Story Producer and the other as a Cuba Production Consultant. Upon entering Pre-Production, each of the teams asked a bevy of questions which opened healthy dialogue — including the current state of Cuba, its relation to the US, its complex history, its challenges with filmmaking, the US Embargo laws, the tone of questions permitted, the current reforms in Cuba, the spectrum of characters, etc. etc. It seems that answering one question in Cuba begets another 50 questions. Something as simple as weak internet on the island poses enormous challenges during production, including emailing local staff or sending large files to the States. It’s a rabbit hole of lessons, but each production diligently pressed forward and managed to capture their stories with tight deadlines, frustrating conditions, an open heart, and limited budgets. Together, both films bookmark the gamut of the population today — from the elder tales of Buena Vista Social Club to the hungry young tech scene of Major Lazer’s audience. One film presents the bowing out of an older generation, while the other film introduces the future of Cuba. Both generations are very dear to me, and both being an honor to explore with Directors Austin and Lucy respectively (and their film families) who all came to Cuba in 2016.

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(Conectifai – a short film on Cuba’s phone company and internet status)

The other 3 films playing at the Sundance Film Festival this January are mini docs, but despite their short length, they are all paramount stories to explore in Cuba today. These include the story of technology today (the phone company and the emerging internet), the new home “buyers market”, and the tale of a small school that teaches Cubans to speak English as they prepare to work with “La Yuma” (nickname for the Americans).

All three storylines share the urgency of Cuba’s desire to integrate into the global economy and international community. The most interesting part of these 3 shorts is that it was nurtured by an American Institute, Sundance Labs (who attended the Havana Film Festival the last two Decembers to workshop scripts and stories with local filmmakers). Together, the 3 shorts are presented as a collection entitled “Made in Cuba”, an an example of the Sundance Institute’s “longstanding commitment to international artists” says Paul Federbush who spearheads the lab. These films were guided by the Institute’s Documentary Film Program in collaboration with La Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV (EICTV) and Guardian documentaries.

… and now a breakdown of all 5 films:

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 6.57.46 PM.png1- Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba – Director: Austin Peters / USA – FEATURE FILM

In the spring of 2016, global music sensation Major Lazer performed a free concert in Havana, Cuba—an unprecedented show that drew an audience of almost half a million. This concert documentary evolves into an exploration of youth culture in a country on the precipice of change. World Premiere U.S.A., Cuba

Austin Peters is a director living in New York. Raised in Los Angeles, he went on to study film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has directed two short-form documentaries: Braids, starring Lupita Nyong’o for Vogue, and NYC, 1981, a companion piece to the recent film A Most Violent Year. His music videos for Chvrches’ “Empty Threat” was named one of the 10 best music videos of 2015 by Rolling Stone

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 11.06.50 PM.png2- Buena Vista Social Club Doc / “Untitled” -Dir: Lucy Walker / USA,UK-FEATURE FILM

The musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club exposed the world to Cuba’s vibrant culture with their landmark 1997 album. Now, against the backdrop of Cuba’s captivating musical history, hear the band’s story as they reflect on their remarkable careers and the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together. World Premiere.

Lucy Walker is an Emmy Award–winning director and two-time Academy Award–nominee. She is renowned for creating riveting, character-driven nonfiction that delivers emotionally and narratively. Her films—including Waste Land, The Crash Reel, Devil’s Playground, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, and The Lion’s Mouth Opens—have won over 100 awards and honors. Her new film, the untitled Buena Vista Social Club documentary, is her fifth feature (and ninth film) to screen in official Sundance Film Festival selection.

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 7.01.58 PM.png3- “Connection” or “Conectifai” – Dir: Zoe Garcia

ETECSA—Cuba’s only telephone company—installed Wi-Fi routers in 18 public parks in 2016. For many Cubans, this meant being able to go online for the first time. Now connected to a technology that is entirely new to them, we see how Cubans explore social media, online dating, and the ability to reconnect with family members living just 90 miles away. U.S. Premiere
Director Zoe Garcia graduated in mass communication studies, specializing in photography, at the Higher Institute of Art in Havana, Cuba. In 2008 she took a course on documentary cinema and TV at the International School of Film and TV in Cuba. Garcia has worked as a screenwriter, assistant director, and photographer.

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 9.50.48 PM.png4- Film: “Great Muy Bien” – Dir: Sheyla Pool

After the United States restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, it was no longer unrealistic for Cubans to dream of one day living and working abroad. Citizens of all ages, with diverse aspirations, enroll at the makeshift Big Ben English school in Havana in order to prepare themselves for a future of normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.

Director Sheyla Pool graduated from the University of Havana in Hispanic languages and in sound from the International School of Film and TV at San Antonio de los Baños. She wrote and directed Protege a tu familia and Frágil. Pool was a consultant for the script of Esteban. Currently she is working on the script for Vínculos.

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 9.49.24 PM.png5- “Casa en Venta” or “House for Sale” – Dir: Emanuel Giraldo

After over 50 years, the ban disallowing citizens of Cuba from selling their own houses is lifted. Three Cuban families invite us into their homes as a showcase to prospective buyers — to hear their “sales pitch.” Filled with memories, souvenirs, and family members, these intimate spaces are filled with affection, highlighting a country on the verge of historical change.

Director Emanuel Giraldo Betancur was born in Medellin, Columbia in 1989 and graduated in film directing from the International School of Cinema and Television. Some of his projects are 1,2,3. . . Let’s Dance! and Amapearte. In December 2015, he participated in Nuevas Miradas in Cuba with House for Sale (2016 Sheffield Doc/Fest), which was supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.

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Stay tuned for more information as these films screen at the festival (or follow @TheNewCuba on Instagram for live activities).

For media inquiries, contact Jauretsi at jauretsi@gmail.com

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(Relentless Creators: Slim use of Internet time means USB sticks are golden. Photo: NPR)

This week was a big week for Cuba tech startups. Ten young Cuban tech leaders were awarded a chance at more “next level” resources. We realize that most foreigners view Cuba as a place stuck in time with its old cars and 19th century architecture, but the bodies that inhabit these relics are now hungry millennials chasing the 21st century. Today, hundreds (maybe thousands) of Cuban youth are graduating from computer science schools into a country with barely any internet. Most Cuban businesses do not even have a proper website, although there is a large trend in business owners building at least a Facebook page. It’s only been the last 1-2 years, that we’ve discovered a few company websites and mobile applications pop up in this country. After working tirelessly in their homes with no internet the last few years, a few Cuban tech stars have emerged from this clandestine scene, and are paving the way for newer generations to understand the potential Tech gold rush of their motherland.

If you’re an American and found yourself in Cuba, you’ve probably been frustrated at the fact you can’t Google your way through the country as a guide. Sure, there has been new US/Cuban phone company deals with Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T, but if the roaming charges haven’t murdered you, then the spotty service has blocked the search anyways. Cuba is not yet an open satellite culture for checking internet easily. Logins require “pay by the hour” scratch off cards issued by State owned phone company, ETECSA. But things are moving at a bizarre tortoise pace since 2015 (some believe too slow, others fear it’s too fast). The fact remains, Cuba has tripled the number of Wifi zones on the island, from 65 (at the end of 2015) to more than 200 at the beginning of September 2016. The latest news is that ETECSA announced it will make 5 miles of the Malecon, Havana’s famous seafront boulevard, a Wifi spot by the end of 2016. Despite all these announcements, at home full internet is another conversation and a ghost of a service, much less trying to start a new tech business this way. Laptop sessions in public parks are a big thing in Cuba. Still, the young ones  find a way. “Resolviendo” or “Inventando” are the common words spit out.

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(The Team at Alamesa. Photo by @Engage_Cuba)

But things are changing for users. If you had been really dialed into the scene before arriving to Cuba, you would have been tipped off to a cool restaurant app called Alamesa, which lists 900 restaurants with addresses, phone numbers and reviews — and it works brilliantly offline. Game-changer. Who is the creator of this app? His name is Ariel Causa Menendez, and this week, the young Cuban was awarded for his invention by the recent 10X10KCuba contest along with 9 of his industry peers in a competition that sought to select the 10 most promising Tech startups in Cuba today.

What exactly is this contest? “10x10KCuba seeks to help talented programmers and entrepreneurs in Cuba integrate themselves into the startup community in the Americas” says John McIntire (Chairman of Cuba Emprende Foundation). More importantly he adds, “It also provides them with the resources and networks to support the growth of their businesses”.

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The 10 winners this year are:

Alamesa (Havana) Entrepreneur: Ariel Causa Menéndez. www.alamesa.nat.cu
An information platform for users who wish to explore and be involved with Cuban gastronomy.

Conoce Cuba (Havana) Entrepreneur: Eliecer Cabrera Casas. www.cnccuba.com
A platform for the advertising of and search for businesses, including a directory and maps, which allow the businesses to display any information they wish to consumers.

Cuba-Room (Havana) Entrepreneur: Wendy Rafael Bokly Plana. www.cubaroom.net
An online service to search for and book lodging in less than 24 hours, for travellers looking for bed and breakfast accommodations at different price points.

Cubazon (Havana) Entrepreneur: Bernardo Romero González. www.cubazon.com
An online marketplace for purchasing any product produced by the private sector in Cuba, to be delivered to family or friends resident on the island with the utmost security and professionalism.

GuiArte (Havana) Entrepreneur: Adan Leiva Blaya. www.lbpromo.com
A continuously updated digital directory for domestic and international users of activity in Cuba’s arts and cultural scene, with the information organized by categories and profiles.

Isladentro (Havana) Entrepreneur: Indhira Sotillo Fernández. www.isladentro.net
An easy-to-use platform offering a quick and reliable guide for information and geographic location on any place, business or other points of interest. An app where your business will make an impact.

Ke Hay Pa’ Hoy? (Havana) Entrepreneur: Juan Luis Santana Barrios. www.kehaypahoy.com
A digital platform aimed at promoting Cuban culture, in which customers have the opportunity to showcase their offerings through different channels.

Knales (Havana) Entrepreneur: Luilver Garces Briñas. www.knal.es
An efficient SMS platform to advertise events, products, services and other information, customized for each user.

MiKma (Havana) Entrepreneur: Janse Lazo Valdés. www.mikmacuba.com.
Advertising and booking platform for house rentals (in Cuban pesos) which will revolutionize the way that market operates.

NinjaCuba (Havana) Entrepreneur: Victor Manuel Hernandez Moratón. www.ninjacuba.com
A website for finding talent and searching for jobs in Cuba’s tech sector.

Each of the ten winning businesses receives the following prize packages, conservatively valued at $10,000 per winner:

• Two Dell laptops via EMC
• One year of cloud credits from Rackspace
• Online English or Mandarin courses from iTutorGroup
• For two entrepreneurs from each business, two weeks of immersion in a tech/start-up environment in one of our four destination cities, all expenses paid: Boulder, CO; Mexico City, Mexico; Miami, FL; and Palo Alto, CA.
• Miles to cover flight expenses between Cuba and our destination cities from American Airlines

In each city, the network of accelerator/university partners (including Boomtown, 500 Startups, NXTP Labs, Stanford University’s School of Engineering, and TechStars) will provide a customized experience to enhance the business and tech skills of the winning entrepreneurs. There will also be additional mentoring and networking through local tech busineses and entrepreneurs. Other supporting Foundations and Corporate Sponsors include: Knight Foundation, Tinker Foundation, and Americas Society/Council of the Americas, American Airlines, Dell/EMC, iTutorGroup, and Rackspace.

The contest is one of the most innovative and unprecedented collaborations between United States and Cuba’s young tech leaders on the forefront of a nascent underground. This year, the contest drew 88 applications from Cuban entrepreneurs, but we foresee next year hopefully drawing double/triple these numbers as we’ve seen internet proliferate deeper in the nation since Obama & Raul Castro’s normalization talks began December 17, 2014. More tourism and internal reforms have created new demands for these inventions as well.

Ric Herrero (of #CubaNow) and Co-organizer of this contest understands the big vision of these new thinkers, and aims to foster these voices to greater heights. “The winning entrepreneurs have the talent and resourcefulness to succeed in any tech company in the world” he says, “and we couldn’t be prouder of their commitment to growing the startup community in Cuba.”

Here’s to tomorrows tech leaders, and making life just a little more convenient and connected for residents and foreigners. I was told by my parents that Pre-Revolution Cuba was a very forward-thinking, innovative, and experimental place in the Caribbean to launch ahead-of-its-time technology (including the first color TV’s in the Americas).

Well, grab a seat. We’re about to witness the most exciting comeback in history. We realize this is an ambitious thought, but Cubans never reach for anything less than the stars. Somewhere in this pack of educated and cultured minds is the next Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs, hungry to capitalize on the gaps of the Cuban market which are very unique today. As the nation redefines itself in a new era of self-identity, it is also looking to reposition itself into the global economy. This will be a long road, and dependent on how fast the island gets wired up.

Content is king and information is power, so keep those inventions brewing, young Cubans. We’ll be rooting for you all the way from America through programs like this.

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